Why Do I Hate Performance Metrics?

I don’t think I can possibly be the only person who feels this way. Time tracking, quarterly goal-setting, year-end evaluations…I instinctively hate these tools.

I think they are extraordinarily useful, I think organizations that don’t use them are bonkers crazy. I think these measurement tools teach us about how we work best, and help to elucidate larger frameworks for success in an organization. I think they make it possible for an employee to feel that they are accomplishing good work, and they help managers assess performance and priorities.

I hate them because they are used incorrectly. Instead of framing these tools as a way to measure and reward productivity (not always a financial reward, though wouldn’t that be nice?), they are used as a way to frighten and punish over-extended workers.

An example, if I may. I once worked at a job in which I managed a huge number of projects all at once, in a number of different areas of work (event management, new program development, marketing, development, financial management, personal support to our Director, etc). My daily routine consisted of handling as many emails and meetings as I could while also being constantly available to other staff members and my own boss to answer questions and discuss programs in-depth. I constantly felt overextended and like I was not able to focus on a project for long enough to make sure it was being dealt with in a high quality way. After almost 2 years at the job, burnt out and frustrated,  I said something about this to my boss. Her response was to ask me to track my time, in hour increments for a month, so she could see how I was using my day.

I was furious. Why? I was insulted, because in my mind the implication was that I was not working hard enough.

Partly, this was a problem of presentation–if the concept of time tracking had been explained to me in a different, more positive way, my reaction would have been more positive. But also, there was a genuine disagreement between myself and my boss about how much time I should have been spending in personal support to her (classic “managing up” stuff). In truth, metrics like these were a great solution to the problem I was encountering.

However, if metrics are used as a form of punishment, or only used to measure and confirm failure, they aren’t being used correctly. Or worse, if the employee measures his or her own performance, and then management does nothing with this information, it’s just wasted time and effort.

Does your job have performance metrics in place? How do they make you feel?

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