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Life on probation

April 17, 2009

I came across something interesting when I was in talent management. Most staffers on probation that I spoke to had no idea how they were being assessed. They cannot tell me the list of 5 or 10 measurable things they must deliver in order to pass probation.

What about you, do you remember what exactly was it that you had to deliver to be confirmed? Haha, I didn’t think so.

Managers are the same. When I ask on what basis do you confirm your new employees, they would usually come up with something like, “Well if they do the things I tell them to do and if I’m happy with the results, then I’ll confirm them.”

Simple as that.

No 10-point plan, no KPI, no nothing. As a probate, all you had to do is show up and do as you’re told.

It took me a while to appreciate that while everyone swears by performance measurement in this region, no one actually believes in it. We like fuzzy logic better.

There’s actually some good in it. If you are a so-so performer but your boss likes you because you bought him some lunches before, then you’re in.

There’s also some bad. Without a piece of paper signed by you and your manager that says you must produce 100 widget A’s, 20 widget B’s and 60 widget C’s as a condition for confirmation, you could be headed for a nasty dispute during confirmation time.

Generally though, this wild wild west approach works to your advantage because if you have the guts, you can threaten legal action against your employer if they decide not to confirm you for some frivolous reason. I’d love to see companies try to prove satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance without any kind of pre-agreed written benchmark.

In my experience, most managers will tell you probationary KPIs aren’t necessary but will panic when they hear you talk about legal rights when they decide to extend your probation or cut you off. But I assume you’d rather not dice with uncertainty and if so, I recommend this. Write this down on a piece of paper a month into your probation.

“Dear Manager, based on our discussions I will deliver these 5 things during my probation period.  (List them down one by one). I understand that if I satisfy these requirements, I will be confirmed.”

But be courteous. Before you surprise him with this letter, tell him you plan to put your deliverables in writing as a “reminder” to yourself. It helps you focus. Tell him you’ll send him a copy so that he too can remember what you owe him. He’s so “busy” he might forget, you sympathize. Then send him and your HR manager a copy.

This letter then becomes the official criteria to confirm you. It will help you sleep well at night.

Oh, and make sure you document the delivery of every single deliverable and everything that you did to make the delivery happen (sometimes, one or two falls off the wagon when management changes course).

So how was your probation experience?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 11:15 am

    most of the time, it was too busy till I forget about my probation period. LOL.

    You’re lucky. For many, confirmation periods are usually very stressful periods.

  2. April 20, 2009 9:49 am

    Well, if the probation period doesn’t work out, then just go find alternatives. 🙂

    Could be tough to do that in a recession though.

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