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Probation is a trial period for new employees, which allows you to get to know them and identify their skills gaps before signing a full employment contract. Probation is always for a fixed period — usually between one and six months.

You can assess how well new recruits are getting along at probation review meetings, which should take place at fixed intervals throughout the probation. And you can assess whether they’ve passed or failed at a final review at the end.

But how can you make sure you get that assessment right?

Setting up formal probationary review meetings

 

You should schedule several formal review meetings throughout the probation period. Formal reviews are a moment to find out how well the employee is doing, identify problem areas, and set up support for improvement as needed.

Set a time for the review that allows time for both you and the employee to prepare, and choose a meeting location free of interruptions.

Prepare by reacquainting yourself with the job description and notes from previous reviews — especially any objectives set last time. Take notes of the issues you want to bring up.

Conducting the probationary review meeting

 

Highlight the positives

The probation review should focus on both the positives and negatives of the employee’s performance so far. It’s important they feel encouraged to keep progressing. Highlight areas where they are doing well.

Be open and honest about shortcomings

A key reason for holding probation reviews is to help new recruits reach the right level of performance. You should, therefore, be forthright about any problems, providing evidence where possible.

Listen to the employee

Always give the employee the opportunity to respond. They might give a previously unknown reason for their performance issue, which can shed light on how to solve it.

Set objectives and provide support

You should set objectives performance improvement, which the employee must meet before the next review.

You must also provide the necessary support for the employee to achieve these objectives. For example, if the employee cannot perform certain computer tasks, it’s unreasonable to expect them to improve without IT training. Always make sure new recruits have the tools they need to improve.

Record outcomes a standardised interview form

Keep records of the outcomes of probation reviews and have the employee sign to agree new objectives. Records can provide evidence that reviews have been conducted fairly and that the key points were agreed.

A good way to record outcomes is by using a standard probation review meeting form. By standardising the meeting format, you can help make sure all employees are treated equally.

Some typical questions to include on your form include:

  • How effective do you feel you have been in your role so far?
  • Which tasks have you performed well / which tasks do you need to improve on?
  • Are any parts of your role and responsibilities still unclear?
  • Is there any help or support you could receive that would help improve your performance?
  • What do you especially like / dislike about your job?

Assessing final review outcomes

 

At the employee’s final review, you’ll need to decide whether they have passed or failed probation. Use documentation from previous reviews to assess the employee’s progress, and whether they have the right stuff to join your organisation permanently.

And remember, you can extend probation for new recruits who’ve shown improvement but aren’t quite there yet.

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