How metrics can kill intrinsic motivation

This quote spoke to my heart:

An overemphasis on data can harm your culture through two different channels. One is the suspension of disbelief. Metrics are important, says your organization, so you just proceed to introduce metrics in areas where they don’t belong and everybody just ignores the fact that they are meaningless. Two is the streetlight effect. Metrics are important, says the organization, so you encourage your engineers to focus disproportionately on improvements that are easy to measure through metrics – i.e. you focus too much on engagement, growth hacks, small, superficial changes that can be A/B tested, vs. sophisticated, more nuanced improvements whose impact is more meaningful but harder or impossible to measure.

In both cases, the cost is morale. It’s demoralizing to feel that your success, in the eyes of the organization, is defined by a metric that is either out of your control or doesn’t match your convictions about how to best serve users and the organization. There is a class of engineers – extrinsically motivated, preoccupied chiefly with climbing the corporate ladder, without such convictions, happy to claim credit for upward-bound metrics that seem related to their area of work without being bothered by the lack of a strong causal argument, or to growth hack away and drive up the numbers without creating meaningful improvement – who thrive in this environment. But bad metrics is a surefire way to destroy instrinsic motivation.


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