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Managing probation and performance in a small business

Managing probation and performance in a small business
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Managing probation and performance in a small business
Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells by Sandhya Iyer - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells
Director - HR Dept Sevenoaks Tonbridge Tunbridge Wells

Managing your staff – and encouraging them to achieve their best – is crucial for business success. Getting them wrong can take up a lot of your time and resources. Sandhya Iyer of the HR Dept shares her top tips for how to get probation and performance management right from the start.

As an HR professional who runs an advice line, I spend about half my time dealing with queries about probation and performance management.  The 80:20 rule typically applies here, with 20% of your staff often taking up 80% of your management time.  However, following some simple rules can help you get off to the right start with your employees, so you can all focus on doing a great job, rather than getting bogged down in managing poor performance, which isn’t fun for either party.

Tip # 1: Get the probation period right

Seek advice on what is the best probation period for your business. The law does not stipulate a specific period of time for probation, except that it cannot be unduly long. At the same time, what is appropriate as a period of probation for one business may not be the same for another. If you are a business like a call centre, which requires a new hire to undergo an extensive period of training, then you might choose to have a longer probation period of six to nine months. If your business doesn’t require such a lengthy training period, you may choose the more standard period of three to six months. When choosing how long your probation period should be, it’s worth remembering that this is an opportunity for both sides to work out if the job and candidate are the best fit – that’s why it’s so important to get it right and why a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in this context.

Tip #2: Get your paperwork right

Anyone who works for you is doing so under a legal contract – or at least they should have a legal employment contract issued to them, ideally within 2 months of their start date of employment. This also means that maintaining a paper trail of any discussions you have with your staff – be it to do with their probation, performance, or promotions – is part of recognising the contractual relationship between an employer and employee and your legal obligations as an employer, rather than a friendly colleague. Whilst it may feel awkward to make a file note of conversations with your staff, remember that the only evidence you will have to rely on if you need to refer to a past discussion and ensure a fair process is your written audit notes.

Tip #3: Tackle performance issues as they arise, within a framework of proper reviews

Do not wait for a performance issue to crop up to discuss your staff’s performance; performance issues are most successfully addressed if they are managed as they arise. However, regular planned reviews are also a vital part of managing performance.  Not only do performance appraisals have a positive impact on the overall morale of the business, they can also prove a useful tool to nip any grievances in the bud. Sometimes these discussions could be a sounding bell to get your job descriptions or organisation charts reviewed.

I appreciate that you may be thinking: ‘I am a small business owner. I don’t have the time for all this fluffy stuff such as appraisals, and I have a good team. I don’t see the need for this extra paperwork and chat.’ As a busy business owner, it’s an understandable response; however, your best defence in any tribunal to minimise the cost of any award is the audit trail you maintain to manage your staff’s performance and their development needs, on an ongoing basis. With HR matters, prevention is always better than cure, because it costs less in terms of time, fees, settlements and stress levels. So definitely get those dates in the diary to get your performance reviews done.

The aim with effective performance management is to tackle issues before they escalate. Following these tips will help prevent future people problems.

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Sandhya Iyer is the director of the   HR Department , helping small- and medium-sized businesses in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, Kent.  A graduate member of the   Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development , she works with business owners, entrepreneurs and managers to prevent people problems and help them get the best from their staff.