News from the Bush School

Dr. Deborah Kerr – Faculty Spotlight

November 26, 2013

November 26, 2013

Dr. Deborah L. Kerr
Dr. Deborah L. Kerr

Dr. Deborah L. Kerr has been a lecturer and a member of the graduate faculty at the Bush School since 1999, teaching performance management, public policy formation, and advanced management, in addition to supervising second-year capstone projects.  She was recognized with the University’s 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching and with the Silver Star Award given by the Class of 2009 for outstanding service and dedication.

While working for the Texas Legislature, Kerr was invited to give a lecture as part of the School’s inaugural lecture series.  The following year, she was asked to teach a course; and in the fall of 2012, she began teaching two courses per semester.  “They must have liked what I said in my first lecture,” she said, smiling. 

Kerr said she has always taught at a university throughout her professional life as a part of her service-oriented mentality. “Having worked in every sector—public, private, and nonprofit—gives me a certain perspective that can help students translate theory to practice,” Kerr said.

Kerr holds degrees from Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame), Columbia University, and The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her PhD.  She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Business at Texas State University.

While an executive at the Texas State Auditor’s Office (SAO), Kerr led the development of one of the nation’s first public sector balanced scorecards, which in 2004 was recognized as one of the world’s best measurement systems and was selected for the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame.  Kerr said SAO executives were frustrated with the lack of really good and timely data to use in decision making.  She read about the manufacturing industry’s approach to measurement and with her colleagues translated that for the public sector. She also served as senior vice president at the American Heart Association’s Texas Affiliate, where she led the implementation of human capital systems and balanced scorecards. Her work in the public and nonprofit sector led to her service on the National Advisory Panel for Human Resource Performance Measurement at the Maxwell School of Government, Syracuse University, to develop public sector performance measures for the “Grading Government” studies published by Governing magazine.

Kerr said her interest in performance management stems from two experiences.

“One, I have had some bad managers and thought, ‘there must be a better way to manage. What does it mean to manage well?’” Kerr said.  “Two, I had a boss who was the best boss I’ve ever had–a CPA who was very innovative and demanding.  He took a risk when we began to develop our performance management system - no one had ever done it for the public sector before.”

Kerr is a co-founder and partner at Affintus in Austin, Texas, a company that helps managers make better hiring decisions using technology that provides objective data on the three key job success factors: cognitive, personality, and work culture preferences. This experience influences her teaching in the classroom.

“I’ve been an executive in all three economic sectors. They all have the same problems,” Kerr said.  “My work is a way of collecting more examples that add to the discussion on what it means to manage well and successfully.”

Kerr’s work has been recognized by the Society for Human Resource Management as “best practice” and has been written about in Financial World magazine, Austin Woman magazine, and recently in the Austin American-Statesman. Her work in performance measurement was featured in both Paul Niven’s 2002 book, Balanced Scorecard Step by Step, and Mohan Nair’s 2004 book, Essentials of the Balanced Scorecard.

Her work also has been published in Perform magazine and the Journal of Accountancy and has been published in Italy and India. She is co-author of a chapter on consulting to public sector organizations in the textbook In Action: Building a Successful Consulting Practice, published by ASTD. She blogs and writes on evidence-based management at .  Dr. Kerr is co-host of the radio show “Managing OS” (managing operating systems), where she speaks to a national audience and spreads the word about evidence-based management. 

At the Bush School, Dr. Kerr is known for her speech at new student orientation, “On Graduate School,” where she discusses the importance of ethics and self-management.

“You are responsible for your own success. You have to manage your own image, learning, growth, and communication in all forms. Once students are able to do this, they will be able to succeed,” Kerr said.  In her leisure time, Kerr enjoys food and wine, artisan baking with a 127-year-old Virginia sourdough, and being a bit of a gym rat. 

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