Annual review season is in full swing, and most of the experienced managers and long term employees on your staff have been through the process before and know exactly what’s expected of them. Self-evaluations are being typed up and edited as we speak. And managers are looking out over their flocks of direct reports, assessing the progress of each individual, choosing coaching strategies, and coming up with ways to reward top performers.

But what about those mysterious entities, those blank slates with no clear record of accomplishment or struggle and no documented performance issues of any kind?

New employees who have been on board for fewer than six months can be challenging to evaluate, but managers dismiss these challenges at their peril. The first review can have a defining impact on an employee’s relationship with a company, and even if your managers have nothing to say, they’d better come up with something fast, and they’d better recognize that the stakes may be higher this year than they’ll ever be in the future.

Tact and foresight will play key roles during a new employee evaluation. Remember that the company may see the new hire as probationary, but the employee likely views the company in the same light. If she’s criticized more harshly than she expects, or confronted with drummed up negatives as well as positives because the protocol requires a balance, this may sow seeds of demotivation that can be hard to weed out later. By the same token, praising her wildly for showing up every morning may give her a false sense of her manager’s expectations.

Most of the time, employee reviews are based on a set of relatively objective truths, and the truth can free a manager from some of the human emperformuncertainty involved in effective coaching, discipline and motivation. But new employees come with very few objective truths. So you’ll need to make the most of every performance metric you’re able to gather.  Your review software can help. Choose a system, like CRG emPerform, that can help you collect and analyze data points across a wide variety of objective criteria. Start the analytic and record keeping process the day the employee joins the firm, and a few weeks or months down the road, you’ll be ready for a review that’s data-rich, productive, and meaningful.