Performance Management

Preparing New Employees for Success in the Probationary Period and Beyond

September 8, 2021
November 7, 2023
Lattice Team

We often hear about the importance of first impressions. After all, what happens during new hire onboarding can set the tone for the entire employee-employer relationship.

In the UK and many other countries, these early days often have a different set of rules and even a specific name: employee probation. During the “probationary period”, managers will carefully evaluate a new hire’s performance and determine whether they’d like to continue on with them. If you’re reading this from the US, consider this similar to at-will employment, but limited just to onboarding.

While these early days are daunting to both managers and new hires alike, there are ways to maximize everyone’s chances for success.

Preparing Your New Employee

So, your new hire impressed everyone well enough during the interview process that you offered them the job. It is general practice in many organisations when onboarding a new employee to put them on a probationary period. This gives the business an opportunity to see whether they have made the right decision with the new recruit and allows the new joiner to find their feet and decide if the company is the right fit for them. In the UK, there are no regulations to determine how long probation should last as long as the employer is reasonable. At the end of the period, which is generally between three to six months, the probation review takes place.

The best practice, right at the start of the employment, is to establish expectations with new recruits by having their line manager or a member of the HR team discuss the following with them:

  • Details of what they are expected to achieve in the probationary period and beyond
  • The core values of the company and how they are expected to behave as representatives of the organisation
  • The standards they are expected to maintain when interacting with customers
  • Any training or development needs they might require to perform their job 
  • The steps or process for dealing with any performance issues
  • Details of when their probationary review meetings will be held and what they will entail

At the end of this prep stage you can check in with the employee to ensure that the entire process is clear and the expectations have been well communicated and understood. 

Keeping Them on Track

Ideally, within the probationary period you would need to set up a series of formal review meetings, and might consider putting the timings at:

  • 1 month 
  • 3 months 
  • 6 months 

Regular, real time feedback is still highly encouraged in the meantime. However, these more formal reviews offer an opportunity to pulse check. They should follow a structured outline, ideally documented, with any notes, insights or highlights prepared ahead of the meeting. It is always worth referring back to the expectations that were established right at the onset to let them know either how well they are maintaining them, exceeding them or where there is some room for further development.

In the case of an employee that might be struggling with their performance, you can step in and provide them with more immediate support and guidance rather than waiting for the formal review. This ensures that they have adequate time to develop and demonstrate a sustained improvement in their performance.

A useful structure to follow in such an instance would be:

  • Begin with recognising and reinforcing the employee’s strengths and areas where they are performing well.
  • Take an open and honest approach with the employee about the areas where they are underperforming. This approach is better driven home with documentary evidence where possible, as it then leaves less room for confusion or dispute. 
  • Give your employee time to respond, as other factors might be at play. 
  • Work together to agree on the cause or nature of the struggles or obstacles. Once your employee is in joint agreement, any suggestions you make towards improvement are more likely to be positively taken on board. 
  • Offer support and guidance on how any difficulties they are experiencing can be better managed. For example, perhaps they might require more training, a mentor or a teammate to support them. 
  • Reach a consensus with your employee to ensure that they understand the level of progress required from them, also highlight that successful completion of the probationary period is dependent on it.
  • As the employee is still within their probationary period it is vital you make them aware that, if the expected standard of performance is not achieved by the time their probationary review is due, it may be necessary to terminate their employment.

The notes from these formal reviews should be signed off by the person conducting the review and by the employee, and then stored on the performance management system for future reference, as well as to chart development.

Ending the Probationary Period

Prior to the final probation review, both the line manager (or member of the HR team) and the employee will need time to reflect, take stock of their performance, their successes and any challenges they might have faced in their first few months at the organisation.

The main purpose of a probationary review is to focus primarily on reflection, therefore adequate time should be set aside, on both sides, to document and prepare for it.

Here are the six steps to conducting a great end of probation review:

  1. Explain the purpose of the meeting.
    Initiate the meeting by providing an explanation of its purpose, as this will help set the tone. Inform your employee that their performance and conduct during the probationary period is being reviewed and reassure them that the review is meant to be a two-way conversation, where their responses to the thoughts, suggestions and recommendations you offer are very welcome. Invite them to provide their own view on things too. 
  2. Share feedback.
    Using the pre-prepared documents (as recommended above) provide the employee with feedback on the themes mentioned. Remember, where possible, to structure the feedback along the SBI (Situation - Behaviour - Impact) model.
  3. Be specific and provide examples.
    Feedback can only be constructive when it is connected to real life evidence of how your employee has or has not met the expectations of their role. Tone and delivery are important here. Communicating in an honest and direct manner, perhaps helping them to understand the positive impact a good performance can have for them, for their team and for the rest of the business, as opposed to sounding accusatory, is critical.
  4. Explore any issues and possible solutions.
    Regardless of whether issues have arisen from line management or the individual themselves, take this time to find and agree on solutions. You may also need to clarify procedures and emphasise what is expected of the employee.
  5. Encourage open dialogue.
    Leaving enough room to allow the employee to also provide feedback and give their response to your observations will encourage a free-flowing, organic and productive conversation. 
  6. Agree on an action plan.
    Objective setting with regards to their next steps should be a collaborative activity. Finding a happy balance between what works best for them and is also in line with organisational goals will help create achievable and necessary goals that your new, official employee can get behind.

The same structure for conducting the probation review can be applied when conducting future appraisals, while not forgetting to provide regular, constructive feedback.

A performance management system was mentioned earlier in the article as a way to keep track of your employee lifecycle, helping you to remember to celebrate highlights, as well as to flag any issues you might need to take action on. It is also an invaluable referencing tool and can support the maintenance of organisational standards, as performance levels can be set against the business’ mission, goals and objectives. Lattice’s performance management software empowers companies around the world to do just that. To see how your team can deliver the best employee onboarding experience, get in touch and arrange a demo.