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What is performance management and when does it start?

We have been looking at recruitment and selection for several weeks now and having talked about induction/orientation in the last instalment, why don’t we pick the discussion up now with performance management, up to and including probation.

What is probation? It is essentially a process of testing or observing the abilities and the general “fit” a new employee has with the role and the team/organisation. Sometimes there is minimal fit, which is due to the employee’s weaknesses, but more often than not, it is due to a lack of effort from the employer’s side.

This is why probation is being discussed in the same breath as performance management.

Performance management is not performance appraisal. In fact, it is bigger and more complex, and it runs the span from the time an employee joins the organisation to the time the employee leaves.

Performance management is therefore the systematic process of creating a work environment in which people are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities.

That is the long and short of it. PMS (performance management system) begins when a job is clearly defined in terms of delivery expectations, organisational relationships, access to and command of resources, hours expected to be duty, compensation and penalties applied as well as type and quality of support available.

And all this detail must be defined before the new employee joins and starts probation. Otherwise it means the probation period is reduced to a subjective exercise in trial and error, such that in the end, the confirmation in the job of the employee depends not on quantitative and objective measurement, but on the whims of the appraising officer.

You know what continues to frustrate me in this HR field is the issue of probation. I am not objecting to the idea of serving probation – not at all. My issue is entirely on how the probation period is (not) structured in many environments, to the extent that the new recruit literally writes his or her own performance plan for their first three months.

Yes, this shows initiative and professional maturity, but if the employee relies on his own devices to draft a performance plan, unilaterally, can it be considered representative at the end of the three months? Because it would mean whatever outputs the employee yields come from this performance plan.

There are still too many instances where, although a supervisor was assigned, the employee on probation receives no guidance, no support at all during this critical learning period (not learning the

job but learning the environment so as to facilitate transfer of skills to the delivery of work).

Do probation and performance management really go together? They may sound like two different topics to you when you look at them but, the success of every performance management system is the clarity and coaching provided by the supervisor, whether that is in person or online is not the point because every organisation has its own realities: what is important is, the new employee is not grasping in the dark, not knowing where to go, making mistakes and generally living in a state of trauma and anxiety.

So what is the best way to structure the probation period such that it reflects PMS principles? The way not to do it is by throwing the employee in, knowing that you have a clause of the Employment Act to fall back on when you decide, in the next 90 days, to pull the plug.

To satisfy HR practices, and to fulfil your own sense of ethics and morality, as the HR practitioner representing the employer, you have to ensure that the new employee is properly inducted as indicated in the last instalment of this column.

After the induction, ensure the employee is really confident in his understanding of the expectations. Agree on a time plan to meet and monitor. Every fortnight, or month, for instance, is a good interval to check up on the settling in and delivery ability of the employee.

By using this approach, there will be minimal stress and tension when the said employee has to leave after an unsuccessful probation because there will be mutual agreement from both sides that the decision to terminate was inevitable.

So in the meantime, to build the confidence of the employee, assign specific jobs with agreed timelines, and an outline of the associated rewards and penalties for delivery or non. Keep an open door policy. All of the foregoing is equally addressed to the line manager as to the HR office.

I know to line management it seems like a lot of work, but, how else are you going to measure performance during probation? Next week we will look at samples of probation programmes so you can align yourself as soon as possible.

The H.R. Dashboard



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