The Purpose of 90-Day Reviews for New Employees

New hire reviews are one of the most frequently overlooked and grossly underrated parts of a functioning performance management strategy. A 90-day performance review is a chance for employee and manager to check in with each other after the employee has had a chance to settle in.

Whether well-meaning managers allow new hire reviews to fall through the cracks or companies choose to skip them altogether, the idea behind new hire reviews often gets lost in the onboarding process. And considering that formal onboarding programs result in 50% higher employee retention and 62% productivity increase–according to HBR and recent HR statistics research–it is worth dedicating attention and effort to the first 90 days experience.

But new hire reviews—specifically 90-day reviews—can make a big difference in average tenure for employees, manager-employee relationships, and saving time at your organization.

In this article, we’re outlining what 90-day reviews should and shouldn’t provide—no matter what your organization does for performance management.

A 90-Day Performance Review Should Provide . . .

1. A Benchmark for Measuring Performance

90-day reviews function as an important checkpoint for an employee’s progress. In order to fully understand the importance of 90-day reviews, it helps to analyze the patterns of new hires.

Employee retention numbers today are critically low. According to a study from an HR technology company, approximately 17% of new hires leave within the first three months at a new job, while 30% leave within the first six months.

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These statistics prove that a new employee’s first 90 days are critical. Organizations that choose not to implement 90-day reviews into their performance management strategy must rely on annual reviews to evaluate employees. If the above statistics are true, annual reviews either occur after one quarter of an employee's entire tenure or after an employee has already left the organization.

90-day reviews serve as an excellent benchmark during onboarding to measure a new employee’s performance in a realistic timeframe. After 90 days, new employees should feel independent enough to be held accountable for their performance at the company.

2. An Opportunity to Ask Questions

A successful 90-day review gives employees the opportunity to assess themselves while simultaneously giving and receiving feedback. 

The review provides employees the chance to discuss any questions, requests, or concerns that may have surfaced during their first 90 days at their new job with their managers. They can receive feedback on their initial performance to help them understand what’s working and where they can make improvements. 

The 90-day timeframe gives them a chance to make changes early, ultimately setting them up for success in their annual performance review.

3. A Solid Foundation for Manager-Employee Relationships

While the 90-day review could technically be considered a formal discussion for managers to communicate and clarify their performance expectations for new hires, this review can also be an important opportunity for managers to build a solid relationship with their employees. A well-planned 90-day review can help solidify long-term employee engagement at your organization.

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Connecting socially can also help your new hire to better understand the culture of your company. While a large percentage of starting a new job has to do with tasks and projects, there’s also a large social component to a new hire’s first 90 days. A 90-day review can help your new hire ask questions to better understand the lingo, meeting dynamics, and general culture of your organization that they’ve observed.

Ultimately, 90-day reviews help managers assess a new hire’s potential success going forward. After 90 days, managers have had ample opportunity to observe a new employee’s progress, and a formal discussion can help managers more quickly evaluate whether a new hire is a great fit for the organization or not. This step can help save time and resources at your company, which is one reason that 90-day reviews can be an effective part of any performance management strategy.

Helpful Examples of a Beneficial 90-Day Performance Review

  • "How do you feel about your role and responsibilities so far? Do you feel adequately supported and have the resources you need?" 
  • "Can you share some of the challenges you've faced and how you've managed them? This can help us understand where you might need more support or training." 
  • "What aspect of the company culture have you found most engaging, and is there anything you find challenging or unclear?"
  • "How do you see your role evolving, and what goals would you like to set for your continued growth here?" 
  • "Is there any feedback you have for us about your onboarding process or the support you've received so far?" 

A 90-Day Performance Review Shouldn’t Be . . .

1. A “Probationary Period”

The first 90 days of a new hire’s employment are often dubbed a “probationary period”—a phrase that has led to many common misconceptions about 90-day reviews. 

Employees can misinterpret their first 90 days in a new job to be a correctional period that they are immediately placed in on their first day of work. This can potentially harm their view of the company, leading employees to believe that they must “hit the ground running” instead of taking the time that they need to get up to speed.

Instead, 90-day reviews should be adopted into performance management strategies with the intention to structure the review as a reflection of the position. The reviews should be designed to get new hires up to speed in a thoughtful and deliberate way, ensuring that the new employee is able to add value to the company as soon as possible while also feeling valued as a contributor.

2. A One-Sided Q & A

If your approach to 90-day reviews consists of nothing more than a checklist of questions for your new hires, chances are you won’t get much out of using them in your performance management strategy. It’s important that managers treat 90-day reviews as a performance review for both employees and management. 

When the review consists of nothing but feedback from management, a new employee may feel that the effort they put into their first 90 days was overlooked. Because new employees are often stressed by the multitude of new tasks and responsibilities on their plate, overloading them with feedback can cause them to feel overwhelmed.

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Giving new hires an opportunity to share both positive and constructive feedback can help new hires feel that their opinions are heard and their voice matters. It also helps the organization understand what is and isn’t working, which can lead to improvements for the overall organization. 

Feedback for both parties is a key component of ensuring that both managers and employees get the most out of 90-day reviews. 

3. Postponed or Shrugged Off

Unfortunately, this is one of the most common mistakes that companies make regarding 90-day reviews. When managers promise to conduct a 90-day review and then fail to follow through, employees miss out on a formal opportunity to understand how they’re performing and share how things are going from their perspective.

It’s important that management puts forth the effort to create an organized agenda when it comes to 90-day performance reviews. Studies show that organizations that follow through with 90-day reviews see direct benefits in increased employee engagement and tenure. 

The key to achieving a well-structured onboarding program that sets your new hires up for success may be as simple as sticking to your 90-day review plan.

Examples to Avoid in a 90-Day Performance Review

  • "If you don't improve in the next few weeks, your position here might not be secure." 
  • "We don’t usually expect much from new hires in the first three months, so we haven’t paid much attention to your performance." 
  • "It's too early to discuss your career development or future goals in the company." 
  • "Let's focus only on what you've done wrong so far." 
  • "We won't need your feedback on the onboarding process; just focus on your job."

90-day reviews can be a highly effective tool to add to any performance management strategy.

No matter what your process looks like, conducting 90-day reviews with new employees can increase productivity, extend employee tenure, and help new hires reach their full potential at a quicker pace.

Check out our 90-Day Employee Performance Review Template to get inspiration for what your 90-day review process should look like.

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