Quantitative vs Qualitative Performance Reviews: Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Evaluation Method

At Reviewsnap, we often talk about how employees want more feedback. People like knowing how they’re doing at their job and where they can improve.

And naturally, it benefits employers to provide this insight. Everyone performs better when they’re pointed in the right direction, which has a positive impact throughout the organization.

The challenge lies in determining how to best assess performance and deliver feedback. Organizations traditionally value observable qualities in the people they employ. Do they work hard? Are they a team player? Do they have a good attitude?

But as technology advances, organizations are increasingly becoming data-driven. Nearly everything aspect of operations, including employee performance, can be tracked and measured, making for more precise evaluations.

This begs the questions—should old-fashion qualitative performance reviews be replaced with modern quantitative assessments backed by data and metrics? Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

The case for quantitative performance evaluations

Yes, it’s ideal when performance reviews are completely objective and tailored to the employee’s specific role. People are more receptive to black-and-white feedback rooted in fact than a manager’s personal perspective. Additionally, quantitative evaluations don’t require the employee to figure out how to interpret and apply feedback. They come away from their review knowing where they’re excelling and coming up short and by how much.

However, implementing data-driven performance evaluations is easier said than done. Leadership and management teams must do a lot of upfront planning to determine exactly what the organization needs to achieve and how each department will contribute. This should result in every employee having clearly-defined goals, specific deadlines, and established work procedures.

The organization then needs to track the progress each employee makes toward their objectives. Unique KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) should be applied to each role so an individual employee’s performance can be measured to a T at any time. Again, this takes a great deal of strategic planning, as well as utilizing the right technology to collect the necessary performance data.

The case for qualitative performance evaluations

While quantitative performance reviews sound great in theory, there are some roles where job success is more abstract. The performance of sales, marketing, product, and finance professionals can always be gauged numerically. But how do you quantify the beautiful work your designer delivers? Or what about your do-it-all office manager who keeps the entire workplace running smoothly?

Even if you can precisely measure performance, great employees do more than accomplish their individual objectives. There are several intangible factors that separate top performers from all the rest. Let’s look at a few of the common qualitative points employees should be evaluated on:

  • Teamwork – Grand objectives are met when different employees collaborate. Make sure your team members support each other and work together.
  • Communication – Employees must properly articulate what they’re working on and why. Assess each team member’s ability to effectively communicate.
  • Initiative – Every organization has problems and opportunities no one is responsible for. Acknowledge the employees who take it upon themselves to do work that isn’t assigned to them.
  • Professional growth – Employees should always be acquiring new skills that will lead to them taking on bigger challenges. Keeping track of someone’s professional growth also helps you determine when they’re ready to be promoted.
  • Leadership – There’s so much that goes into being an effective leader that can’t be assessed with data. Make sure employees who supervise others embody everything your organization wants from its managers.
  • Culture fit – Ensuring someone adheres to your organization’s culture is the ultimate qualitative evaluation point. But if you define the values employees should keep in mind as they go about their work, you’ll have a baseline for assessing culture fit.

Qualitative reviews also have downsides. The points listed above are subjective, which can cause an employee to feel like the feedback they receive is unfair or based solely on one person’s opinion. They’re also ambiguous and can lead an employee to wonder how exactly they’re supposed to improve (“My manager says I need to take more initiative, what’s that even mean?”)

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to avoid both these problems. First of all, involving multiple raters brings consensus to evaluations. Employees tend to take feedback to heart when they hear the same thing from more than one person. Secondly, training managers on how to best share review results helps employees learn how they can act on the feedback they receive.

Experience the best of both worlds

The takeaway of this article is successful performance evaluations involve both quantitative and qualitative factors. Employees are more accountable for their performance when they’re given specific feedback supported by cold hard data. But they also want credit for all the good things they do that fall outside the scope of their immediate role objectives. Try to account for all the tangible and intangible qualities that define job success when assessing employee performance.