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10 killer questions all managers should be asking in probation review meetings

Like any formal review or 1:1 meeting you have with an employee, the effectiveness of a probation review hinges entirely on the questions you ask (and what you do with the feedback), whether you plan to offer a permanent position or not.

But before we get into what probation review questions you should be asking, let’s have a quick recap.

  • What probation reviews are for: If you've read our recent piece, then you know probationary reviews are meetings used to determine if new hires will be kept on. If they are, the meeting helps determine how best to support them. If not, it’s used to understand why they experienced difficulty.
  • When probation reviews take place: A typical probationary period is measured at twelve weeks or three months, with the review taking place at the end.
  • Why probation reviews matter: For permanent hires, probation reviews help you plan their immediate future with your company, and what you can do to aid their development. For those who wash out, exit interviews provide valuable insight about the problems they encountered that could be embedded in workplace culture.

But now that we’ve gotten the what, when and why out of the way, let’s look at the sort of probation review questions you ought to be asking.

1: How has working here compared to your expectations?

This is always a useful question to ask, but it’s especially important if the employee has failed their probationary period. Sometimes, the expectations a company sets for its potential applicants just doesn’t live up to the reality of actually working there.

A recruitment ad might promise a lively atmosphere and a cutting-edge office space, only for the reality to be beige walls, humming fluorescent lights and chronic depression. False expectations set up a loss of engagement when they don’t become reality. Disengagement can seriously affect productivity, and is likely to drive turnover if left unchecked.

2: How would you describe your performance?

This is another question that benefits from a qualitative format, but it can also be worth pairing it with a rating scale to boost insight. Like most good probation review questions, this one avoids leading the reviewee.

It’s a good question for contextualising performance. If a failed employee thinks they were performing brilliantly, that’s a clear indictment of their manager’s feedback capabilities. For successful hires, this question is vital for achieving a shared understanding as manager and employee.

3: Is there anything that you felt negatively affected your performance?

This question gives employees the freedom to discuss practically any problem they encounter, whether it’s issues with office equipment, a problematic manager, or noisy and disrespectful colleagues. While you should know going into the meeting whether you’ll be offering the position or not, this question provides valuable context.

4: Do you understand the expectations of your role?

It’s no secret that employees can often struggle to understand their responsibilities. While this can just be a yes/no question, you won’t get much out of it if you leave it at that. It’s worth having the employee tell you what they think your expectations are so you can achieve a shared understanding with successful hires, and to better understand what went wrong with those who were unsuccessful.

5: What do you feel are your greatest strengths?

Strengths-based management is one of the strongest tools in your arsenal for building employee self-motivation. So, asking this question should be a no-brainer. Even if it came up during the application interview, three months in a new role might make someone re-evaluate themselves.

Strengths-based management is great for enabling employees to thrive and take pride in their work, making this one of the most essential probation review questions for employees who make it through successfully.

6: What skills or knowledge would you like to strengthen over the next 6 months?

If you have any intention of supporting the personal development of your staff (and you simply must), this question is essential.

Probationary staff are by nature going to be along way from the finished product when it comes to them reaching their potenital. While a manager may well have a good idea of what trainig and support they need, it is good to get the employee's view to see if a) they agree with the managers assessment and b) spot any areas the manager may have missed.

As well as planning for the immediate future, this question can help HR to identify gaps in the training courses your organisation has on offer.

7: How would you rate your work environment?

It’s important to have a good blend of quantitative and qualitative probation review questions, especially if HR in your business rely on sentiment analysis software of any kind. With quantitative questions, you can tell at a glance what the overriding consensus is on any given issue.

And it’s also a good jumping-off point. It’s easy to get more information from this one, simply by asking about the thought process behind the score.

8: What are your favourite and least favourite aspects of this job?

This question helps you to understand your staff’s priorities, while also providing a clear view of the lived reality of your workplace. If nobody ever brings up your flashy perks, are they really worthwhile? Similarly, that open-office layout you invested in to boost collaboration might actually be the thing employees hate the most.

9: Is there anything you would change about how you approach your work?

This question won’t matter too much if you have a strong emphasis on employee autonomy. But if there’s any rigidity to how employees are expected to complete tasks, this question can expose flaws in your method.

While there’s sometimes an objective best way to do something, other times, forcing someone to apply another person’s method will just slow them down and muddy the results. This question forces you to reconsider whether some office protocols are actually holding your employees back. While there are instances where it isn’t the most suitable approach, autonomy is often a great way of boosting wellbeing and job satisfaction.

10: How do you see your future with us progressing?

Employee turnover is the looming spectre that any good manager is on the lookout for. Granted, this question is pointless if you’re not giving them the job. But if you are, the answer to this question may make you reconsider.

Letting an employee go during or at the end of probation is much less legally complicated than firing them after that point. But even your most promising fresh talent could still be planning to quit after six months anyway.

New employees are an investment, especially post-probation. If you’re going to invest time and resources into upskilling someone, you want to know that they’re sticking around for a while.

Weekly10’s powerful employee engagement and performance tools help maximise the effectiveness of your employee review conversations. Why not watch a short demo to see how?