Measurable goals are extremely valuable, no question about it. Study after study reinforces the incredible power of goal definition, and countless examples reaffirm the data. But do we really understand what a measurable goal is? More specifically, how do we grapple with the difference between measurable vs quantifiable goals? Must we quantify every goal in order to measure it?
The Question of Measurement
Questions around measurable vs quantifiable goals can surface at many different times. I’ll mention just a few common scenarios:
During career-development discussions or performance review time, team members or managers often know the behaviors they want to see—and are able to describe those behaviors.
But for some of these growth targets, the next step is a road block: “Wait, how do I measure progress? I can’t quantify the results in any way, so how do I make the goal measurable?”
I also see this come up a lot in conversations around less numbers-driven company priorities—things like vision, mission, culture, engagement, even performance and innovation.
But wherever it happens, why are we struggling for clarity around measurable goals? Good news: it’s not as complicated as it might seem.
The Measurable vs Quantifiable Mix-Up
A lot of people struggle with defining measurable goals because they make the mistake of assuming that measuring and quantifying are the same thing. They’re not.
Numbers are quantifiable, and therefore, they can be measured.
But that does not mean that for a goal to be measurable, it must be quantifiable. Many goals can be measured by more subjective means—and should be! Goals around company vision, innovation, culture, and communication can be better assessed using a measurable vs quantifiable focus.
Let’s understand this better by looking at some examples:
Measurable Goals: Examples
The Everyday Life Example:
“I’d like this chili to be more spicy.”
The chef adds some jalapeño.
“Now it’s great!”
Your goal was spicier chili. But you didn’t need to know the heat rating of that jalapeño in order to determine whether or not your goal had been met. Your taste buds told you the chili tasted spicier, and so you concluded—via the measurement of your taste perception—that the goal had been met. Nothing quantified.
The Workplace Example:
Imagine you’re a manager who wants to improve engagement and mutual support among the members of your team. You set a goal: “By the end of the quarter, our team will feel more cohesive.”
Now, this is a great ambition! But how do you know if you’ve achieved it? Sure, you may be able to find ways to quantify an answer, but that’s probably not the best means of assessing this particular goal.
Instead, why not ask team members to create a list of their best and worst team-building moments of the month, and then get together to discuss their thoughts? The conversation alone will unearth highly constructive input.
But the tone of that very conversation will reveal volumes as well.
Which leads us to a cool idea for measuring progress on your team-building goal: at the end of the meeting, as each team members to jot down 2 or 3 words describing the tone of the conversation, leaving you with their anonymous answers. Next quarter, circle back for a similar exercise and conversation—recording those impressions of tone again.
Any progress? I guarantee you’ll be able to answer that—even if you can’t quantify it with numbers. Because you’ve developed a tool for measurement.
The Family Example:
Finally, let’s look at an example that goes from the office to the home front:
A key part of Jeff’s personal vision is to create focused family time—time when he is not multi-tasking with his growing business. So, he schedules a couple of windows in each week day when he will leave electronics on his desk, close the doors of his home office, and engage in pure family stuff.
Before closing up shop each day, he takes a moment to consider whether or not he followed through on this goal. When he does this, he knows almost instantly if he’s blown off his family in favor of work (or faulted in the reverse).
Jeff doesn’t need to get out a calculator in order to get to an answer—no more than he needs a spreadsheet to track his time fishing with his son or watching his soccer games. At the end of the day—or of each week, if he prefers—he can measure it without numbers.
The Magic of Measurable Goals
In short, quantifiable goals are great, but quantities are just one tool for measurement—among many. We get caught up with quantifiable goals because charts are fun, and some of us love the certainty of numbers.
But the beauty of measurable goals lies in their inherent flexibility and adaptability.
Measurable goals are not restricted to the realm of quantifiable figures. They embody a more holistic view of progress and accomplishment.
So, whether your goal is to spice up a chili or foster a more positive team environment, remember: a measurable goal is simply one you can evaluate, with numbers or otherwise.
Once you free yourself from the false measure = quantify paradigm, you’ll probably find that you’re better at measuring than you think you are.
Now on to achieving those goals!