Probation meetings: eight tips for line managers

Managers should give specific examples of where the employee needs to develop.

Many new recruits leave their job in the first few weeks and months because they have not settled in well to the team or role. Could more effective probation meetings help new employees find their feet? Bar Huberman sets out eight tips for line managers. 

1. Conduct regular meetings

Regular review meetings to discuss the employee’s progress and any support that the employee needs should take place regularly throughout the probation period.

For example, if the probation period is six months, the manager and employee could meet once a month up to the end of the probation period.

It is important that the review meetings are conducted before the probation period is up, as they will help the manager to make a decision about the employee’s suitability for the role. If the manager fails to conduct the final meeting before the end of the probation period, the employee’s role may be confirmed by default.

2. Be prepared

To get the most out of a probation meeting, the manager must prepare for it.

This means reviewing the employee’s work prior to the meeting, to understand where they are performing well and what they need to improve on. This could include talking to the employee’s colleagues to obtain feedback about any progress.

The manager should also think about what support the organisation could provide to help the employee’s performance improve.

3. Provide feedback

Managers should use probationary progress meetings as an opportunity to provide feedback to an employee about where they need to improve.

Regular feedback will help to ensure that the employee does not become entrenched in doing something badly, and is clear about what is expected of him or her.

The feedback should be clear and precise. Managers should provide specific examples of areas where the employee needs to develop their performance or correct their conduct, avoiding generalisations.

Progress meetings are also an opportunity for the manager to engage the employee, so the manager should also highlight areas where the employee is doing well.

4. Explore problems

Managers should use review meetings to explore any issues that have cropped up, discussing these with the employee.

For example, they might be finding it hard to get to grips with the technical aspects of the role, or to get the tools they need for the job.

It should be a two-way meeting where the manager and employee analyse problems together, including the reasons behind the issues, and come up with a plan of action to address them.

5. Set the right tone

It is important for managers to set the right tone during a probationary review meeting. Getting carried away and assuming a disciplinary stance can be off-putting for the employee.

However, the emphasis should be on supporting the employee. The manager should be tolerant; the employee cannot be expected to get everything right straight away. They will, in many cases, need to learn new processes and systems before he or she can get up to speed with the job.

Even when addressing concerns, the manager should discuss these fully and openly with the employee, and deliver any criticism in a constructive way. It is best to use positive words, such as “improvement”, rather than negative words associated with failure.

6. Encourage an open dialogue

A probationary period is more likely to be successful if the employee has been given plenty of opportunity to raise issues and ask questions about the working environment.

Often, the employee may be nervous about asking for help, particularly if it is about something they have already been shown.

Therefore, during each meeting, the manager should make clear that the meeting is a two-way street to raise issues and for them to work together to find ways to ensure that the employee will be happy and successful in the role.

One way of creating an open dialogue is for the manager to ask open questions. The manager should also listen actively to what the employee has to say.

7. Agree an action plan

The manager should ensure that, at every probationary review meeting, they devise a written plan with the employee, including points to action following the meeting.

For example, they might agree a plan for giving the employee support and guidance, such as formal classroom-based training or informal training from colleagues, or that the employee needs to work on a particular task to improve his or her performance in a certain area.

There should be a deadline for completion of these action points, such as the next review meeting.

8. Make a record

During probationary progress meetings, the line manager should make a record of what is said and agreed, and ask the employee to check it and confirm that it is an accurate summary of the meeting.

This record will serve as a reminder for both parties at the next review meeting of the issues that needed to be addressed. It can also help to propel them into action following the meeting, to work on the points they have agreed.

A record will also provide evidence that the organisation raised under-performance or conduct issues with the employee should the need arise to discipline or performance manage them at a later stage.

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