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Running an effective probation review session with your employees in 2022

Updated 23rd March 2022

When we talk about managing new hires, we tend to speak in terms of recruitment and onboarding. But the review meeting that follows is a vital part of your business’s onboarding process. Whether the employee is a success or not, the probation review is a key learning tool.  

But a review is only as good as the person running it. 

These review meetings are a key source of employee sentiment data. But, if you take a ham-fisted approach, you'll get lacklustre results. So let’s look at how to run a probation review meeting effectively, why it matters and what that means in 2022.

What are probation reviews and why do they matter?

There are some exceptions, but generally speaking, most employees go through a probationary period at the beginning of employment. The purpose of probation for new hires is to ensure they’re the right fit for your company.

It's best to do this before you take on full obligation as their employer. Employment law does vary by country. But, generally speaking, you'll become much more legally obligated once an employee exceeds their probation period.

After around 12 weeks, the employee attends a review meeting to confirm whether they will be offered a permanent position. If so, then the meeting can be used to go over their performance, targets and the support they need.

But even if you’ve decided not to give the employee a permanent role, it’s still worth running a probation review. Exiting employees are less likely to feel obligated to pull their punches, meaning they’re more likely to be honest. This makes them a valuable learning opportunity. You can root out potential issues in your work environment that may have impacted their ability to thrive.

The pandemic’s impact on probation reviews

Before we go over how to run a probation review meeting, we need to talk about the impact of COVID. First off, it’s important to note that a lot of people the world over will have been on probationary periods when national lockdowns started to go into effect.

This created a lot of ambiguity for those who ended up on furlough. It also massively altered the employee experience of those able to work remotely. This left employers to consider a variety of options from a legal standpoint, including deferred start dates to allow for more training.

Post-lockdown, remote work and job flexibility in general look set to stay. But, as with performance evaluations, running remote probation reviews is a little different to doing it in person. It’s much easier to accidentally talk over someone over video chat, so you’ve got to be a little more careful with your active listening. The trade-off is that it’s also easier to use virtual spaces and informative media to help get the employee on the same page as you.

How to run a probation review meeting effectively

Depending on how often your company takes on new hires, you may only have these meetings occasionally. But running effective probation reviews is still an important managerial skill. These are the things you need to accomplish in a probationary period review meeting:

Check-in at intervals before the review

The feedback process shouldn’t start at the final review. If employees aren’t given the knowledge and support that they need to succeed, they’ll struggle regardless of how competent they are. Check in with them at regular points during their probationary period to see how they’re adjusting, and how well they take your feedback.

Their review feedback for you is just as important

Regardless of whether you end up keeping them on, it’s worth getting feedback from your probationary staff. Employees who thrived in their roles might have innovative suggestions worth putting into practice, while those who didn’t make the cut can shed light on issues with workplace culture or false expectations set by your hiring process.

Your decisions must be evidence-based

This is especially the case if you’re dismissing a probationary employee. Although many businesses have been striving for greater diversity and inclusivity, workplace discrimination is still very much a lived experience.

If you choose to let someone go during or at the end of their probationary period, you should be able to point to specific issues with things like performance or personal conduct within reasonable expectations. Otherwise, you could leave yourself and your business open to legal blowback.

Focus on remote work results, not arbitrary stats

When it comes to remote workers, you should resist the urge to use statistics from productivity tracking software to assess your probationary staff. We've talked about this issue before, so we'll just briefly sum up why it's not effective.

These tools tend to use arbitrary metrics like number of clicks a minute, or amount of time spent on one screen. Stats like this have a tenuous relationship with performance, especially in a role that requires any degree of thoughtfulness or creativity.

If someone were, say, writing an article or designing a logo, they might take time to sit and think about their approach. It would be inaccurate to say they're being unproductive in this situation. But that's exactly the impression productivity tracking software would give you.

Achieve a shared understanding with constructive feedback

A big part of how to run a probation review meeting is knowing how to prepare employees to keep on flourishing. Talk about how you can broaden their skillset as well as support their strengths. You should finish the review with an action plan for their personal and professional development.

Just make sure to keep a clear divide between positive and negative feedback. The commonly used sandwich method can actually do more harm than good. That's because self-confident employees use positive remarks to tune out the negative. Then, on the other end, self-doubting employees assume praise is only there to soften the blow of harsh criticism.

Three great questions to ask in review meetings

A big part of how to run a probation review meeting is knowing what to focus on. Here are three questions to get you started:

  • How has working here compared to your expectations? Expectations can make or break the employee experience. If you got a job at the Cadbury’s factory expecting it to be like Willy Wonka, you’d be disappointed right?

    Whether it’s making your workplace a little more enjoyable, or making your recruitment ads more representative of the business, this question is great for adjusting your approach. When employees have unrealistic expectations, it can sabotage their engagement right from the start.
  • How would you describe your performance during this period? This question is great for achieving a shared understanding, but also for segueing into negative feedback. If you’ve picked up on an issue with a staff member’s performance, there’s a good chance they’re aware of it too. Then you can move onto practical solutions.

    But again, don't suddenly jump into this topic immediately after complimenting your employee, or you'll give them mental whiplash.
  • Has anything negatively affected your performance? Sometimes, people fail due to things beyond their control. That’s especially true in a strange workplace where they’re still learning the ropes. A question like this can help you improve accessibility and employee support in order to prevent future turnover.

These questions can help you get started. But they're far from the only topics you'll need to cover. For more great questions to ask in a probation review, check out this article.

Check out a quick intro to see how goal-setting, employee feedback and highly-customisable review templates make for better performance conversations for all your people…