As an example, let's say a company does an employee satisfaction survey and the scores come back low. Instead of addressing the complaints, they send out a memo saying that they'll start basing bonuses on the survey results. Lo and behold, scores improve dramatically, and the execs pat themselves on the back for raising employee satisfaction.

Or perhaps a factory has a perfect safety record on paper, so when someone gets injured, they pressure the person to not report it as a workplace injury.

Basically, having a metric for some real-world situation, but then making the metric artificially high in ways that don't relate to the situation it was designed to track.

  • Are they, in effect, "fudging the numbers"? Or is your question intended to receive a more specific answer? Jan 16, 2019 at 18:28
  • I'm looking for something more specific to this situation, assuming it exists.
    – Patrick N
    Jan 16, 2019 at 18:29
  • Something more towards a funding bias? Jan 16, 2019 at 18:35
  • This sounds a lot like what happened during the Viet Nam war with McNamara managing it. Even water buffalo kills became part of the metric. Jan 16, 2019 at 19:14
  • Please provide a sample sentence with the word/phrase you want left blank.
    – Dan
    Jan 22, 2019 at 10:36

3 Answers 3


I think the term that best describes this is perverse incentive.

A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.

See: Wikipedia - Perverse Incentive

I’ve linked the wikipedia article because it contains a lot of scenarios that match the example you provided - action/initiative taken to address a problem but results in an outcome that doesnt really deal with it. Here’s one of the many examples:

In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat tail handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead, it led to the farming of rats.


I would say 'to juggle'.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary



transitive verb

: to manipulate or rearrange especially in order to achieve a desired end

// juggle an account to hide a loss


You could describe the exercise as a charade.

Charade/ noun

  1. a blatant pretense or deception, especially something so full of pretense as to be a travesty.

Reference: Dictionary.com

Or you could describe the results as farcical.

Farce/ Noun

  1. foolish show; mockery; a ridiculous sham

Farcical/ Adjective

Reference: Dictionary.com

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