Are your managers smarter than a 5th grader?

Mrs. Neuman, our teacher, stood at the front of the class. It was late May in fifth grade, and she told us that she’d been asked to submit suggestions for next year’s Safety Squad.  When you’re in elementary school there is no higher honor than being on the Safety Squad. It’s practically like being a cop. You get respect, you get recognition, you get a badge, you have power. You can actually give kids demerits. For running in the playground, for talking during line-up, for teasing, for fighting. Face it, the safety squad boys (only boys, this was the 1960’s) were cool.


Then Mrs. Neuman said something I’ll never forget.

“Every year when I make this announcement I notice that lots of you boys start sitting up straighter, paying more attention in class, keeping your fingernails cleaner. ” Now she was walking up and down the aisles stopping next to some of our desks. “but I’ve been watching you boys all year long to see how you’ve behaved.” She was standing next to my desk now. “I’ve already got a pretty good idea of who would make good monitors.” She started walking again. “And it’s not very likely that you’re going to sway my recommendation by behaving well for a few days at decision time. It’s how you behave all year long that matters.”

It’s how you behave all year long that matters. Or in workplace parlance, it’s how you perform all year long.

Some employees suffer from Santa Claus Syndrome. In the same way that children can behave for the 30 or so days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to ensure they get all the presents they want, when employees realize that performance appraisal time has rolled around again they start showing up on time, completing their homework, I mean assignments, and keeping their fingernails, I mean cubicles, cleaner. If their managers have been doing their job all year long, then, as Mrs. Neuman said, this will not sway the manager’s opinion.

But do your managers evaluate performance all year long? Do they manage the staff by setting objectives, giving feedback and looking for improvement? Or do they start paying more attention to their employees’ performance at the end of the year when they realize they’re going to have to craft a performance appraisal?

What I’ve discovered is that in today’s leaner, flatter workplace, managers often feel they don’t have the time to do all that’s entailed in being able to craft a thorough, comprehensive evaluation at the end of the year. As a result, they fall victim to the employee who sits up straighter and holds it together for the last three or four weeks of the performance cycle.

Aren’t these managers smarter than a 5th grader?

Lieutenant’s Badge.
I was second in command of the squad.

3 thoughts on “Are your managers smarter than a 5th grader?

  1. I agree with the analogy. How about everything I needed to know about HR I learned as a preschool teacher!
    1. Personal space. Reach out with your arms and turn around. This is your personal space. No one may enter unless invited. Application: Harassment, physical violence?
    2. Share your toys. Application: share your knowledge and time with others.
    3.Do not hit, bite or fight. Application: No gossip, sniping, or undermining other employees or your supervisor.
    4.Learning. Application: Learn new skills, knowledge from each other.
    5.Put the abc’s together to form new words Ap: One skill set becomes the building block for other skill sets.

    Just my observation.

    • Patricia,
      And a wonderful observation it is! I have long maintained that everyone should work in a service industry position at some point. This way we would have a greater appreciation for how hard it is to be a waitress, taxi driver, or salesperson. But maybe all HR (and other) managers should take a turn teaching children to really understand how to lead, educate and motivate a staff. Thanks for your comment!

  2. You are welcomed. In my experience, once it was noted that I had owned and operated a daycare, I had unexpected visits from management to workforce factory workers brighten my door with questions regarding young children.
    What a great way to know my workforce.

    When one company I worked for was going over benefits and wanted to eliminate well-child benefits I stated that sick children mean parents stay home. The controller , whom I rarely had contact with, thanked me afterwards. He stated as controller he had to look at the dollar signs; as a parent of young children he said,”Thank you.” It made my day as at that time I did not realize that I had such a voice and had only by 3 months joined the organization..

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