Imposing a strict system of quantified metrics to evaluate and reward performance has serious deleterious unintended consequences. It induces gaming of the system, a kind of rent-seeking behavior that adds nothing to productivity and often detracts. It siphons attention toward goals whose achievement can be measured and away from goals whose achievement is difficult or impossible to measure but may be of greater importance.
In K-12 education, government programs such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) led to extensive gaming and even cheating. Teachers’ schools’ funding, and their own employment, was dependent on their students’ performance on standardized, government-mandated math and English exams. Hence, many teachers spent much of their class time “teaching to the test.” This moved the emphasis toward test-taking and away from arguably more important activities with unmeasurable results, such as cultivating students’ capacity for intellectual curiosity, good behaviour, and creative thought and innovation.
As Muller explains, part of the reason for the increase in metricization is that employees and executives are not trusted. Therefore, quantitative requirements are imposed on their behavior to keep them in line. In response, they behave in precisely those ways that the quantification model expects them to behave. And by gaming the quantification system and cheating, they make it appear that the measurement system is working. And yet, the ultimately desired results are not improved and are often even made worse.