Last month I talked about the art and science of hiring. Hiring is extremely important to a startup and any wrong hire has a far significant impact on the startup as compared to the impact on a big company.
Over the past 5 years, like many companies, we do have our fair share of good hires and bad hires. Fortunately, we believed we have a significantly higher percentage of good hires that contributes to our growth. We do not see bad hires as an issue. In fact, we took it upon ourselves to refine our hiring processes to reduce the probability of failures. But no matter what we do in the pre-interviews and post-interviews, we learnt that this is never enough and foolproof. We understand the rationale of having a probation period, regardless of seniority.
Why is probation period critical?
First, we need to define a successful hire. A successful hire, in my own opinion, is a new employee who comes into our company, took on the specific tasks that he or she has been assigned or hired for, and after an initial learning period, is able to make an active contribution to the company. Besides performing the specific assigned tasks, we also need to assess whether the new employee can fit into the culture. Does the employee go lunch with his or her colleagues? Is the employee talking to his or her colleagues? Does the employee fit in culturally? Is the way things done what we are expecting? Hence, to me, the litmus test of a successful hire is someone who can:
- Blend into the company’s culture
- Able to contribute to his or her work
- Able to connect with the company’s goals and also challenges
- Be happy working in the company
Here is why probation period is crucial. We can test out the candidate’s technical competency. But in a startup, things are very dynamic. The employee’s culture and mindset are often the main determining factors and such factors cannot be effectively uncovered in 1 or 2 interviews. It has to be observed over a period of time and we believe a 6-month period is a reasonable time for both the company as well as the employee to assess the right fit.
During this probation period, we expect the new employee to learn and learn fast. We expect the new employee to attempt to fit into the culture as well as take up new challenges that may not be on the original job scope. We believe this way of testing yields a higher chance of success match.
Through the probation period, we did have new staff who left us within the probation period. We see this as a good sign. The period allows both parties to assess each other. We hold no grudges. Everyone has to bring bread to the table for their own family and naturally they want to work in places, which have a good fit to their own aspirations. We understand and we try as far as possible to part on good terms. Fortunately, we are able to do in most of the cases.
From the experiences of staff leaving within the probation period, it also allows us to fine tune the interview processes. It is an iterative process and we believe we learn to be better. But there’s no perfect answer for a perfect hire.
What happens after confirmation?
Even for staff who stayed beyond the 6 months probation and got confirmed, things can still change. We believe that as we progress, we add more staff, we add more policies in view of trying to manage a bigger team and creating the consistency that we need, all these changes can create discomfort and friction for some existing staff.
Nevertheless, we believe this is a perpetual challenge for all companies – keeping a strong company culture and keeping a happy team.
Over the years, we have learnt a lot. We tried our best to take care of our own staff within our means. We are glad that we have a happy team. We won the Best Tech Company to Work For Award in 2015. It was a recognition of our culture. And another test – our first employee is still with us today!
With best regards,