Many companies have a 90-day “probationary period” for new hires. At the end of this, the manager is supposed to do a sit-down evaluation with the new employee. It’s such a standard thing that we often don’t think about it, but we should. It’s actually an area which can cause your business big trouble if you don’t do it right. Here’s the right way to conduct a 90-day performance appraisal.
Stop Saying “Probationary Period.”
This is not just a language thing–it’s a legal thing. In the United States (with the exception of Montana), all employees are at-will (unless they have a contract or are in a union). You do not want to do anything to jeopardize the at-will status. So, stop referring to the first 90 days as a probationary period because it implies that the rules change at day 91. If you can be fired without notice on day 75, does the end of the probationary period mean something’s changed and now you can only be fired for cause? You don’t want to get in the legal battle over that. Just say, “We’re going to do a review at 90 days.”
Aim for 90 Days.
We don’t call it a 90-day review for nothing. The 90 days isn’t critical. You could do a 60-day review, a 120-day review, or a 75.5-day review. The critical part is to do it when you’ve told the employee you will. Put it on the calendar on your new hire’s first day.
Have an Agenda.
If you sit down and say, “So, how are things going?” you’re going to miss important things. You can certainly have that type of conversation, but not at an official review. A review should have, at a minimum, an agenda. If this is official company policy, there should be a form.
You want to stick to the agenda and cover these things (plus whatever is important for the particular position):
- Areas where the new hire needs additional training
- Cultural fit
- Gaps in knowledge
- Workload evaluation
- Skills fit
- The employee’s observations
- Things that need changing
- Things that are working well
Make Sure the Employee Has a Chance to Speak.
This is not just about you giving feedback, it’s about you receiving feedback. What is and what is not working? Are there improvements that your new hire wants to make? Are there concerns you should know about? It’s better to learn about these things now than have problems appear later on.
Remind the New Employee About Policies.
Most people aren’t going to take a day off in their first few months, so they may have forgotten the proper procedures to request time off. The new employee may not have submitted an expense report or had to buy plane tickets for travel, but she will in the future. It’s a good time to go over these things.
And if the 90 Days Were a Failure?
If it was a total failure, then that should not be a surprise to anyone at the review. If you’ve been attempting to fix the problems for the past 90 days, it’s time to let the employee go. However, if it was a disaster because you didn’t provide training and support, you need to fix that. Bringing in someone new won’t fix the company’s onboarding process.
But if the employee is definitely the issue, it’s better to part ways sooner rather than later. Get the paperwork in order and get everyone to sign off and bid the person good luck in their future endeavors.
The above really does represent simple steps to follow and helps in the documentation process should things go wrong. This process can be used for all performance appraisals.
A final point. Introductory periods can be extended IF you think it might help but don’t just keep extending it to give the person another opportunity. If they cannot get it done after two opportunities chances are they are not going to make it.