Updated Lessons From KIPP LA’s Talent Systems Rebuild

In 2016, KIPP LA began a multi-year journey to overhaul its human capital systems.

The first phase (March 2015-August 2016) included 1) implementing a teacher career pathways initiative and 2) identifying a user-friendly, “one-stop-shop” HR platform for onboarding, payroll, benefits administration, and performance management.

Since August 2016, KIPP LA has:

  • Rolled out an employee Competency Architecture and aligned roles and titles across the organization (the first step towards establishing teacher career pathways)
  • Managed the build-out of and migration of existing data to its new HR platform, Namely
  • Strategically piloted the Namely HR platform and online performance management process with key employee groups before rolling out to the full organization (including the home office) in summer 2017

Phase two went relatively smoothly, given the legwork that was done in the first 18 months. However, no major change management process or technology switch is without its surprises.

Here are four lessons KIPP LA learned from August 2016-November 2017.


Lesson #1: Find the Right Expertise

Building an HR system that aligned with KIPP LA’s plans for the future was challenging. The initial configuration was slow as the KIPP team learned more about Namely’s capabilities and got clear on what they needed it to do.

By December 2016, KIPP LA decided to assemble a new team, focused on systems integration and data, in order to oversee the build-out. Christy Walker, KIPP’s Director of Data Analytics and a key end-user of One Home, assumed overall project management. Annie (Blomberg) Miner, associate director of talent strategy, continued to lead performance management.

A critical new hire was Jose Corona, the HR systems analyst. KIPP LA knew from vendor selection that Namely provided limited implementation supports. During the initial configuration process, however, it became clear that KIPP LA needed an in-house systems analyst who understood not only HR systems but also data. Jose previously worked in a similar capacity at a large private company. Starting in February 2017, he served as the primary Namely liaison and integrated KIPP LA’s existing data into the new system.

Lesson #2: Stay Flexible

KIPP LA intended to roll out the new core HR platform (onboarding, personnel information, and benefits administration) in winter 2017 but pushed back an admittedly ambitious timeline to the summer. “We needed to constantly think about how to get to our ideal state, not how we currently do things,” said Annie. “We weren’t where we wanted to be by December.”

During this time, KIPP worked through a few kinks to make Namely work for the organization. It decided to keep data reporting and analytics on Tableau after realizing that Namely’s reporting function wasn’t as customizable as needed. “We decided to tap into Namely’s API to automatically pull data into our data warehouse,” Christy said.

Annie still has to do a lot of manual cleanup to aggregate and analyze performance management data but is hopeful that some of these challenges will be mitigated by next year.

But there also were pleasant developments along the way. KIPP initially thought payroll would need to stay on a separate system because Namely couldn’t allocate support team salaries across multiple schools. A phone call with another CFO led to a new payroll process and eliminated the issue. Bringing payroll into Namely offered KIPP LA $50,000 in annual savings. It also brought KIPP LA closer to its One Home goal of using a single HR platform.

Overview of One Home’s HR Capabilities

Lesson #3: Learn from Your Toughest Users First

By January 2017, the online performance management process was entirely built out on Namely and ready to test drive for mid-year reviews.

Annie decided that the special education team was the best group to pilot the new review process, because it was spread across different campuses and its goals were harder to measure. Practicing with this group helped Annie refine her messaging and training. She also piloted with two schools that had been the most vocal critics of the old performance system for year-end reviews.

Feedback overall was positive. Annie said, “I was surprised at how intuitive everyone found the platform.”

Some unexpected issues did come up, such as what qualifies as a professional photo. After one user unwittingly chose a picture of Nicki Minaj as her employee profile, the KIPP team adjusted their training to include more guidance on how this information would be used and why accurate, professional data was important.

Sample Individual Profile on One Home Platform

Ultimately, teachers did not care about what HR system was in place so long as it made day-to-day tasks and performance management easier. “I don’t talk about One Home very much anymore,” CEO Marcia Aaron said. “That’s not what teachers care about.”

Once KIPP won over these groups, the full Namely rollout, which took the form of a teacher roadshow in August 2017, went smoothly. Annie, Christy, and Jose went to each campus to give an overview of the platform, help people log onto Namely and explore its self-service capabilities, and walk through the new performance management process. (See roadshow training materials here.)

Annie said, “It helped that we rolled out One Home in stages, starting with the Competency Architecture in 2016. By the time we launched the Namely platform, we were focusing on building skills — not changing mindsets.”

ARTIFACT: Roadshow Training Deck

Lesson Learned #4: Simpler is Better

After more than six months building out the initial Competency Architecture and Role-Specific Architecture, the KIPP team finally had a product that was ready to be tested with its instructional staff in August 2016.

They knew the competencies were a work-in-progress but decided to just ship them as part of the SY2016–2017 performance management process to test them and get feedback.

As in the past, teachers identified actionable “performance goals” (e.g., “All students in my classroom will earn a 3 or a 4 on SBAC”). The biggest change from previous years was that teachers also named “competency focus areas” based on their career progression, as opposed to open-ended development goals.

The Competency Architecture helped create more consistency in teacher evaluations across schools. Teachers were rated on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest. Under KIPP’s previous model, a score of 2 at one school could mean something quite different at another. The Competency Architecture mapped out specific behaviors and expectations that school leaders could use as the basis for coaching. Also, teachers had more clarity on the career pathways available at KIPP LA.

Example of Exemplar Performance Review Comment

Having over 16 competencies was overly complicated, however. After the 2016–2017 performance management pilot, KIPP LA eliminated some competencies and better organized the remaining ones on Namely. (See new Competency Architecture here.)

For example, KIPP eliminated Cultural Competence after seeing that no one scored below a 3 and that there was little variance in scores. “This suggested this was hard to measure accurately,” said Annie. “We saw the real feedback on inclusiveness and respecting diversity in comments about the Self-Awareness competency.”

KIPP LA also started to differentiate the process for specific employee groups. After seeing low One Home usage rates for after-school tutors (part-time, hourly employees), KIPP shortened and simplified their performance management process to better align with their positions.

ARTIFACT: New Competency Architecture


The 2017–2018 performance management cycle for teachers looks like this:

  • Teachers draft performance goals and subgoals by August 31 (anticipated time: 15 minutes)
  • Teachers then complete a non-evaluative self-reflection on what they want to work in their “competency focus areas,” using the Competency Architecture, by September 20 (30 minutes)
  • Teachers have a conversation with their school leaders during a regularly scheduled check-in to align on goals for the year
  • Mid-year performance reviews start in November and are completed by December (see here for mid-year training materials)
  • End-of-year performance goals start in March and are completed by April

This year, the entire process will be run through Namely, instead of Google Docs or Microsoft Word. KIPP LA can send individualized reminders to users to complete specific tasks (a capability that the organization wishes it had used more effectively during the recent benefits open enrollment).

KIPP LA is upfront with staff that performance management will continue to be refined based on user feedback. For example, KIPP is testing subgoals this year but may scrap those if employees indicate they aren’t useful as leading indicators of progress toward end-of-year goals.

In addition, KIPP hopes that staff will eventually track real-time progress on their goals and engage in two-way communication with their supervisors. School leadership teams already are using One Home as a place to share summative feedback on 70–20–10 leader development plans.

One of the big questions that KIPP LA is still grappling with, however, is how to calibrate the new performance management system across schools. “Our ultimate goal is to support and retain great teachers to serve every student,” says Annie. “Therefore, teachers — including those working with our most critical student populations — need to view our performance management process as rigorous, transparent, and equitable.” The organization will use data from this year to inform their approach to this challenge.

We will continue to update our coverage of KIPP LA’s One Home journey