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Tracy was the best-liked employee Steve had ever hired for his insurance agency. She was efficient in her work and Steve was glad he had hired her. She seemed to get along well with the rest of the staff and fit into their operation like an old pro.

But as the second month of her employment rolled by, Steve began hearing disturbing comments about Tracy's temper. It seemed that this "old pro" had a definite way she thought things ought to be done, not only in her job but in others. She started using her anger as a weapon to get her way, and it was creating strife in the office.

Steve had no easy way out of the situation, but had he hired Tracy on probation, things would have been different.

Probation for new workers is one of the most effective tools for many managers and human resource departments. It is also one of the most infrequently used tools. A time of probation allows the company to determine if a person demonstrates the skills, competencies and attitude thought to be present during the interview process.

The best time to fire an employee is by not hiring the wrong person in the first place, and the next best time to dismiss a worker is during probation.

Probation puts responsibilities on both the manager and the employee. Accept your responsibility as an employer to establish clear work standards, including quality and quantity of work expected, and work-related behaviors. Standards should be in writing and include benchmarks to be reached by a given time.

For example, an accounting clerk may be expected to process and post one hundred checks per hour with 99.8 percent accuracy. Her week one standard might be 30 checks with 95 percent accuracy, and by week four she should be up to 65 checks with 98.5 percent accuracy.

Give daily or weekly feedback to each new employee praising good work, and confronting or correcting poor performance. If the productivity or quality does not improve at a required pace, you can be kind, but do not mince words; be direct and honest.

State what must change and by when, and that the consequence of not meeting the standard will be dismissal. Staff deserve to know where they stand.

Determine the work-related behaviors which are important and monitor those behaviors as well. Does the person accept instruction and correction in a pleasant manner, or are they defensive? Do they gossip about other colleagues? Is a positive customer perspective demonstrated, or at times are customer demands treated as an inconvenience?

Do they display a positive "can-do" attitude, or is every day a challenge, and is fault found with most things and most people? Is inappropriate anger displayed to you, customers, or colleagues?

Remember, yellow flags will become red flags after probation is ended!

Develop a checklist of work standards including behaviors, and set minimum standards for each. Then objectively work through the list. If instructions were ignored several times, or management was gossiped about, write that down. Weigh and measure the total performance carefully.

Avoid the temptation to be subjective, or to proceed based on your feelings. Psychologist Dr. James Dobson accurately teaches that our emotions will fool us every time. Passing a person through probation who fails to meet basic productivity and attitude standards will blow up in your face every time.

It is important to keep a file wherein you document your findings and observations.

Two key factors may keep us from dismissing a poor performer. First, we may lack the personal courage to be direct and fire a person. We may also feel sorry for someone, and choose not to act. Remember, your loyalty and duty is to the organization and failure to demonstrate courage is a breech of trust and responsibility.

Further, keeping a person in place who is failing will condemn them to struggle in a position ill-suited to their talents or temperament; you do them no long-term favors by maintaining employment.

A better, albeit more difficult, step is to dismiss them and state the reasons. Then offer constructive suggestions to help them with their next opportunity.

Effective use of probation time will enhance your leadership, improve staff quality and generate long-term success. Do not be tempted to bypass a period of probation for a new employee because you feel they might interpret probation as your lack of confidence in their abilities. It is not their abilities which are in question, but their performance.

And remember: emotion will fail—be objective!

Copyright © Business Proverbs
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Steve Marr
Web site: The Life
Steve Marr has learned from 40 years of business experience that God's way works. As an author, speaker and business consultant, Marr helps companies and organizations apply the ancient wisdom of the Bible to avoid the common mistakes and headaches of growing a business.

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