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Difference between quantitative and qualitative objectives

Updated April 17, 2017

An objective is a specific result that an individual or an organisation aims to achieve, usually within a particular timescale. Discussing annual objectives is a key feature for most individual performance management systems. Objectives also drive most departmental and project plans, and give focus to the business. Most organisations try to ensure that their objectives are SMART - that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-scaled. The process of both setting and measuring objectives differs according to whether the objectives are qualitative or quantitative.

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Quantitative objectives

Quantitative objectives specify the desired results in numerical terms. For example, a salesperson might have a sales target of £50,000 for the year. The advantage of quantitative objectives is that they are very easy to measure and unambiguous. If the salesperson makes £50,000 they have achieved their objective: if they don't, they haven't. A downside can be that people are not motivated to go above and beyond the simple target.

Qualitative objectives

Qualitative objectives are those which cannot be given a numerical value. They are more often related to emotions or behaviour. For example, a manager might have an objective to improve their team's morale. Many organisations with strong values include them in the performance management system. Employees have objectives which involve demonstrating their adherence to the company values.

Measuring qualitative objectives

Measuring the achievement of qualitative objectives is difficult. By their nature they are subjective. But if you cannot measure them they are not SMART. Many people get round the problem by breaking down a qualitative objective into a series of quantitative targets. For example, evidence of a team's improved morale might include fewer sick days taken. This is not always satisfactory. The best way to measure the achievement of qualitative objectives is undertaking qualitative research. The researcher would facilitate a discussion among team members. By analysing their language and what they said, the researcher would be able to gain an overall impression of their morale.

Using both

Individuals and organisations benefit from a mix of quantitative and qualitative objectives. It is important always to consider not only what needs to be done, but also how it should be done. However, given the imprecise nature of many qualitative objectives, it is a good idea to consider them separately. A project manager might report on quantitative objectives using a series of tables and graphs. That could then be followed by a more general discussion about values and behaviours exhibited by the project team.

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About the Author

Lalla Scotter has been writing professionally since 1988, covering topics ranging from leadership to agriculture. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Financial Times" and "Oxford Today." Scotter holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Bristol.

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