5 Ways to Pass the Employment Probation Period

newjobYou were hired because you are smart and the employer has a high level of confidence in you. You were the best candidate! They want you to succeed.

Here are 5 tips to help you through the employment probation period.

1. Work longer than required.

A good work practice is to work an extra 15-30min at the end of the day. This will look positively on you. Consider this, invariably staff who commute a distance will be unexpectedly late due to weather, traffic, public transit delays, etc. The “banked” minutes/day balances out against the days were the trip in takes unexpectedly longer, days where you need to leave a little early, or have a little longer lunch. It’s a good practice to know in the back of your mind that you have “time banked”.  Related, arrive ready to work. Its a bad practice to arrive at your start time then get your coffee, engage in small talk, then turn on your computer & get setup to start working.

2. Double and triple check your work

Mistakes made in the first 90 days have a greater impact on you and your fledgling tenure than when you’re a “long term” employee.

3. Admit mistakes

We all make mistakes. Admit any mistakes you make. Mistakes are proof that you are trying.

​4. Learn

Be inquisitive. You’re new. Ask lots of questions. Take notes. Learn. Doing the opposite implies you’re not interested or don’t understand. Seek training. If the company doesn’t provide it or peers have insufficient time, seek out webinars, vendors or training videos on Youtube. For company products, ask which are the top 1, 5, or 10 products you should focus on learning. Read manuals.

5. Manage your on-boarding

Build a 30-60-90 day on-boarding plan. Minimally, have daily or weekly plans.


Align this (in your transition)

This blog, within my Transition Management series of blogs, will deal with the alignment of the 5 basic building blocks of an organization.

I’ve learned that for an organization to function properly, 6 elements are required and they must be in alignment.  If the elements are not in harmony, a resulting imbalance could occur, impeding, if not crippling the business.  You can not make quality music if one of the strings of your violin is out-of-tune.

Of the 6 elements, I will not cover Mission & Goals as these are defined by the business owner.  Instead, I will contain myself to the 5 elements you can influence.

Realigning the organization is much like a family vacation:

Mission and Goals First you select the vacation destination
Strategy Map your route
Structure Determine whether you’ll fly or drive
Systems and Processes What do you need to take along
Skills Decide who will drive

The 5 Elements

  1. Strategy is the primary approach the organization uses to reach its goals and to succeed with its mission.  Does the company a) have a strategy statement and b) does it support the company’s Missions and Goals?  My experience is that most people dismiss the strategy statement (if one even exists) and instead try to focus on “just get the job done”. But without a strategy statement, what do you link your job to?  Does your job matter?
  2. Structure is the logical business units, that is, who works where and how is work coordinated between the departments or units.  At this point in your transition, you should be documenting your own org chart (with your own notes) as the company’s official org chart may not resemble reality.
  3. Processes/Systems: Process are repeatable tasks used to deliver value to the business. Systems, be it a computer application or factory equipment, should support the processes.  What processes and systems add value to the organization and which do not?
  4. Skill sets are the human capabilities that exist in the various departments (build this into your org chart).  Do the human resources fit into the culture?
  5. Culture: The unwritten rules guiding the above elements.  Refer to my culture blog here for additional information.

If / when you identify misalignments, be sure not to fall into the trap of implementing quick fixes to resolve complex misalignments.  For example, adopting a corporate CRM where one does not exist, is a cultural change for the organisation – benefits are not fully realized if it is solely used by the Sales team.  Every client facing person needs to adopt the CRM into their daily work routines.  This cultural change will be the hardest to implement.  Review my previous blog on this topic.

Also, you cannot resolve misalignments with structures that look good in Powerpoint, but are too complex to implement, let alone follow.  Staff are simple creatures (if you’re one of my (ex)staff reading this, I wasn’t referring to you – you were/are the exception).  Be cognizant of your team’s ability to absorb strategic changes.  Keep it simple.  Make incremental changes where ever possible.

