I want to talk to you about the lost art of running an effective probation period. Because let's face it, there are so many people working merrily away in businesses who never actually ‘passed’ a probation. They just drifted into full time employment or their probation period has been extended and extended again and extended again because they're ‘such a lovely person’ and, ‘oh, I'm sure they'll get it eventually’.
Hiring is such a big investment you want to make really sure that you are hiring well. You've taken all that time. You've not settled. You've hired to your values, you've taken all that time to get the person that you think is the right person in the door. So these next 90 days are crucial in making sure that they are a good fit for you and your team
And it all starts with their first day…
How do we make our new team member’s first day memorable for all the right reasons? How do we make sure that their first impression of you, your team and your business is a positive one?
So, a memorable first day is the first and crucial part of a probation system.
The second part then is obviously the first week. Here is where you go through all of the paperwork, making sure you’ve got everything you need in place from a legal perspective. Maybe they have to pass a health and safety test or learn about manual handling - get these out of the way in the first week. And get them to spend time understanding the bigger picture of the business - give them time with other members of the team to understand the customer journey.
This first week sets the tone for what follows, so again, you want it to be a good mix of the practical, the informative and the inspirational.
In this first week, you’ll also talk them through two important documents:
The final thing you'll do in the first week, is to put dates in the diary for 3 crucial meetings - a 30 day meeting, a 60 day meeting, and of course a 90 day meeting, to mark the end of their probation period. You want these dates set in stone in your diary and theirs so that they're not forgotten.
During the 90 day period, you’ll then focus on their training, getting your team to work with them to teach them your one right way to do each task. You’ll make sure that they get constructive feedback day to day. You’ll ask your team how it’s going, how they're fitting in.
And then of course, you’ll have those 30 and 60 day meetings to share with them how they're doing overall, what they’re doing well and how they need to improve to pass their probation. Give them all the information they need to succeed, while they've still got a chance to do something about it. If it's still a ‘no' at the end, so be it, but at least give them that chance in those 30 and 60 day meetings.
When it comes to the 90 day meeting, you’ll then take them through their probationary review, refer back to feedback you've given them day to day over the course of their probation period, and during their 30 and 60 day meetings; and then tell them whether they have passed or failed their probation.
Please don’t bottle the ‘yes’/ ‘no’ decision. Don’t go against your gut because someone is a nice person, or you want to give them more time. Don’t waste your time and money hiring someone who you know deep down is not right for your team.
Hire the wrong person, and you're just building in pain, putting off the inevitable, and potentially unsettling the balance of your team. Cut the cord while it’s short, and go find somebody that's absolutely brilliant - the right person for your team!
Right now as business owners, we’re all assessing and re-assessing key elements of our operation - from our business model to our marketing, from our team to our own role in the day to day. We’re thinking about what we’ve missed during lockdown, and what we’ve loved, and wondering if we will be able to build what we’ve loved into our new normal.
But while many of us are thinking about the individuals in our team, what we may not be considering is that they are also thinking about themselves.
Our team will be thinking about the quality of life they are enjoying - or not - during lockdown. Maybe they’re really missing their team mates and the buzz of your work environment and are raring to get back. But there’s also a chance that they’ve loved not having that journey to work - joining rush hour every morning, wasting all that time in the commute.
Many will be relishing the precious time with their children - the chance to have family meals three times a day - the time to help with home-schooling, or making things and doing things they’d never normally have the chance to do. And there’s no doubt that some will be considering their future in a very different light, and may soon be knocking on your door - figuratively speaking of course.
I say all of this because a couple of clients have already had these conversations with team members who’ve taken the opportunity to reconsider what they want out of life, and the business has found itself with a hiring need they really weren’t expecting - and you might too.
So let’s make sure that you’re ready - that you’re in the right mindset and have everything in place, to hire the right person for you and your business. Because the sad fact is that businesses are full of people who were never right!
You know what I’m talking about.
People who take your time and sap your energy.
People you talk about all the time - your family and friends know them very well and get sick of hearing ‘what Brian did today!’
People who the rest of your team are desperate for you to sort out.
Of course you didn’t intend to hire the wrong people, so how did it happen?
Well, chances are, you didn’t stick to the 3 Golden Rules of hiring.
Rule 1. Never hire in a hurry.
Tempting as it often is to rush into hiring someone to fill an immediate need, or to plug the gap from an unexpected departure, don’t! When you do things in a hurry, you make mistakes. So take your time, plug the gap with an interim contract, a temp - or share the role out between you and the rest of your team, until you can find the right person. Temporary pain while you carry out your search, versus long term pain from hiring the wrong person.
Rule 2. Always hire to your values.
We’ve all been there - looking at a great cv, thinking how the individual’s skills could help the business, but having a gnawing in your gut that’s telling you to think again. How often have you ignored your gut and hired the great cv anyway? And how has that worked out for you? Hiring to your values is chief among all rules of hiring. You absolutely have to have people who believe in what you believe in, who share the same principles, who want to live their life to the same values that you do.
