institutionalised goal setting in tech firms 

How companies institutionalise certain forms of (quantifiable) reflexivity. From Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! pg 10:

Starting in 1999, Google management used a system called Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, to measure the effectiveness of its employees, divisions, and the company overall. The idea for OKRs came from Google investor John Doerr, the famous venture capitalist. Doerr got it from Andy Grove, who developed a similar system called Management by Objective during his successful run at Intel. In the OKR system, every Google employee would come up with a list of quantifiable goals every quarter. The employee would present this list to a manager for sign-off, then the approved goals would be entered into Google’s internal network, where everyone in the entire company could see them. The next quarter, the employee would meet with the manager again, review their performance, and get a score on their OKRs. That score would determine the employee’s bonus payment and ability to get a raise, a transfer, or promotion within the company. Starting in September 2012, Mayer introduced a clone of OKRs to Yahoo. She called them Quarterly Performance Reviews, or QPRs. Employees from Mayer’s direct reports on down would get a score every quarter, from one to five. A one meant the employee consistently “misses” goals, a two meant the employee “occasionally misses,” a three, “achieves,” a four, “exceeds,” and a five, “greatly exceeds.”

In this case, it was used to support a ‘rank and yank’ system. Making it slightly more palatable by ranking employees in terms of goals they’ve formulated themselves. From pg 10-11:

In effect, a target distribution meant Mayer wanted managers to put a certain percentage of the employees they managed in each of the five buckets. Ten percent would go into “greatly exceeds,” 25 percent into “exceeds,” 50 percent into “achieves,” 10 percent into “occasionally misses,” and 5 percent into “misses.” Then Mayer rolled out new policies wherein employee eligibility for bonuses, promotions, and transfers within the company would be based on their average score for the past three quarters. Employees with low enough scores would be asked to leave the company.

As apparently happened at Microsoft as well (an interesting case study) this brought employees into direct competition with each other. What interests me here is the disjuncture between the supposedly transparent standards employees are subject to and the utterly opaque consequences of the grading curve. Someone has to fail. So how do you know if you’ve done enough? Meeting your goals isn’t enough to be safe. You have to try and ensure you surpass your peers in everything you do. This doesn’t necessarily lead to the acceleration of work but it does lead to its intensification