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Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I have, shall we say, "eclectic" interests. But fortunately, all roads lead to HR, so it works out for you all.

I found this article from the The New Yorker titled, "How childbirth went industrial." How could I not read that? The most fascinating part was the creation and insitution of the APGAR score--used to evaluate new babies.
The score was published in 1953, and it transformed child delivery. It turned an intangible and impressionistic clinical concept—the condition of a newly born baby—into a number that people could collect and compare. Using it required observation and documentation of the true condition of every baby. Moreover, even if only because doctors are competitive, it drove them to want to produce better scores—and therefore better outcomes—for the newborns they delivered.

Around the world, virtually every child born in a hospital had an Apgar score recorded at one minute after birth and at five minutes after birth. It quickly became clear that a baby with a terrible Apgar score at one minute could often be resuscitated—with measures like oxygen and warming—to an excellent score at five minutes. Spinal and then epidural anesthesia were found to produce babies with better scores than general anesthesia. Neonatal intensive-care units sprang into existence. Prenatal ultrasound came into use to detect problems for deliveries in advance. Fetal heart monitors became standard. Over the years, hundreds of adjustments in care were made, resulting in what’s sometimes called “the obstetrics package.” And that package has produced dramatic results. In the United States today, a full-term baby dies in just one out of five hundred childbirths, and a mother dies in one in ten thousand. If the statistics of 1940 had persisted, fifteen thousand mothers would have died last year (instead of fewer than five hundred)—and a hundred and twenty thousand newborns (instead of one-sixth that number).

Isn't that amazing? The institution of a way to monitor and quantify information ended up leading to the saving of millions (over the years) of lives. Develop a metric that truly measures what you need and then follow its advice.

I read about another interesting metric involving Master's Degrees for Teachers. Turns out that there isn't much evidence that a teacher with an advanced degree is a better teacher than one without. Yet, most teachers receive a premium for obtaining one.

Hmmm, we had a metric (number of teachers with master's degree) to compare with another metric (student success rate) and we thought the first should cause the second, (more educated teacher=better teacher), but current evidence suggests that's not true.

I doubt anyone in the United States would deny that there are some problems in education. Granted, many children receive fine educations--I believe I was one of the lucky ones--but many do not. The APGAR score saves lives. Can't we develop a metric that will help us save children?

I realize with the "save the children" language, I'm starting to sound like (horrors!) a liberal, but what I'm really saying is let's gather evidence and act on it.

And whose job is it to figure such things out? Drum Roll Please...Human Resources! That's right. Teachers are employees. Employee success and failure should be monitored and evaluated by HR professionals with an understanding of measurement. Are the things we are focusing our money on really bringing about success? If yes, great. If no, change needs to be made.

Metrics in HR is a relatively new field. Prior to its implementation, many HR departments were very warm and fuzzy but very unhelpful to the business. We're still warm and fuzzy (at least when non HR people are around--when we're alone, we're rather cranky), but now we understand the need for numbers to back up what we do.

If your HR department hasn't developed good ways to measure success, they should. If they need help, they should contact Evil HR Lady, who would be happy to help them out. For a small fee. (Hey, I'm a free market capitalist--remember?)

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