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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Performance Evaluations

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Organizations have to assess their employees in one way or another, but it can be hard to determine the best way to assess performance and deliver feedback. While many organizations have relied on qualitative evaluations in the past (Is the employee a hard worker? Are they a good team player?), there has been a push for more data-driven metrics to rate employees. 

In this article, we outline the difference between qualitative and quantitative metrics and give some insight on how your organization should approach performance evaluations. 


Qualitative vs quantitative evaluations

Quantitative evaluations involve using numbers. This often translates into using a rating or metric of an employee’s performance. Often times, quantitative evaluation are devoid of feedback or contain a few words to describe the rating (i.e, simply rating an employee ⅗ for ‘meeting expectations’). It can therefore be seen as more ‘objective’ as there is little room for employee interpretation, although the lack of feedback can make it hard for employees to improve performance. 

Qualitative evaluations are expressed in words – aka feedback. This feedback is often related to core competencies (behaviors and skills) for the role (teamwork, leadership, communication, etc). Employees can sometimes feel that qualitative evaluations are subjective – solely based on one person’s opinion. Qualitative evaluations can also be ambiguous and can lead an employee to wonder what their manager means when they write that they ‘need to take more initiative’. 


Which one is best for my organization? 

First off, standardizing evaluations across different roles will be challenging. Certain roles will lend much better to quantitative evaluations over qualitative ones and vis versa. For example, a salesperson will have clearcut objectives/metrics they must meet (number of calls logged, number of meetings booked, etc.) and hence their performance evaluations may be more quantitative in nature. However, a counterexample would be consultants or accountants. They typically don’t have such defined objectives and metrics, and hence feedback on core competencies are much more meaningful.

It should be noted that for quantitative evaluations (even those evaluations of a salesperson), simply rating an employee without sufficient feedback is not adequate. If the goal is to optimize employee performance, ratings should always be supplemented with sufficient quality and quantity of feedback (see our past blog on effective feedback and examples of feedback). Simply providing a numerical value can lead to disengaged and unmotivated employees who do not know how to improve their performance. In other words, we would encourage that reviews are not solely quantitative in nature, but are actually accompanied by feedback.  It should also be noted that employees (including salespeople) want feedback to develop and grow in their roles.

For roles where feedback (qualitative data) is the primary source of employee performance data, 360-degree feedback is key to minimize bias and create a more accurate picture of employee performance. We would also recommend that feedback is continuous, as this will also further reduce common bias in performance appraisals as well as develop and motivate employees in real-time. 

Of note, organizations can also make feedback quantitative by adding ratings. It can be semi-quantitative (needs improvement, sufficient, good) or numerical in nature. 

This is how Pavestep can support that framework: 




Getting started with evaluations

1) Set up core competencies to provide feedback on

We would recommend setting up core values/competencies. We would typically recommend 4-8 core competencies. While you can make core competencies specific for individual roles, we would recommend to focus on core competencies that are more fundamental/transferable (as opposed to job-specific). For example, “ability to break down a complex problem and solve it in an efficient manner” instead of ”ability to model out a 3-statement financial budget”. Ongoing peer feedback, performance reviews, and employee recognition should be tied to company values. Tying feedback to company values will help employees live your principles daily.

2) Clearly define quantitative measures (if applicable)

If your organization incorporates quantitative measures (ratings) into their performance evaluations, we recommend that these ratings are clearly defined and always accompanied with qualitative measures (feedback). Additionally, when using quantitative metrics, organizations must make sure they have performance review calibration. This  aims to make reviews objective and consistent throughout the organization. This practice is meant to limit bias in the performance review process.

3) Provide the right tools

If you are running reviews for more than 20 people, administrative tasks will be time-consuming. Investing in a performance review software can help document feedback and reviews all in one place.

Conclusion 

Organizations will approach performance evaluations in unique ways that will largely depend on role, industry, and people strategy. Generally speaking, most roles will include a blend of the quantitative (metrics) and qualitative aspects, although some roles may have more of an emphasis on quantitative to evaluate performance (i.e, salesperson), while others may have more of a qualitative aspect (i.e., consultant).. It is important that HR professionals dig deep and identify what works best for their organization, the different roles, and their people. 

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