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Probation: The Most Under-utilized Management Tool


Jenny Smatt, MSc.

In this article, we will explore some easy-to-understand insights that will help you effectively manage multiple teams, promoting collaboration, communication, and success across your organization.

According to the Bermuda Employment Act 2000, employers are permitted to allocate a

“probationary period” during which time the employer or employee may terminate the contract

of employment for any reason and without notice. Common practice in Bermuda is to provide

three months for this period with the option to extend for an additional three months.

The intention of the probationary period is for both the employer and employee to determine

whether or not the new employment arrangement is a good fit. Despite this provision both in law

and in practice, the probationary period is often under-utilized and poorly managed. The result of

not leveraging this period effectively, at a minimum, is that new employees are not performing at

their maximum potential and in the worst case, poor performers become a part of the fabric of

the organization. Further, should you need to manage the employee out of the organization in due

course, it is typically more costly and time-consuming than if you had done so during the

probationary period.

So, what are the trends that we are seeing?

Trend #1

Employers and hiring managers often assume that the new employee’s qualifications and

experience will automatically result in the achievement of performance standards. While

interviews and reference checks are reliable recruitment and hiring tools, the probationary period

should be an extension of this evaluation process.

Trend #2

Performance goals are rarely set at the beginning of the probationary period to outline

expectations and tasks clearly. Rather, there is often a basic, competency assessment that may

include such areas as productivity, work quality etc. administered at the mid-point and end of the

period. Although this approach is seemingly simple, the handful of check-boxes often does not

focus on the critical performance criteria of the role making the review a subjective and

inconsistent exercise.

Trend #3

Probationary expectations and ultimately assessments, omit team and organizational culture. One

of the essential elements of enabling strong performance and employee engagement is how well

a new hire fits into the organizational culture. This includes alignment with organizational vision,

mission and values. High performing organizations have clear cultural indicators and leading

practice includes having discussions to inform and assess alignment upon hire.

Trend #4

Many hiring managers simply approve the employee at the end of the probationary period

despite having performance concerns or an unwillingness to “be the bad person”. The reality is

that it is less costly to have an honest conversation and part ways at the end of the probationary

period than at a later stage in the employment lifecycle.

Trend #5

Inconsistencies in how managers assess what success looks like often breeds inconsistent results

of performance expectations and by extension the future under-performance of the employee.

Employers would benefit from training assessors on what to look for and how to conduct an

effective probationary review. The familiarity with this process is often assumed if a manager has

undergone Performance Appraisal training which is often a different process.

Tips and Suggestions

At Ontru, we are committed to improving the success of businesses and individuals. As a result,

it may be helpful to leverage the following tips and suggestions to ensure the probationary period

is a part of building a dynamic team and maximizing performance!

  • Determine the top three essential areas of the role that an employee must perform exceptionally well. Oftentimes the job description and job advert include a lengthy list inclusive of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Rarely will we find employees who can perform ALL tasks out of the gate, however, the critical areas of the role must be demonstrated at the expected level by the end of the probationary period.

  • Set S.M.A.R.T. goals within the first week of hire. These should include both performance expectations and knowledge requirements. Examples of knowledge requirements for customer service representatives and human resources could include learning the Company’s IT system or becoming proficient with applying policies and procedures related to the role.

  • Be able to clearly articulate why this role is integral to team performance and the value this new employee adds. As the manager, have the Company values clearly outlined in addition to the skills, knowledge and contributions that are essential to the team. Outlining what success looks like in this way will enable you to clearly assess the contribution and “fit” of your newest team member in a specific and quantifiable way.

  • Ensure there is considerable dialogue and observation. It is often such a relief to have the vacancy filled or the new employee on board – finally! In order to fairly assess the new employee’s performance in the role it is critical to hold frequent informal meetings, be available to answer questions and provide direction and formally assess progress at least once a month. The dialogue and direction should be a combination of assessing results, output and observing “how” an employee gets their work done through client and team interaction.

  • Recognize that the assessment goes both ways. While employers may focus on whether the employee is the right fit the new employee will decipher their own job satisfaction. Managers can open communication channels to learn about employee satisfaction by asking if the new employee feels they have received sufficient training and if the new role is what they expected.

Approaching and managing the probationary period in this way will yield significant results. Not

only will you know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not your newest employee is a good

fit, you will earn the respect of your team by managing fairly and objectively. Finally, the

foundation for your newest team member, should they successful complete the probationary

period, will be built on open and constructive dialogue that sets the tone for years to come!

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