Measuring Performance Goals: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

by Amy Worthy
January 12, 2016
Measuring Performance Goals: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Just like we reflect on our past year and set goals for ourselves personally at the start of a new year, so do many businesses. Wait… Does that mean it’s performance review time already? Sure is—and there’s not much you can do to change the past year at this point, but you can help your employees set measurable performance goals to help your organization improve this year.

At some point in your life you’ve probably heard someone say, “If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist.” Go ahead, roll your eyes and let out that heavy sigh. Feel better? Even though the statement seems a little extreme, you have to admit there’s a valid point—especially in business. The reason that statement feels extreme is because we automatically associate measurement with metrics, but goals can be measured in one of two ways:

  1. Quantitative Measurement – goal is measured by a metric or statistic.
  2. Qualitative Measurement – goal is measured by manager’s observation without any statistics or metrics to pull from.

Quantitative goals are what we typically think of when we think of goals. For example, a recruiter’s goal might be X number of placements in a specific timeframe. The numbers won’t lie. However, when setting qualitative goals, you must be clear on what successful performance looks like for that specific goal, which may require a little more creativity. Rather than numbers and statistics, consider the behaviors that will lead to successful performance.

Qualitative goals are often focused more on soft skills like communicating more effectively, learning to better adapt to change, working collaboratively with you team, and so on. It may not seem fair to judge these skills, but that’s why it’s important to set expectations with your employees so they understand what you anticipate.

Be upfront about how your employee’s goals will be measured, be it quantitatively or qualitatively, and if it’s the latter, explain how you will use “manager observation” to define success. Performance goals and reviews should be used as a tool to help your employees learn and grow and to help your company thrive. They shouldn’t feel like a beating or burden. The clearer you are about goals and how they will be measured, the better the process will be for your team, leading to overall business success.