Probation: How to Survive - Part Two

Probation: How to Survive - Part Two

The question with probation is how to hedge your chances and successfully survive the initial three months, thus putting your future back in your own hands. After you come off probation, there is a power shift in favor of the employee, and legally it becomes much, much harder for a company to let you go, so the objective is to get you to that point.

Let's look at probation in Japanese companies, or foreign ones where your department may happen to be largely Japanese. Try to remember the main points of Japanese culture and its values - then to formulate some activities and behaviors as ways to insure yourself.

For a start, this is the land of business, so an obvious leverage point is to make sure that you are being seen to be working hard and are of worth to your seniors. This may seem superficial - after all, surely getting results is more important isn't it? Well, while results are indeed important, it is unlikely during your probation period that you are going to achieve anything outstanding enough to mark you as being special. Therefore, what you have to demonstrate is your visible activity.

Working hard usually means working long hours - typically 8:30am until your boss leaves in the evening. Yes, this might mean you'll be at the office until 20:00 or later - so this is the point at which you need to decide whether this is the company for you and whether you can bring yourself to sacrifice your time and freedom to achieve a secure job within the company.

A second insurance policy is what I call the "convenience factor", and involves taking on jobs that no one else wants to do. Usually these are the tedious jobs, but if you look hard, it is also those jobs which fall between two job descriptions. Indeed, these are often the best ones to leverage on, and the reason is simple. A pragmatic manager be willing to let you staying on in the company, even though your performance may be lacking in some other areas if they know that letting you go will cause a gap in services and support to his/her customers. Quite simply, you're convenient to have around.

A third insurance policy, but one you have to be careful not to overdo, is to quickly develop a social network. You don't want to be seen as a social climber, or you might threaten your manager's position of authority, and they'll want to get rid of you before you gain leverage over them. However, it is helpful if you can get known to other managers so that if your manager asks what they think about you, they'll actually be able to answer positively.

As an illustration of this, I had an employee in our technology outsourcing business who had little relevant experience but who was very enthusiastic and talented. Since his problem was lack of experience, even though I showed his resume to potential clients, they would turn him down. Finally, I managed to get him the worst position in the IT world - working from mid-night to 7:00am screening audio tapes of traders suspected of insider trading. Although the job was really boring, the employee was smart and every morning after coming out from the screening room, he would walk out of the customer's office bidding a cheery good morning to senior managers just arriving in their offices. After a couple of weeks the greetings grew into conversations, and after two months, one of the managers asked him to fix "a small computer problem" on his home PC. Well, from then on, the employee became extremely popular, and the client manager specifically asked for the person to be put on to his IT support team!

A fourth insurance policy is that of learning a new technology or skill sufficiently quickly that you become an expert in the office in that particular area. Every company, and particularly small ones, have projects on hold which are undone because of lack of manpower. If you're the only one who knows how to change phones on a PBX, or use some obscure but important feature of the new design software, you make yourself too valuable to fire. Now, you don't want to be doing this at the expense of your regular job, but remember the comment above comment about putting in extra hours? The best way to use those hours is for study. Crack those manuals and get expert - the hours of 19:00 through 22:00 are perfect for doing this because you're unlikely to be interrupted with phone calls and/or colleague requests. And yet, you look like you're working...