Help your boss succeed

The purpose of this blog is to highlight some of the techniques to ensure your new boss is on your side.

Don’t be a wall flower

Your boss will have more impact on your results, successes or failures than anyone else in the new firm or in your new role. Therefore, you need your boss’ support for your 90-day plan and to avoid getting sucked in immediately to fire fighting. It’s 100% your responsibility to make the relationship between you and your boss work. One technique is to stay engaged with your boss daily, minimally weekly.  Remember, in a new persons’ position, no news is bad news.

Nobody likes bad news.  Bringing bad news to the boss is risky, but if you’re the one who discovered the issue, I believe is you’ll catch more flak by not divulging the discovery early enough.  This may be your early win.

However, don’t solely approach the boss solely with bad news.  If/when you must present bad news, accompany the news with resolution options.  You’re certainly discovering positive aspects of (e.g.) the business; report on this also.

Help your boss succeed

Some early wins should be based solely on your boss’s priorities and by now you know what his or her’s top pain points are.  You want to stay focused on the top 3 and provide exception-type weekly updates on what you’re doing about them.

The five essential conversations

I’ve learned that there should be five important conversations with your new boss.  They need not take place in isolation of one another, but interlaced.  There is however a logical sequence to the conversations (these also make excellent interview questions):

1. State of the nation: A conversation on how he/she views the organization with a goal of arriving at a situational agreement.  Reaching a shared understanding of the situation(s), its challenges and opportunities is essential.  This will become the foundation for everything you will now do. Regularly confirm and clarify the situation and objectives and don’t let key issues remain ambiguous or misunderstood between you two.  Importantly, a tie in a misunderstanding goes to your boss, not you.

Even though your boss will not likely be aware of the STaRS model, determine which STaRS mode the business, major processes or products are in.  Additionally, learn what those who preceded you have succeeded in, or failed in, and how.

2. Expectations: You need to seek, clarify and negotiate expectations. Learn what is required from you in the short and medium term and the associated success criteria.

3. Interface: Determine how you and your boss will engage going-forward and how often.  Will you engage face-to-face or on Facebook?  What decisions can you make, what kinds require his/her consultation or approval, and when can you take over decisions temporarily being performed by your boss?

4. Resources: Determine what resources are available to you (i.e. funding and personnel).  What do you need to be successful?

5. It’s all about me: How will your term in this role enhance your personal development and what areas will need improvement?  Are their courses that would help you in your new role?  Show a willingness to seek candid feedback to where personal development is needed.  However, as many are uncomfortable in expressing blunt feedback, use a tool like Rypple.com to obtain anonymous feedback from peers, direct reports and your new boss.

You’ll also want to have these five conversations with your new direct reports, but not right away as you need to focus on you first.

Help me to help you

The list below illustrates the different ways your boss can positively impact you, or in other words, your boss’ role in transition.


  • Help getting needed resources quickly
  • Establish clear measurable goals
  • Provide guidance at strategic break points
  • Help staying focused

Turnaround, same as Start-up plus:

  • Provide support for making and implementing tough personnel calls
  • Help cutting deeply enough and early enough
  • Provide support for changing or correcting the external image of the org and its people

Realignment, same as Start-up plus:

  • Help making the case for change

Sustaining success

  • Constant reality testing
  • Support for playing good defense and avoiding mistakes that damage the business
  • Help finding ways to take the business to a new level

While you may have stylistic differences between your boss, your goal is to get measured on results.  You may also not share thanksgiving dinner with your new boss, but it’s essential that your professional capabilities be respected.  If they’re not, your days are numbered.

Framework for Early Wins

By the end of your first 90 days, those who hired you, those who work beside you, and those that work for you want more than a sense of satisfaction, they want to know this change (you) is going to be a success.  From the day you begin, you’re being accessed and opinions, right or wrong, are being formed. If you’re not making progress, the tigers will start circling.   

  • People are asking:
    Do you share their values?
  • Do you strive for results in yourself and others?
  • Are you able to peer around corners and make tough decisions, any decisions?

