Probation – The Scarlet Tanager Test

The male scarlet tanager is one of the most colorful woodland birds in America with a body of brilliant red and jet black wings. But like a new employee who interviewed well at first and looks at the start to be a super star candidate…well, as a Supervisor under me used to say, "a new broom sweeps clean."


At and in our management training programs, we use the following example as a parallel for probationary periods:


Ornithologists have studied the tanager’s mating and nesting habits extensively. A female selects a partner, they build a nest, they mate, and she lays a clutch of eggs. While the eggs can go without her body warmth for an hour at a time, she elects to stay on them, depending on her mate to bring her food. If the male fails to feed her for even as little as one hour, she leaves, abandoning him and the eggs before they hatch. You see, this is a test period. Once hatched, the nestlings will each need to be fed 3-4 times an hour. If the male can’t even feed the female, he surely can’t do the work of co-feeding an entire brood. In effect, he’s fired.


When you have an employee on a probationary period, whether as a new hire or as part of progressive discipline, it is critical that you commit enough time to properly assess their progress. In our management training courses, we cover this important process in the "Evaluation" segment. Once you let a poorly matched employee through the probationary period, it is that much harder to get them back on course, especially if the problem is attitudinal. But skill progress needs to be assessed too.


At the Management Training Institute, we suggest you follow the example of the female tanager. Cut your losses early (and support that person in finding work that is a better match than with your team).



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