How to conduct a probation period review

TL;DR: Probation periods (or probationary periods) allow companies to ensure a new hire is a good fit for the role and the company culture. At the same time, employees can have a better feel for the workplace and the choice they’ve made. If focused on development, performance reviews are an excellent way to end the probation period and help establish a path for company and employee growth.

Why should you run a probation review?

Just like performance reviews, probation periods have a bad rep — so it comes as no surprise that thinking of combining both can make one’s hair stand on end. In both cases, this reputation results from companies misusing reviews and probation periods. To prevent this from happening, let’s start by revisiting the purpose of probation periods. We’ll then understand why performance reviews can be so helpful for the start (and all other stages) of the employee lifecycle. 

A probation period is a test drive of sorts; while companies test the waters to ensure a new hire is a good fit, the new staff member can get a feel for their new workplace and assess if they’re happy with their decision. These periods usually span from 3 to 6 months, depending on company and local policies.

Probation period compliance isn’t the same in every country, but a person can typically leave their new job after their probation without complying with a notice period. And the same goes for a company that decides not to continue working with someone after the probationary time. But although some organizations are notorious for hiring and firing, not having employees for the long haul isn’t a good business idea. For starters, staff turnover — voluntary or not — costs a lot of money. Besides, high turnover can be very degrading for your company culture. 

So what to do? Organizations should focus on improving employee retention and engagement, investing in a culture of learning and development. In this kind of culture, the more your people grow, the more your business grows with them. And a key to nurturing your staff’s growth is to invest in development-oriented performance review processes. This is what more and more companies are doing, and many are even decoupling performance reviews from compensation decisions.

At the very start of the employee lifecycle, you should pay special attention to what your new hires need. Spotting areas for development early on will help you provide your people with the resources they need to improve their skills. In turn, they’ll be more engaged and pleased at work. 

When they feel seen and supported, employees are also more likely to want to stay at the company. After all, they’ve seen that learning and development matter to you. And when you invest in employee development, you’re also reducing the chances that you may have to replace someone because of performance issues.

This is why conducting development-focused performance reviews is particularly important at the start of the employee lifecycle. Also, end-of-probation reviews help you spot areas where your organization needs to improve. For example:

  • Are your job descriptions accurate enough?
  • Are you looking for the right skills when filling out a position?
  • How effective are your onboarding processes and the training offered?
  • And what could have made their start at the company much better for the employees?
  • What support do your people need to thrive in their roles?
  • Or: Why have they decided to leave your company, and how can you improve? 

Feedback should go both ways, so be prepared to listen as well.

Now that you understand the importance of development-oriented probation period reviews, find out how to start running them — just keep reading this playbook.

🎯 Run high-level probation reviews & ensure they’re a great fit for the roles

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook should be an ongoing initiative within your onboarding journey (no matter if remote or not).

If you’re invested in a people-first company culture and would like to improve employee retention and develop your managers, all of your new hires should undergo a probation period review — regardless of department or seniority. Employee onboarding software helps you automate and structure these reviews to ensure new hires receive them at the correct time and can deliver you valuable insights.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A system for performance reviews 

Consider setting up performance review software to run your company’s feedback cycles better. Besides running end-of-probation period reviews, it’s a best practice to explore development-focused performance reviews throughout the employee lifecycle. Although you can use paper, PDFs, or decentralized tools, a platform like Leapsome can help you with analytics and guarantee your employees’ privacy, provide and host your review templates, multiplying the benefits of running surveys.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • If you don’t intend to keep someone on board after their probation period, make sure they know it as early as possible — definitely before their review.

    Be empathetic and remember that they may need time to find another opportunity.
  • When sharing feedback (both in reviews and 1:1s), be specific and give examples.

    Few things are more frustrating than receiving negative feedback that doesn’t include mentoring advice and actionable suggestions for improvement. Be a team player.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Decide when to run probation period reviews

We recommend that you don’t wait until the very end of the probation period to run these reviews. Running probation reviews halfway through the probation periods is a way to let your new hires know where they stand long before their probation period is coming to an end.

2. Set up the questions

End-of-probation performance reviews shouldn’t have all the same questions included in 360° reviews.