An early win goes a long way in building street creds, relationships and momentum.  When I look back, I know I’ve secured huge early wins, but being very Canadian and therefore humble, the success was simply compartmentalized as “just doing my job maam”.   I recognize now that those could have been a leveraged.  

Strive to identify potential early wins during your learning phase.   Ensure you, your new org, and importantly, your new boss are on the same page when identifying wins.  Focus on two or three potential early win candidates so you don’t spread yourself too thin during these early days.  Your first win also needs predefined defined measurable success criteria and short-term milestone successes.  While wins likely cannot run in parallel, they can however run in out-of-phase waves.  Each wave consists of the following phases:  

  • Learning
  • Designing the Change
  • Rallying support
  • Implementation
  • Learning from change

Show me the money

The best wins involve saved money, time or resources (in that order) in other words, tangible improvements.  Ambitious (e.g.) fundamental changes in strategy, structure, processes or skill sets, should be avoided like the plague as this will result in the organization’s self-defense mechanisms kicking-in as discussed in an earlier blog.    

Your priorities

Your priorities should balance the learned needs of the company and your personal ambitions and career objectives.  The company’s needs may be spelled out to you upon joining, or you’ll discover problems that demand attention.  Don’t let your priority be too broad or too focused.  Can you identify a promising focal point?

Behavioral Changes

During your assimilation into the new org, you’re picking up the subtle and not-so-subtle behavioral traits of the people.  You’ll need to decide if these behaviors are a benefit to creating or sustaining a high-performance team or not.  What I’ve learned is to systematically look for these characteristics in people:  

Focus Do they have priorities or too many priorities? Having too many priorities is demoralizing as they know they can’t all be achieved.
Discipline Do they attain a consistent level of performance?
Innovation Are improvements consistently sought after? Are we pushing the envelope?
Teamwork Is the team playing nice together? Are people hording knowledge? Are individuals more apt to recognize group achievements over self?
Sense of Urgency Are customer needs being ignored in favor maintaining the safe status quo?

Ideally during your first win, you should instill new methods of behaviours in the org (if such are warranted).  

Tick, tick, tick… 

You are the best candidate to identify ticking time bombs as your learning plan is comparable to being a detective, something unique to the company.  Different parts of the org will have different parts of the ticking time bomb puzzle and you may be the only one equipped to assemble the pieces.  It’s happened to me.  Simply by identifying a time bomb may equate to an early win.  If you fail to act on them however, your mode-of-engagement may shift to 100% fire fighting.   

Where could problems lay?

Where can you find problems that could become a source of early wins?  Here are a few examples:  

Likely source Internal politics, meaning departments are not communicating effectively creating the perfect conditions for problems. Fortunately for you, you have no political baggage and therefore are unbiased.
Probable source Internal capabilities or lack thereof. For example, problems or gaps with skill sets, processes or product quality issues. Another probable source is dissatisfied customers?
Potential source Changing market conditions, new competitors or a failing strategy? Regarding competition, is your product overpriced, inferior, or is a competitive product on the horizon?
Unlikely source New government regulations, economic conditions, health and safety aspects of your product.


When / if you find a mine floating in the business’s path, you must take action:

  1. Generate awareness and conversation of the problem.  “Did you know a mine lays in the direct path of HMS Business?”
  2. Figure it out.  Tactically “what should we do avoid that mine?”
  3. Big picture.  Strategically “what should we do to avoid mines in the future?”
  4. Plan. “Have the army corps of engineers devise a detailed plan around the mine” (The analogy is weak, but run with it anyway).
  5. Support.  “Everyone aboard the HMS Business needs to support the plan”  

It goes without saying to avoid early losses.  It is exceedingly difficult to recover from an early loss (i.e. read between the lines).
Lastly, remember that companies and people can only absorb so much change at once. Also, the change you implement needs to set the stage for future change.

