Here is a question from a Grapevine reader.


What differentiates quantitative and qualitative objectives?I have a question that I feel sure you can help me with and which has troubled me on and off for years. Sometimes I feel that I have squared it away and at other times it comes back with more blurred contours. The question is what differentiates a quantitative and a qualitative objective?


This is indeed a difficult one.



Qualitative vs Quantitative objectives


In my view “quantitative” refers to how much / many of something is produced or achieved. The easiest examples would be:


Produce 1000 widgets by 1st July
Get £30k worth of orders by 1st July


These are generally perceived as being easy to write.


These are also ‘easy’ to measure, as we all know.



Qualitative objectives


Sometimes people think of these as objectives that are measured by getting feedback from others. I am always concerned when people cite measures for objectives as being “feedback from _______”.



It’s about standards


Qualitative objectives are about the standards that need to be met. So they could be things like:


  • Ensure all widgets that leave the production line meet the company quality standards.
  • Ensure every member of my team has SMART objectives
  • Ensure the database is accurate and up to date by the end of every day
  • Ensure all customer queries are resolved within 24 hours


An interesting point here that I came across when working with a large number of admin people at a conference was that they wanted a way to differentiate between the junior and senior administrators.


The objectives were similar but there was a difference


It turned out that the objectives were very similar for both groups; the differentiation lay in the quantity. A junior person may book 10 flights a year; a senior person would be doing that many a week or even a day. This showed more efficient and much faster working (whilst still maintaining the quality).


HR objectives


In the case of HR, the objectives are quite tricky. You cannot make people meet the required standards because you are not their manager. You can only provide them with the tools to do it.


So an HR person might have an objective:
Ensure everyone has access to material that enables them to write SMART objectives.



If you are going to use feedback as a measure


When you ask for ‘feedback’ on this objective, you need to ask:


Did the material/training course you had enable you to write SMART objectives? If so, how? If not, what else do you need to help you?



How does differentiating these two types of objectives help?


Lastly I’m not sure there is much point in differentiating between these two kinds of objectives. How does it help?



The important thing is the measure


As long as you can measure the objective, it doesn’t matter if it is ‘quantitative’ or ‘qualitative’ in my view.

6 Responses to “What differentiates quantitative and qualitative objectives?”

  1. Cliff Edwards
    August 14, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I like your perspective, but as a simple man I see it in more simple terms Quantitative Objectives are data driven and demonstrably can be achieved if we work to plan.

    Qualitative Objectives are derived from brainstorming within the team (management, production, development etc.) these objectives may be achieved if all goes well and we work hard at making it happen.

    However the latter are all to often more wishes and expectations rather than actual deliverables as not enough planning or impetus is put behind making it happen.
    Managing Director
    Aviation Hazard Management Ltd.

    • Nancy Slessenger
      August 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Cliff

      This is an interesting view. I’m intrigued that qualitative objectives in your experience are derived from brainstorming. It’s sad that they are not always achieved. I assume that, whatever they are, you do make them measurable.

      In some ways, I don’t think it matters how the objectives are arrived at, as long as they are aligned with your top goal and enable you to achieve it. If they are more wishes, then I wonder if they really are objectives or perhaps ‘nice to have’s.

  2. David McCoy
    August 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Nancy,

    I wonder if we’re actually just getting caught up on semantics. Ultimately a meaningful objective must be something that can be measured i.e. can be quantified. If it cannot be measured (“no child left behind”) then how do you know you have met it? So all good objectives are quantitative!

    The difference is whether we are measuring a quantity (140 widgets…) or a quality (…each widget meeting quality standard X), but these are the standards of the objective rather than any intrinsically different type of objective.

    All the best,


    • Nancy Slessenger
      August 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      Hi Dave

      Good to hear from you as always. And yes, this can be a semantic maze. As you already know, I am in complete agreement with you.

      I sometimes think that the ‘qualitative’ objectives, especially where they apply to behaviour, are sometimes just objectives that have not been very well defined or made measurable.

      Best wishes


  3. August 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Nancy
    I think the differentiation between types of objectives is useful when we are helping managers understand how to use performance objectives to improve employee performance and job satisfaction. Most managers, in my experience, are comfortable with (and used to) quantifiable objectives. They are often less comfortable with qualitative objectives – until they learn how to use them. They are much less comfortable with what I call ‘behavioural’ objectives – until they see how brilliant these are at improving performance! I’ve written a lot about these types of objectives and how to use them (you can see an example here
    Best wishes

    • Nancy Slessenger
      August 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Joan

      Yes, I agree that most managers are more comfortable with quantifiable objectives. Personally I believe all objectives should be quantifiable.
      In my view, objectives should state what needs to be achieved, not how to achieve it. It is up to the individual to work out how to achieve the objective, within criteria (legal, health and safety etc).

      Once you go down the path of saying how to do it you restrict the ability of people to come up with better ways of achieving their objectives.

      To clarify:
      Objectives are what you need to achieve
      Behaviours are how you achieve the objectives
      Values are why you do it that way

      To me the behaviours are just as important as the objective. To make behaviours required clear I usually suggest to clients that they have behavioural standards that should be at least met and list those separately to the objectives.

      I notice that you have used an example to illustrate what you refer to as ‘behavioural objectives’ that, by coincidence, I used in my blog
      “Answer the phone within 3 rings”

      Just taking a couple of your examples, you suggest behaviour objectives:
      2. Asking open questions to gain information and understanding
      3. Asking probing questions to gain deeper understanding

      I would say that these constitute a list of instructions, rather than objectives. Having that list is useful for people who don’t know what to do.

      To qualify as objectives they need to be measurable; how does the person know what it is they need to understand? And how will they know when they have understood it? And how will they know that they have a deeper understanding? Simply measuring that they have used ‘open questions’ or ‘probing questions’ will not work.

      An individual could easily ask open questions that did not enable to them to gain an understanding, or ask probing questions that did not lead to a deeper understanding.
      I suggest the objective for these two is:
      Identify what the caller needs to achieve

      Of course in situations where people are not achieving the objectives because of behavioural issues then they do need to know how to do it and what the need to do differently. We have all seen people who achieve objectives in inappropriate ways or at the expense of others.

      Personally I think this is best dealt with separately as to call these ‘objectives’ is confusing. However, the issue is mainly one of semantics.