A primary part of a leader’s role is to support the team in reaching objectives. This involves keeping the team aligned on what the objectives are, ensuring the team has the resources to execute the work, and keeping the work engaging so the team develops and remains enthusiastic. So much of our work in organizations is driven by quantitative, number-based, objectives. I have worked with leaders and teams where the only objectives passed down are numbers-based, such as “reach $100k in sales per month by February” or “open 4 new stores this year”. I have found that having a balance of both quantitative and qualitative objectives is key for keeping the team aligned, engaged, and enthusiastic about the work to be done. In this post, I’ll detail the key differences between quantitative and qualitative objectives, provide insight on how to make your quantitative objectives impactful, and provide some ways to begin finding balance and new energy on your team.
What are Quantitative Objectives?
As I mentioned in the introduction, many leaders and upper management teams set number-based targets for the organization as the vision for the coming period of business. Quantitative objectives are number-based objectives. Quantitative objectives are useful for a few reasons. They are, at first glance, easy communication tools to aligning a large team on what the objectives are. They are easy to communicate. They are fixed, clear targets. Also, they are easy to measure and evaluate in terms of success. So, they have gone a long way in our world of large organizations and a global market. However, when we take a closer look, there are some major cons to quantitative objectives as well.
Challenges and Considerations for Setting Quantitative Objectives
One key challenge with quantitative objectives is the abstraction factor. What is the abstraction factor? Well, numbers seem clear and simple to understand, however, when passed down to team to action upon them, they are often very confusing in terms of what action that really translates to. For example, if the CEO passes down an objective to reach $100k in sales next month, the team receives it and may think it seems straightforward. However, there are a lot of tasks that need to go into actually making that vision come to reality. Without clear explanation and direction, the teams may come up with conflicting ways of actioning upon the target. One quantitative objective often turns into many more quantitative objectives and actions. In large organizations, one simple quantitative objective like this can have action items that are delegated amongst 5 or 5,000 people. It is key that the leaders know the role they play and how to turn quantitative objectives into actionables, and teach their leaders to do the same. Though quantitative objectives can seem exciting, like growing 300x this year versus last, consider and communicate the actions associated with this target. In the Vision section of Awake Leadership, we focus on exercises for clearly communicating the vision (actionables) behind our quantitative objectives to align the team.
Another consideration, when thinking about the actions behind the number, is the impacts. We often think a nice number-based goal means business growth. However, setting this target and incentives to reach it can cause unintended impacts and consequences. The number is exciting but remember that a number can be abstract, foggy and have unintended impacts when not thought through thoroughly. Reflect and answer: what about the action and the larger impact it’s making? What does the number really mean behind the abstraction? – How are you helping your customers? What work are you asking on your team to take on?
What are Qualitative Objectives?
In addition to clarifying those quantitative objectives beyond the abstraction of a number, balancing these out with qualitative objectives is important for teams to remain engaged as well as creative and inspired. Qualitative objectives are, quite literally, quality objectives; we enhance the quality (as opposed to increasing or growing the quantity) of something like an aspect of our work or our team. Qualitative objectives can result in more creativity, engagement, and enhanced productivity. I would encourage leaders to add purely qualitative objectives to engage team members in more non-linear open thinking.
Benefits of Setting Qualitative Objectives
Qualitative objectives add opportunity for engagement and also lead to greater productivity and efficiency toward meeting your quantitative objectives too. Providing learning opportunities is paramount as a leader for adding value to your team. When leading my team, I realized that team members had not been able to see a lot of the business context and learn about other areas of the organization. Though I didn’t have full control of a budget to provide opportunities to do this, I set an objective to have each of my team members become more knowledgeable about the business beyond our team (including myself). This is how I designed and developed many of the exercises in the Context section of Awake Leadership.
Qualitative objectives also often arise when a leader sees a need to enhance the quality of the way the team in functioning as a whole. Early on in my leadership experience, during my one-on-one touch bases with my team, I learned that team members thought different projects and initiatives were priority and people were even having small conflicts over importance of meeting and timing on handoffs. I decided that my #1 objective for the month was to feel that my team was always aligned on our objectives and priorities and that the morale and relationships between team members were more harmonious. So, I added depth to our Monday morning meetings as well as Friday meetings to prioritize alignment. I talk about deeper team alignment and engagement activities in the Inspiration section of my book. This was key for productivity as well. Ensuring the team was continuously aligned brought new life to the team and I saw our progress on quantitative objectives improve. These examples came our of observation and realization of need, they weren’t forced or pushed. They are all examples of enhancing the quality of the team, our day-to-day, and our results without quantitative targets.
Finding Balance, Engagement, Sustainable Progress
Though numbers and time targets are important for organizations and have many positive aspects, I would encourage leaders to observe, reflect, and develop qualitative objectives as well for yourself and for the team. Reflect on what the actions and intended impacts of the quantitative objectives really are and explain them to your team. Balance intentional quantitative objectives with qualitative to cultivate a deeper culture of engagement. They are interdependent and compliment each other. You’ll see and feel the benefits as well as cultivate a culture of engagement and enthusiasm, which leads to many others benefits like retention and increased productivity. What are your current quantitative and qualitative objectives? Add them to your vision map, try using my tips in the post, and I hope you enjoy the benefits!
More Resources for Setting Quantitative and Qualitative Objectives
Awake Leadership by yours truly, Hilary Grosskopf.
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