Company may not appear exactly as shown

What bill of goods have you just been sold?  They said the company is 15-years old, yet you’re discovering it to be very immature.  You’ve discovered there are few standard documented processes, everyone seems to be fighting fires and there isn’t a HR polices manual.

As briefly stated in an earlier blog, companies exist in one of four panes of existence:

  1. Startup
  2. Turnarounds
  3. Realignment
  4. Sustaining success

Author Michael Watkins refers to this as the STaRS model.  In reality however, you’re likely to find a company exists in multiple panes of existence instead of squarely in one category.  Different departments, products or systems/processes may each exist in a different category.  For example within a Sustaining Success firm, you could be launching a new product line, which falls into a Startup category.  At the same time, your company may have just acquired another firm who is in Turnaround.  I suspect the combinations and permutations may be similar to the coffee variations at Starbucks.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to identify where each key department, product, or process exists in the STaRS model.  Why?  This will enable you to procedurally tackle the unique issues in each category with a common framework unique to that category.


In a Startup situation, you have limited financial resources, employees are usually less focused on key issues, there is ongoing excited confusion, corporate memory is virtually non-existent – residing in the wet matter of a handful of key resources and the company’s main goal is fiscal survival.  You must channel the excited confusion into a productive direction.  Because the world is your oyster, you need clear measurable goals.  You need to create value and to do so you’ll be making tough calls.  By definition, startups are on the offensive requiring hunter type management.

In a Turnaround stakeholders know what the problems are, but not what to do about it.  For example, the product is at end-of-life with no replacement in sight or a competitor has been relentlessly eating away at your business greatly eroding the financial viability of the business, but at least the team recognizes the consequences.  At any given time, between 20 and 30 percent of all companies are in need of a turnaround (J. Murphy 1986).  Staff may be close to despair – you need to provide a light at the end of the tunnel.  You need to teach people the need for change, teach them about the problems.  Your business, process or product takes on a defensive strategy.  You have one goal, which is to get to a defendable line, meaning you’ll have to make tough calls.  Again, hunter type management is required.

Conversely to a turnaround, in a Realignment situation people will be unwilling to see the forest for the trees.  They’ll be in denial that anything is wrong.  Nortel comes to mind.  The challenge is dealing with engrained cultural norms and convincing employees that change is necessary.  You will still likely to have strong people, products or technologies (again, Nortel).  A farmer management type is needed here.  Hunter type management types don’t work well here.

A Sustaining Success is where most want their company to exist.  However, if you’ve read Good to Great, you know that “good” is the enemy of “great”.  Why try harder when your company and products are good enough? (Hint: you’re competitors are.)  You have to create a new challenge to fend off complacency and find new areas to succeed or grow.  A farmer management type is needed here to take the company to the next level.

Take some time to categorize your new situation as this will aid in strategizing your approach to each.  Categorize the departments, processes and products as you learn about them.

Biz-Unit Product Process
Sustaining Success

There is much business literature on the various states of businesses.  If you find your business / department / process / product entrenched in any particular state, my suggestion is to learn more about that one specific state.

Lights, Camera, Action your Transition!

Action your learning plan

Learning starts before you begin with the new firm or in the new role.  Your personal meter should be running from the moment you learn you’ve got the job.

There a number of number of learning tools at your disposal to aid in ramping-up before you join:

  • Ask your new employer for any additional relevant documentation, for example: recent staff and/or client surveys or focus group results, meeting minutes, product focus groups, whitepapers, manuals.
  • Learn about the organization’s people, structure, performance (annual reports) and clients.
  • Google the firm, their products, their people, product reviews, etc.
  • Search product reviews, blogs, and relevant Twitter accounts (i.e. follow their people, clients, suppliers, if not already doing so).
  • Speak with suppliers and customers.  You may circle back to these same people later on in your learning plan.
  • Speak with former employees (ideally from within your network)
  • Speak with your predecessor or ex-staff if possible. Linkedin will find them.
  • Learn the company’s strategy.
  • Meetup with your new manager for a structured meeting.
  • Try the product if possible and applicable.

