Thursday, September 20, 2012

Poor Kitties...

Most of these kitties are most definitely not having fun, but Debbie and I laughed like hell anyway.  Via my lovely bride:

This Sure Looks Like Fun!

Via my mom:

13 Years Old...

Goosebumps. Awesome.  She looks like a 13 year old, but she certainly doesn't sound like one!

Fire Tornado...

Via my mom:

Merit Pay for Teachers...

The way we compensate teachers in most jurisdictions today has always struck me as a priori idiotic.  The notion that increases in compensation derive only from how long you've spent in a job is clearly not a recipe for extracting maximum performance from employees.  Unions, on the other hand, absolutely love it – because it means they can tell every person who joins the union that their performance will not be measured.  All they have to do is stay on the job (and the union will also make that a near-certainty) and they'll have a lifetime of raises.  How well they do their job has nothing to do with whether they get raises. 

That's just stupid.  Anyone who thinks otherwise must be, at their core, a socialist – a believer in a political system that has proved a failure in every single attempt ever made to implement it, and that has killed more humans than anything else humanity has ever done.  Call me an extremist if you must, but to me this is one of the most dangerous notions mankind has ever surfaced – and that's not for lack of competition!

A completely separate question, and one that I find very interesting, is just what kind of merit pay actually works to improve performance.  Megan McArdle has some thoughts on this.  It's a question that I'm very familiar with, as it's one that any manager in a business setting deals with as a routine part of their job.  I've spent much of the past 40 years (more, actually, dang it) as a manager at some level.  Designing compensation systems that extract maximum performance from employees has been a key part of every one of those jobs.  Teachers aren't any different in this respect than any other employees (though they, of course, argue that they're special and unique).  Every kind of employee I've ever worked with (and I've worked with many), and every corporate and contemporaneous societal culture changes the shape of what kind of merit pay works.  Individual people vary greatly in terms of what motivates them – when it's feasible to design individual compensation plans, that's going to get you the best result.  Generally speaking, though, any organization with more than a dozen or so individuals is too big for that to really work.

Over time, managers have come up with a bazillion different ways to deliver merit pay.  In my industry (software), most of the time merit pay is delivered in the form of stock options (or more recently, stock grants) and quarter's end (or year's end) cash bonuses.  Nearly every company I've ever worked with has done a poor job of managing these programs, from one particular perspective: ensuring that the money spent actually delivers improved performance.  It's hard to make these things work well, and the differences between individuals' motivations makes it challenging to find a “one size fits all” system that actually works on average.

Yesterday I heard about yet another bonus scheme.  It was the first time I'd heard of it, but it's not a new idea. This time the scheme was applied to teachers, with markedly positive results (measured by their students' performance).  That's a very interesting result.  Here's an article on that study, which relies on a psychological principle that I have heard of, called “loss aversion”.  If you're a leader who motivates people as part of your job, this is fascinating stuff.  To me, it is fascinating from a completely different perspective: it puts the lie to the long-time union contention that no merit pay system will affect teacher performance.  It turns out (and of course this is no surprise to me) that teachers are people, too – and just like any other person, if you design a compensation system that rewards better performance in a way that is meaningful to them, you will get (wait for it!)...better performance!

For the children, of course.