Skip to the Good Bit (Or, the Problem With Probationary Periods)

Human Resources 18th November 2014

This is not a blog about (as it may first appear) getting old, or recycled music. It’s about HR. If you want the background stick with me for now. If you want to skip to the good bit, scroll down a bit.

One of many great things about getting older (aside from being right about everything) is being able to identify samples, melodies or riffs from music from when you were young appearing in current popular music, and then huffing about the fact that nothing is original any more. When I was young, sampling was really kicking off but I had no clue of the origin of the samples in such 80’s and 90’s classics as Ride on Time by Black Box, Something Good by Utah Saints and Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice (Queen who?).

My latest album purchase is Roaring 20s by Rizzle Kicks (yes, I know it’s a year old). I like Rizzle Kicks a lot. I think their lyrics are clever and relevant, and the tunes are catchy. I particularly like Skip to the Good Bit, which pulls a riff from EMF’s 1991 hit, Unbelievable.

But what any of this does this have to do with HR?

The theme of the song is, about wanting stuff without working for it or at it. In these modern times, where instant success is considered an entitlement, the lyrics strike a resounding chord with me. In my HR world, one of the biggest problems businesses talk to me about is finding and keeping the right people.

I would suggest that many businesses don’t recognise the limitations of the conventional recruitment process. They believe that a recruitment process begins at the point a vacancy arises and ends when a job offer is accepted, that it is the start and finish of finding the perfect person for the role. They are looking for instant compatibility. In the words of Rizzle Kicks….

“I like your style, been watching you for a while, oh yeah, let’s dance, and then……

Let’s skip to the good bit.”

In my words…

“We’re impressed by your CV / reputation in the industry, you performed well at interview….

There’s your desk, now let’s see results”

Not as lyrical, but you get my point I hope.

Are businesses expecting too much from their recruitment process? As someone said to me this week “how can I work out who to put at the helm of this business based on how they’ve performed in other companies and how they perform in a few hours in interviews?”

The right ingredients don’t always result in a cake

In my view, you can’t. You can identify that a person has the necessary skills and attributes from a recruitment process, but that doesn’t always mean that they are the right person for the job. You may have eggs, flour, sugar and butter – but you don’t always have a cake.

Generally speaking the more comprehensive the recruitment process, the higher the likelihood of your chosen candidate ultimately being the right person. Psychological testing, written exercises and group work (to name some recruitment practices beyond the traditional interview-based method) can help to eliminate the candidates who are “creative” on their CVs or who have their interview performance down to a fine art but who just can’t cut it in the job.

I would suggest that some businesses have unrealistic expectations of recruitment processes. They want to skip to the good bit, without working at it. In my view, the recruitment process doesn’t end at job offer – it begins in earnest after the offer is accepted.

So what can we do to help us get it right?

The business has an array of tools at its disposal to channel the potential of the new recruit into the performance it is hoping for.

  • The job description – this is what we want them to do;
  • The training – this is how they should do it;
  • The induction – an opportunity to embed the company’s values and culture into them from the outset (not just to tell them where the toilets are); and most importantly…
  • THE PROBATIONARY PERIOD. In which the new employee’s performance is supported and reviewed to make sure that they are the right fit for the business and that they can do the job.

So often, the business expects to skip to the good bit. Starry eyed from the interview performance, the business counts the days until the start date of their new recruit, announces their arrival with a flourish, takes them out for lunch … and then leaves them to it.

How might that play out?

If they happen to have the perfect person then it will all work out just fine, regardless. Happy days.

If they have a potentially perfect person with some rough edges, it could go either way. The new recruit might get the hang of it eventually. Or, as we so often see, the business could waste months of salary letting the person think they’re doing just fine and then ultimately deciding that there is neither the business resource nor the management appetite to address with the employee the areas in which they are lacking. So they let them go, and start the whole recruitment process over again. What a waste of everyone’s time and the business’s money.

If they have inadvertently recruited a turkey for whom no amount of support and training would be effective to transform into the perfect person, surely the sooner the business recognises and deals with that, the better. But all too often, said turkey is left pecking and scratching at the surface of a role for which they are wrong for months and sometimes years. Costing thousands in direct salary costs and many more thousands in lost revenue and/or management time spent correcting mistakes and pacifying irate customers.

Indefinite recruitment process

HR doesn’t recommend job descriptions, inductions and probationary periods for any reason other than to ensure that a new recruit is right for the business thereby avoiding wasting time and money that could be spent on improving the bottom line. There is no legal requirement for any of that stuff. It should in my view, be considered by business as a continuation of the recruitment process, which should not end until the new recruit completes their probationary period (at the very earliest), is doing what they were recruited to do and doing it well.

After that, the business has the opportunity to review performance, set objectives and targets and ultimately deal with underperforming employees (and yes, I do mean dismiss them). So even if a new recruit puts on a fantastic show during the probationary period and goes downhill from there, there are mechanisms for dealing with that too. You could say that the recruitment process continues indefinitely.

As with so many things, you get out what you put in. Employing people is no exception. Expecting to skip to the good bit every time you recruit may leave you repeatedly disappointed and is probably damaging your business.

Can you afford not to use your extended recruitment process to get the best for your business?

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