More than a list of flaws

this too shall pass

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure" — Charles Goodhart

Companies are slowly switching to different target systems, one of them in tech being the OKRs which seem to encounter a lot of success. While those objectives make sense in a company macro level, they become troublesome when you ask individuals to define goals on their side following the exact same principals.

We human love target numbers, they are easy to measure and easy to follow. My problem is that for a lot of jobs they are in fact too easy to define the complexity of one's job. You end up defining steps and outcomes to work on instead of working on ways to improve and evolve. It becomes even more dangerous in "support" professions like analytics or design, where a big part of your daily work is supposed to be to help other teams achieve their goals. Therefore your goals are supposed to evolve over time, depending on the team needs and objectives. One of the main objective for support function ends up being something that is hard to calculate but makes way more sense than any other arbitrary metrics: helps other teams to reach their goals by doing good work.

The other problem with numerical targets is that, as Goodhart's law says, they become the sole objective. We human beings are faillible and also, let's admit it, quite lazy when we want. For a lot of us, if a metric says to reach X, we will stop putting efforts once the X is reached. And the problem is that a lot of the time this X will be a possible projection that might or might not be close to the reality (or just an impossible target sometimes). Targets might also get in the way of doing the real work.

I've seen too often people trying to push for absurd decisions just because some of their objectives asked them to do so while it made absolutely no sense on the business level. This ends up causing a lot of harms on the projects side, but also on the individual side who feels like they have to chose between sacrificing themselves and get bad reviews or help the company do good work.

For example, one of the most absurd thing I encountered in my work life was a marketing team pushing to play a TV spot ad on the top of a landing page which was itself leading to this landing page. The aim of the page was supposed to convert the visitors into buying something, but after weeks of tense discussions we realised that the reason why the marketing team was pushing so hard for the pole position of the page to be the tv spot was because they were incentivized on the number of views of the video, which made absolutely no-sense in terms of business.

I think that by trying to apply the OKR system on an individual level, we are doing more harm than good as we totally ignore that things that are good on a system and macro level might make absolutely no sense on the human level, forgetting a lot of our behavior and psychology. By asking humans to define easy metrics like those we are also ourselves falling back in our laziness pattern, as those metrics while giving the aspect of being objective and measurable are, in the end only easy to measure and nothing else.