How to get new starters through probation

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A recent report? by Spring Personnel claims one fifth of employees either have their contract terminated or their probation period extended, with poor performance cited as the main reason.

Some of you may have already seen a few of your employees fail their probation this year. 

Of course, if a new starter's heart just isn't in the job then there comes a time when you have to cut ties and move on, for the sake of the company and the individual. 

But, if there's enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and a sense of commitment from the person, but they're just not cutting the mustard, then failure shouldn't be an option. 

There are ways HR can work with managers to transform new staff from being under-performers to over-achievers.

Motivate performance, don't manage it

It's tempting to think that new systems, processes and forms, which help managers plan and record performance conversations with their new starters, will be the safety net they need to ensure employees are guided safely past probation. But our research has found that such methods do little to stimulate performance. Instead, they turn performance management into an HR-driven task that's seen as a bureaucratic headache.

We found that if you want to get the best from your people, especially when they're new to the team and may need extra support, then performance management shouldn't be about processes. It's not something that should be managed through procedures, which leaders just treat as a 'tick box' exercise. It's about engaging with recruits on a regular basis so you know what support or development they need to improve or what motivates them to perform well.

Make performance a conversation

Daily conversations sound simple enough but how many times has a new starter come to the last day of their probation after little or no contact with their new boss? The manager may have filled in the forms but they will have very little information on which to make a fair appraisal of performance. The outcome; either the probationary period is extended, leaving a de-motivated member of staff, or the person is dismissed. If it's the former and the employee's probation is extended then, unless performance conversations become the everyday norm, the company will just be facing the same problem a few months later.

A culture that encourages managers and staff to have regular informal and formal chats about performance is critical to driving success. It's the chance to check how the new starter is settling in, how motivated they're feeling and an opportunity to set and review measurable objectives. It gives a chance to coach and develop areas that may need a bit of refining so they can shine in the first few months on the job, and follow up after learning events so they build on any new skills.

Remember that climate controls performance

The way a manager behaves shapes 70% of the workplace climate – how someone feels about their place of work. The happier people feel about work (the climate) the better they will perform. By engaging regularly with employees and understanding what motivates them, managers can understand what will positively and negatively impact the team climate and therefore their performance. Different things motivate different people at different stages of their career. The key is understanding what engages each one and whether the team climate supports these needs; and the only way to do this is through regular contact.

Being well connected with staff – whether they've just started out or they're old timers – may sound straightforward but it's easy to let conversations slip when managers are juggling hundreds of other tasks. Working with management so they see the value in integrating performance into their everyday role will certainly pay off in the long run; at the very least to keep your recruitment costs down and to increase the number of new starters that pass 'Go'. 

Graham Scrivener is managing director of Forum EMEA, a leadership development and sales management training company

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