It’s important that the questions selected reflect the company’s culture and values. Team- and role-specific skills should also be assessed; however, a probation period is typically short, and if you’ve hired a good culture fit, your new employee will be eager to learn more if they’re encouraged and have access to the right resources.

Key topics to cover:

  • Learning & development opportunities and needs
  • Company culture
  • Job description & workload
  • Workload evaluation

Besides quantitative data, which is key for spotting trends over time (as well as across departments and roles), include qualitative, open-ended questions for deeper insights. Example: What should [employee] keep doing? What should they change?

We recommend using a five-point scale for quantitative questions: 

1 = Needs Strong Improvement

2 = Needs Improvement

3 = Meets Expectations

4 = Exceeds Expectations

5 = Superb

As an example, some relevant self-assessment questions to include in a performance appraisal form would be:

  • Qualitative: What are your key learnings from the probation period? (1–3)
  • Qualitative: What support would you need to move forward with your skill development?
  • Qualitative: What are you proudest of during your first months at [company]?

3. Decide who will be involved in the review

Instead of only collecting a self-assessment by the employee and a review by their manager, we recommend running a 360° review process. 360° reviews include assessments by peers and reports, as well as customers and partners. By taking more perspectives into account, 360° reviews help prevent bias and offer richer insights.

4. Invite all participants & set a deadline

If you implement a platform like Leapsome to prevent you from drowning in paperwork, the review will be automatically triggered based on each employee’s start date. What’s more, you can set up automated reminders for all participants.

You should also communicate the following guidelines to all review respondents:

  • Be frank, but empathetic, and also focus on strengths. We can’t stress enough how critical it is to keep feedback constructive.
  • Ensure that constructive feedback is actionable.
  • Be careful not to overwhelm someone with too much information. Focus on key points and illustrate your evaluation with facts.
  • No feedback should be a surprise for the reviewee. A feedback culture promotes continuous feedback throughout the year, which can be done in opportunities such as 1:1 meetings.

It’s also a good idea to share our playbook on how to give constructive feedback with all probationary review respondents.

5. ‍Result analysis

Ask managers to analyze results and pay attention to discrepancies to guarantee a more focused feedback talk with development suggestions and support. We recommend reviewing the person’s job description before this analysis.

6. Feedback talk

Manager and reviewee should schedule a meeting to discuss the feedback. The focus on development should be top of mind — and that should also include reinforcing strengths the reviewee already has. And that also goes for cases in which the employee will not continue to work at your organization; even in this situation, both sides should receive helpful feedback to help them grow.

Here is a handy, step-by-step guide on how to give effective feedback.

If, however, the person continues at the company after their probationary period, review talks should end with a discussion and alignment on development goals. This makes reviews catalysts for change, leaving employees motivated.

Follow-up best practices for conducting a probation period review

Refer to this review when conducting subsequent reviews in the future

Always revisit results from previous reviews to track development and roadblocks. This will also help managers be consistent with ratings while taking development expectations into account.

With Leapsome, you can easil do this and use our platform’s advanced analytics to visualize learning progress and spot areas for improvement.

⭐️ Download our free template with best-practice questions for performance reviews or take a look at our guide to the best employee performance review questions to find inspiration for your company’s end-of-probation reviews (including self-assessment and questions for other review participants). For even more performance review tips for managers take a look at these handy and actionable suggestions.

And would you like to learn how to run other types of performance reviews? We’ve got you covered: Check out our playbooks on how to run 360° reviews and leadership reviews. 😉

Easily set up automated reviews with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

With Leapsome, you can easily set up questionnaires for your various employee reviews. Watch this video to learn about the process.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a probation period mandatory?

Although probation periods are not mandatory in most countries, most companies prefer to use this opportunity to confirm that they’ve made a good hiring decision.

Can you let someone go during their probation period?

Yes, you can let someone go during their probation period. Depending on local legislation, no notice period will be necessary. But remember: Hiring is costly, time-consuming, and high staff turnover can ruin employee morale across your organization. So you shouldn’t hire anyone already thinking of letting them go. Each hire should be a very conscious decision, and your company should value employee learning and their capacity to grow. But of course, things don’t always go as planned.

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