Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Starting a new job, Building a new foundation – part 15 and the end-of-probationary-period performance review

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 18, 2010

This is my 15th posting in a series that seeks to systematically cover at least the major issues and opportunities faced when a job candidate becomes a new hire, and for while they are going through their new job probationary period. The rest of the series to this point can be found in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development as postings 73 through 85 and 87.

This posting is going to focus on the performance review that marks the end of that probationary period, but the two most important messages I could convey here in effect serve to deny the significance of anything ending.

• This performance review may come at the end of the probationary period, but this is a meeting that you and your supervisor should be preparing for from day one on the job.
• The end of your probationary period may mark a significant transition as to your employment status with the business, and it may be the point where you now become eligible for certain employee benefits but the next day you will still be performing basically the same tasks, and with the same responsibilities as you held the day before.

So this is an important transition point and it is the point at which I will finish this series as a natural stopping point, but as a practical matter it is just a workplace benchmark you work towards, reach and move on from.

• Start preparing for your first performance review on this job early, and by determining with your supervisor precisely what you are to accomplish, and what you are to work on and with what priorities.
• Start that on day one of the job and meet with your supervisor on an ongoing basis to discuss progress and any problems or setbacks you may be encountering.
• Use these meetings and feedback you are receiving in them to help you track your progress, and from the perspective of the person who will have the final say on what that is, in your written performance evaluation and as they consider you for bonuses, salary increases and promotions in coming review periods.
• These meetings also serve to develop buy-in from your manager that they do see your performance as effective and positive where it is, as well as helping you identify where problems are that you need to correct.

Your goal in this is to establish yourself as an effective team player who can and does take significant tasks off of your supervisor’s desk and resolve them effectively, and who does listen and who can learn and improve on the job. Your goal in this is to prevent surprises so when the performance review date arrives, that meeting and your written performance review are more confirmation of already mutually established fact than anything else.

If you find details coming up in your performance review as to goals and priorities or performance effectiveness that you did not already know would be there, then you have not been effectively communicating with your supervisor leading up to that review, and you need to work on your communication skills, whether that issue is cited or not. If this happens, it should be cited as an issue you need to improve on going into your next performance review.

• Go into your performance review meeting with a copy of your draft performance evaluation in hand – which you should have received in advance.
• Write out any questions you have in advance and bring them with you so you do not forget them at the meeting itself.
• Prioritize and focus on any points or issues that are most important to you to clarify or you risk getting lost in the trivia and leaving the most important details and issues out.
• Smile and be calm, and especially if you find something in the written evaluation troublesome. Remember, as I cited in my recent posting on performance reviews from the HR and supervisor’s side of the table that many supervisors feel they are required to find something that you should be working on to improve, and no matter what.
• Review Performance Reviews – setting and following best practices standards or some similar discussion of performance review practices from the supervisor’s side of the table so you can be prepared.
• And take your time in writing, reviewing and editing any documentation that you submit to accompany your performance review into your permanent personnel record. Be concise and to the point and focus on the key issues – don’t use this as an opportunity to share every detail on everything you have done since you first arrived. Never be confrontational as you only harm yourself if you write anything that could be construed as pitting you against your supervisor. And remember, this is a pass/fail test and if your supervisor wants you to stay you win and even if they give you a less than perfect review and even if they do select a point for improvement that you take pride in doing well already.
• If this sounds like a contradiction to a point I made earlier about not being surprised it probably is, but the issues you should never be surprised on are the ones you have actively been working on and responsible for. Issues that your supervisor brings to the table as preconceptions as to how to conduct a performance review per se will generally bring a few surprises and certainly with this first review and you just have to be ready for that.

And as a final thought here, you should have a fairly good idea as to who your supervisor will meet with in advance of your performance review for feedback going into it. This may very well mean meeting with other members of the team you are on and certainly where this means colleagues your supervisor knows you have closely worked with. This often also includes key internal clients from outside of your team itself too. Part of your job and from day one should be in establishing good communications and effective working relationships with these people, and in knowing where you can help them as part of performing your job and where they may be having problems related to the tasks you work on. This also means their knowing what you are working on and that you are working to help them resolve those problems. So this posting is largely about communications and preparation.

My next posting in the Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development will start a series on the job market and its current challenges for finding a job, and on approaches for succeeding in your search given those constraints. After that I will be posting a series on working with a new boss.

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