3 Performance Management Lessons from Kindergarten


Our son started kindergarten last month. We are fortunate that he has a wonderful teacher at an outstanding school.

However, his behavior in kindergarten started out a little rocky. The teacher took a few weeks to teach them about what behavior was expected in class before she started notifying us as parents about their behavior at the end of each day using the color-coded system you see in this picture. After two days of yellow and then a day of orange came home, you better believe the Ward household was not a happy place.  Consequences happened, but we’ve begun to see his behavior improve.

This system seems to be the method that most classrooms are using now, and I think it calls to my attention some key insights- both positive and negative- for performance management in the workplace.

1. Keep it simple. I’m still a little confused in this system as to what color is good, or best and what is bad. I stated in a workshop on performance management last week that while it makes intuitive sense to me that red is bad, why is pink the best? Isn’t that close to red on the color wheel? That doesn’t make sense to me. Then one lady in the audience raised her hand and said that at her kid’s school, red was the best. Really? Confusion abounds. Do we really need such complicated systems to monitor performance? In the workplace, I advocate for a three point scale. Does not meet expectations. Meets expectations. Exceeds expectations.  Isn’t it really that simple?

2. Communicate expectations upfront. The teacher has done a good job of showing the kids at the beginning of school what her classroom expectations are and responding with appropriate consequences and rewards given the color-coding system. She gave the kids time to get used to it before the wrath or praise of parents started. (Our little one tattles on himself, so we knew before we actually started getting the colors that things weren’t going so well…).

Do you communicate performance expectations upfront? Your onboarding process should include, day one, a discussion about the performance management system you have in place, the expectations you have for each employee, and an opportunity for those employees to ask questions to clarify those expectations. It will positively impact performance if they actually know what good performance looks like.

3. Give people opportunities to grow and an environment to thrive. I have been pleased to see that the teacher doesn’t seem to label the kids because one day was a bad (or great) day. Pink or red doesn’t define you for life. I think too often when it comes to performance, we assume that once we see bad performance, we are never going to see any good. However, when we understand what makes people tick, we can better adapt to what job responsibilities and environments give them the opportunities to grow and thrive.

Andrew casually mentioned at the beginning of this week that they were all sitting at new tables with new friends. Although I haven’t confirmed this with the teacher, I think that she, after a month with all them, has learned which kids influence each other positively and which ones seem to have a not so good effect. The little boy Andrew has become instant friends with in his class is not at his table anymore. I think they talk too much and end up getting each other in trouble, and the teacher knows this, so, I’m guessing, she modified their environment to help them succeed.

Keep it simple. Communicate expectations. Create an environment for growth. Does your performance management system and philosophy do these three things?

Mary Ila Ward

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