Use the above to being compiling your unique initial questions to start the journey once “on the inside”.  You can probably conjure up additional relevant learning tools (I would be interested in learning them and adding them to this blog).

A different set of learning tools become available once you’re officially on the inside, although, it will help you if you can obtain these prior to starting.

  1. Recent staff and/or client surveys or focus group results.
  2. Product focus groups and whitepapers.
  3. Key interfaces to the outside.  E.g. Sales, support and purchasing staff.  The objective is to determine how they view problems at the fringes of the organization.  Plan to engage them.
  4. Select an important process to examine departmental interactions and efficiency. Is the process documented?
  5. Select an important recent decision, then investigate how it was arrived at.

Getting in people’s faces

One first step once inside is to specifically speak with (question) people with critical knowledge as they should provide the best return on your most valuable asset, your time.  These people may also be outside of the company such as key clients, suppliers, distributors or ex-staff (as such, develop standard questions for external resources). You need to speak with people with different points of view, a representative slice of people, some leaders, some key hands-on staff.  Find the historian, someone who has a deep understanding of the relevant history of the company.

Where were you on the night of the 15th?

It’s important to play the same script, that is ask the same series of questions during each meeting.  This will give you varying views on a common set of conditions.  Grade 9 Science stuff.  It will also prevent any one interviewee from taking over the meeting with their agenda, or having your views shaped by the first or last few interviews.  This structure allows to you assess who is being forthright (or not) and/or how deep various players understanding of the business is.

Start by meeting 1:1 with your direct reports.  Again, ask the same questions.  Questions to your direct reports won’t obviously be the same questions you’ll ask (e.g.) a peer or supplier, but there will be overlap.  You’re a smart cookie so you’ll be able to come up with pertinent questions.  A few sample questions are:

  1. Who are the top 3 key customers, why?
  2. How did your predecessor handle decisions?
  3. How were goals set?
  4. What is the organization’s strategy?

Afterwards, have a group meeting with your direct reports to learn the dynamics of the group.

I hope I’ve given you enough to start to begin framing your unique learning plan. I’ve more to write.  Please stay tuned, do not adjust your blog channel.


Begin to grasp the culture

We all try to figure out the culture of a new organization before joining, but I doubt many make culture a decision factor when weighing the merits of a new opportunity.  Many are convinced that they can adapt to the culture, or by adding their DNA, will alter the culture for the better.

Learning a company’s culture isn’t as easy as one would have you believe. For example, first impressions of Enron is they had wonderful core values: Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence. In fact, these values were chisled in marble in their main lobby.  Everyone will agree that these values were not lived by. Their culture was shown by who they had rewarded, promoted or let go.

What is culture then? How do you determine culture?

One method is by learning the symbols, norms and assumptions.

 Symbols are the logos, dress code and decor.  Is there a way to distinguish people by their dress?  There is in the police force.  Some construction trades have different coloured hardhats for various level’s of workers.  Even the style of a name plate on a cubical/office wall may be an indication.

Norms are shared social interaction rules.  What behaviour is tolerated, discouraged or encouraged?  How do people interact with or treat each other or other departments.  Are there shared values (e.g. trust) or routines (e.g. meeting minutes)?

Assumptions are undocumented rules or truths within an organization.  “We always do X this way”.

Culture is also obviously geographically oriented.  I’m told you’re in for an awakening if you’re use to working within the pleasantries of a Toronto business office and relocate to the abrupt nature of a New York City culture (or vise versa).

Will your symbols, norms and assumptions flow with the new organization or create friction?  For example, I refrain from placing signatures on every single email to save digital and real ink.  Some people saw that as being too abrupt.  Now it’s called Twitter.  You either have to adapt or alter your cultural norms, or identify which are helping or hindering your performance. You don’t want people saying “Doug just doesn’t seem to be fitting in.”