Counting What Counts: When and How Performance Indicators Mislead
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People often rely on performance indicators for feedback on broad personal and organizational goals, e.g., using body weight to assess health and, in academia, using publication count to assess scientific contribution. Indicators can also be helpful as specific goal targets themselves, e.g., lose ten pounds, publish three papers (Locke & Latham, 2002). Yet, indicators rarely capture broad underlying goals, like health or scientific contribution, in full. As a result, people can also pursue indicators in ways that actually hinder underlying goals (Ordóñez, Schweitzer, Galinsky, & Bazerman, 2009)—what I conceptualize as “misalignment” from the underlying goal. For example, narrowly pursuing publication count can ironically lead to questionable research practices that are misaligned with the underlying goals of science. I review the existing research related to this phenomenon, primarily from management science, and present an integrative model suggesting potential antecedents and psychological consequences. Building on social psychological research, I then develop and test two main hypotheses: 1) the perceived social value of performance indicators is a key predictor of misalignment and 2) when misaligned, people feel reduced authenticity and well-being. The results of five studies—across six performance indicators—were generally consistent with the hypothesized antecedents (Studies 1, 2, and 5) and consequences (Studies 3-5). I discuss implications for understanding the motivation behind misalignment, limitations of the present research, and promising avenues for intervention.
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Jane Klinger (2019). Counting What Counts: When and How Performance Indicators Mislead. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15062