Of course first of all you need to work out what your values are - get really clear about what’s important to you about the way you want to operate your business, the lines you won’t cross - and then ask questions in your interviews that uncover those values.
‘Tell me about a time when you…’
‘If you were faced with [this particular] challenge, how would you deal with it?’
‘What’s the best leader you ever worked with, and why?’
‘And the worst?’
Get them talking beyond the skills and achievements listed on their CV, and uncover the real person behind it.
Rule 3. Don’t settle. When you’ve waded through loads of CVs and spent hours interviewing, there’s a real temptation to go for the best person you spoke to. That’s great if they’re the right person, but what if they’re just the best of a bad bunch? Remember: you get who you settle for, so don’t settle for anyone who isn’t the right fit for you and your team.
As big a priority as your hiring may be right now, it’s important to understand that it’s only the first, albeit crucial, step to building your high performing team - a small piece of a proven framework that we use to help motivated business owners like you, to free themselves from the day to day of their business.
After hiring, come those first vital, but all too often muddled, first 90 days of your employee’s journey with you - their probation period. And that’s what we’ll look at next. How to build an effective probation system that gets to the right stay or go answer for you and your new employee.
See you soon!
Like everyone else, I’m wondering what will happen after lockdown, what’s going to have changed for good, and what’s going to go back to business as usual? And how quickly?
Will the milkman, the village shop, the local butcher still get our trade? Maybe we’ve supported them to avoid the crowds at the supermarket, or maybe because they were getting regular supplies of toilet rolls in the early days! Mind you, those early days seem like a long time ago now.
What about the Pilates studios and fitness instructors who’ve been beaming free classes into our living rooms. Will we still support them and keep up our exercises when they re-open? Or the local cafes and restaurants who’ve been giving away free food?
And what about the people we’ve really started to value - the front line workers? Will we still value people working in care homes, who’ve put their lives at risk day in and day out, many of them on minimum wage? Will there be a shift in thinking to value these special people financially rather than just by expressing our gratitude?
Will we keep up our daily walk, taking time to appreciate birdsong; detaching from our phones for an hour a day? Will we keep up the quality time with our children, reading with them, playing with them, getting to know them better? Will we cook from scratch and eat meals together? Will we continue to say hello to strangers, to look out for elderly neighbours, to keep involved in our communities? Will we stop shopping for luxuries that we don’t really need and remember what’s really important in life?
I wonder if all the people who’ve proved to doubtful bosses that they can be productive at home will be allowed to continue with remote working. Imagine if rush hour traffic was a thing of the past. Hard to imagine, I know!
Like everyone else I have no idea, but I’m really hoping that we emerge from this as better people - valuing local, family, community and small independent business. Only time will tell but some of this is in our hands; we can all make a difference.
Would love to know your thoughts.
In the meantime, stay safe.
As I write, we’re in week six of lockdown and I want to share something that’s really struck me over these past few weeks - just how much of pretty much every business owner’s focus, has been on marketing and sales.
Of course that’s sensible - we all need to do what we can to generate revenue and develop new income streams to help us accelerate out of this shadow we’ve all been under, back into the light. But so much of everyone’s effort seems to be going into marketing - new online platforms, new lead magnets, shiny new brochures for innovative new products - that I have to ask:
What happens when this all works?
When I was hiring my first sales person, Rob, the guy who was helping me, asked me: ‘How much business do you want? Once the taps are turned on it’s hard to turn them off, so how much business can you cope with?’
And I’m asking you the same question. What happens when all your new marketing pays off; when you have that wonderful influx of new and returning customers; when your brilliant new marketing has people knocking down your door?
What will break first?
Your on-boarding system? Your delivery system? Your team? You?
What are you doing right now to prepare your operation for life beyond Covid?
Have you mapped your customer journey for the ‘new normal’, for example?
Or identified and developed the training your team will need to deliver that new journey effectively? Do you have a training system that’s focused on your one right way to do everything?
If you need to take on more people to deal with the influx of orders, is your hiring system right? Is your probation system strong? Are you confident you won’t make mistakes by hiring in a hurry and then end up paying for those mistakes down the line?
My mum had an expression, ‘All fur coat and no knickers’ - and I wonder how many businesses will be living up to that saying, coming out of lockdown.
How many business owners will have been so focused on the ‘packaging’ that they haven’t spent any time or focus on the quality of what’s inside? A bit like Dorothy pulling back the curtain to reveal the truth behind the ‘great and powerful’ Wizard of Oz.
Sales and marketing are amazing but the delivery of your customer experience has to be as magical and delightful as the hype.
If what comes after great marketing is amazing - systemised, consistent and a wonderful experience - your clients will tell their clients, their friends, their colleagues, and soon you’ll be enjoying referrals, repeat sales and customers for life.
But if it’s not…
So I really want you to take some time, while you have it, to think about what you need to put in place; to think about your operation; to take a step back and take a helicopter view of your whole business; to think about what will break first…and fix it.
What’s under your fur coat? What’s behind your curtain?
Thanks for reading. Stay safe!
Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)