How to Conduct Probationary Reviews

Mar 4, 2021 | Performance Management, Talent Management & Recognition

A probationary review is a conversation between the manager and a new hire about the employee’s progress in the new role. Managers typically hold it at the 90-day mark. At this point, employees have hopefully become adept at handling their responsibilities and comfortable in the role. However, most newer employees face challenges to performing at peak effectiveness, which the manager can work to assess and resolve at this meeting. 

Nothing in the probationary review should come as a surprise, though. The manager should be coaching the employee to success on a daily basis. The review provides a chance to summarize strengths and take a deeper dive into ways to improve skills and knowledge.

While employees may feel nervous at first about the idea of a probationary review, an encouraging manager can put them at ease. It’s not just about what they are doing for their organization—it’s a chance to delve into how they can achieve their career goals. Thus, you may want to call the conversation a “90-day review” rather than a probationary review—it sounds more affirmative. 

The format of the review

If you happen to be working in the same physical location as your employee, you could, of course, hold the review in person. Choose a private location like an office or conference room. If you’re working remotely, hold the review via video chat. A video call will establish more of a personal connection than a phone call would. Use a quality tool to help structure your assessment and evaluate performance goals.

Though the review itself only involves the manager and new hire, you could gain 360 feedback from other employees in advance to inform your conversation. 

Topics to cover

Having a clear agenda will ensure you hit each of the key topics you need to discuss. Send it to employees in advance so they can prepare for the conversation. This will help them feel on equal footing with you, and it will ease their anxieties about the review by giving them a better idea of what to expect. 

Here’s a sample agenda:

  • Major contributions during the review period
  • Progress in areas of development
  • Challenges faced
  • New skills and knowledge needed
  • Resources and strategies for learning
  • Understanding of organizational culture
  • Size of workload and any modifications needed
  • What is working well for the employee and what is not

The last point on this list can cover any miscellaneous concerns not addressed so far in the conversation to make sure they don’t get left out. You can also remind new hires about key policies on topics like vacation time and the procedures for accessing such benefits.

When discussing new skills and knowledge needed, identify resources for growth and create a learning plan. Find out how existing tools and learning strategies have been working for the employee so you can adapt them as needed. Have a two-way conversation about the employee’s workload and other elements of the job, too. 

Ensuring fairness

To provide unbiased feedback, take a careful look at the employee’s job responsibilities and metrics of success before the review. Then, provide solid evidence to highlight the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Invite the employee to share metrics of success in case you missed anything significant.

Questions to ask

Asking the right questions will spark a two-way discussion on each of the agenda topics. Pose open-ended questions, such as the following:

  • “What do you enjoy about your job most?”
  • “What do you enjoy least?” 
  • “How would you rate the workplace culture?”
  • “What would you most want to change about it?”
  • “What tools and strategies for learning have helped you the most?”
  • “How have your capabilities increased?”
  • “What hurdles do you need to overcome?”
  • “What could help you overcome them?”
  • “How can I support you better as a manager?”

As the last question suggests, this conversation also gives you a chance to learn about your performance as a supervisor. Since employees have different working and learning styles, you should strive to adapt to their needs.

Through an open, honest discussion, you can identify real solutions to any issues that arose in the first 90 days. You can also create a plan for the next 90 days to six months, defining goals, priorities, and learning resources. Keep a positive tone, focusing on building up the new hire’s confidence and capabilities, and your new employee will feel appreciated and energized by the review.

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