More and more companies, government agencies, educational institutions and philanthropic organisations are today in the grip of a new phenomenon: ‘metric fixation’. The key components of metric fixation are the belief that it is possible – and desirable – to replace professional judgment (acquired through personal experience and talent) with numerical indicators of comparative performance based upon standardised data (metrics); and that the best way to motivate people within these organisations is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.
The rewards can be monetary, in the form of pay for performance, say, or reputational, in the form of college rankings, hospital ratings, surgical report cards and so on. But the most dramatic negative effect of metric fixation is its propensity to incentivise gaming: that is, encouraging professionals to maximise the metrics in ways that are at odds with the larger purpose of the organisation. If the rate of major crimes in a district becomes the metric according to which police officers are promoted, then some officers will respond by simply not recording crimes or downgrading them from major offences to misdemeanours. Or take the case of surgeons. When the metrics of success and failure are made public – affecting their reputation and income – some surgeons will improve their metric scores by refusing to operate on patients with more complex problems, whose surgical outcomes are more likely to be negative. Who suffers? The patients who don’t get operated upon.
When reward is tied to measured performance, metric fixation invites just this sort of gaming. But metric fixation also leads to a variety of more subtle unintended negative consequences. These include goal displacement, which comes in many varieties: when performance is judged by a few measures, and the stakes are high (keeping one’s job, getting a pay rise or raising the stock price at the time that stock options are vested), people focus on satisfying those measures – often at the expense of other, more important organisational goals that are not measured. The best-known example is ‘teaching to the test’, a widespread phenomenon that has distorted primary and secondary education in the United States since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Short-termism is another negative. Measured performance encourages what the US sociologist Robert K Merton in 1936 called ‘the imperious immediacy of interests … where the actor’s paramount concern with the foreseen immediate consequences excludes consideration of further or other consequences’. In short, advancing short-term goals at the expense of long-range considerations. This problem is endemic to publicly traded corporations that sacrifice long-term research and development, and the development of their staff, to the perceived imperatives of the quarterly report.
To the debit side of the ledger must also be added the transactional costs of metrics: the expenditure of employee time by those tasked with compiling and processing the metrics in the first place – not to mention the time required to actually read them. . . .
Question: What main point does the author want to convey through the examples of the police officer and the surgeon?
- Some professionals are likely to be significantly influenced by the design of performance measurement systems.
- Metrics-linked rewards may encourage unethical behaviour among some professionals.
- The actions of police officers and surgeons have a significantly impact on society.
- Critical public roles should not be evaluated on metrics-based performance measures.
The author has cited examples of the police officer and the surgeon to highlight the undesirable practices that might result from metric fixation. Option 1 goes out because it has a positive tone to it. To significantly influence something means to have a positive impact on something. Option 1 goes out.
Option 2 makes sense as metrics-linked rewards may result in unethical behavior in undesirable practices. Option 3, like option 1, talks about significant impact, which is not the reason for discussing the actions of these two professions. Choice 4 takes the focus away from ?any role? to ?critical public roles?. The author does not have only critical public roles in mind. He is talking about roles in general.
Question: Which of the following is NOT a consequence of the 'metric fixation' phenomenon mentioned in the passage?
- Improving cooperation among employees leading to increased organisational effectiveness in the long run.
- Short-term orientation induced by frequent measurement of performance.
- Finding a way to show better results without actually improving performance.
- Deviating from organisationally important objectives to measurable yet less important objectives.
This is a very simple question. The author talks about the flaws of metric-based rewards. One of the major flaws that the author discusses in the passage is loss of long-term objectives, and focus on short-term gains. Option 2 is one of the consequences that the author discusses in the passage. By discussing the example of a doctor and a policeman, the author points out at the ways people might improve metrics without actually improving their performance. Option 4 too, like option 2, suggests moving away from the more important long-term goals of the organization. The long-term improvement in choice 1 is opposite to what the author says in the passage. This is an exception and the right choice.
Question: Of the following, which would have added the least depth to the author’s argument?
- An analysis of the reasons why metrics fixation is becoming popular despite its drawbacks.
- More real-life illustrations of the consequences of employees and professionals gaming metrics-based performance measurement systems.
- A comparative case study of metrics- and non-metrics-based evaluation, and its impact on the main goals of an organisation.
- Assessment of the pros and cons of a professional judgment-based evaluation system.
This is a difficult question. We have to understand the question, what is already given in the passage, and what, when added, would give more substance to the author?s argument.
The question wants to pick a choice that would add ?least? depth to the author?s argument. So the options that are likely to add depth will go out.
The reason why option 2 becomes the right choice right away is because the author has already discussed the negative consequences of gaming metrics-based performance by taking real-life illustrations of a doctor and a policeman. It would be superfluous for the author to discuss more examples. Option 1 is not discussed in the passage, and is likely to shed more light on why metric fixation is becoming popular despite its drawbacks. The comparative study mentioned in option 3 too is not discussed in the passage and will add some more substance to the author?s argument. Option 4 also has not been discussed in the passage. The author has said that a professional judgement-based evaluation is good, but why is not discussed. So the pros and cons will indeed shed more light on this.
Question: All of the following can be a possible feature of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, EXCEPT:
- standardised test scores can be critical in determining a student’s educational future.
- the focus is more on test-taking skills than on higher order thinking and problem-solving.
- school funding and sanctions are tied to yearly improvement shown on tests.
- assessment is dependent on the teacher's subjective evaluation of students' class participation.
This too is a little tricky question, as it focuses on the ?except? part of the right choice. We have to pick an option that cannot be a feature of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an example of how metric based performance might take the organization?s focus away from the more important organizational goals, the act will have features that are in tune with metric based performance criteria.
Option 1: test score is a metric based criterion. Since the option says that it is critical, it is likely to be a possible feature (ignore the choices that are pro metric based performance)
Option 2: the focus is more on test-taking skills (again we have metric based criteria)
Option 3: funding is based on improvement shown in tests (again we have metric based criteria)
Option 4: subjective evaluation is non-metric based criteria. Thus option 4 is the best choice.
Question: What is the main idea that the author is trying to highlight in the passage?
- All kinds of organisations are now relying on metrics to measure performance and to give rewards and punishments.
- Long-term organisational goals should not be ignored for short-term measures of organisational success.
- Performance measurement needs to be precise and cost-effective to be useful for evaluating organisational performance.
- Evaluating performance by using measurable performance metrics may misguide organisational goal achievement.
To answer this question, we will take one option at a time
Option 1: all kinds of organization is not the focus. The drawbacks of metric fixation is the main idea of the passage
Option 2: This option completely ignores the drawbacks of metric-based performance evaluation. It rather compares the long term organizational goals vis a vis short-term measures of organizational success.
Option 3: The idea of cost-effectiveness is not there in the passage
Option 4: Precisely what the author is discussing in the passage. It has the keyword metric based performance with its negative outcome, which is what the author is primarily concerned with in the passage.