Measure Success with Numbers AND Words

Quantitative equals numbers; qualitative equals wordsWorking in higher education, I have no shortage of success metrics.  Having  a science background, I tend to find comfort describing my performance using numbers.  As a teacher of students and leader of my department, I regularly have to provide feedback on progress toward achieving academic or organizational goals.  My wife, Dr. Jennifer Edwards, also a faculty administrator taught me a valuable success metric while teaching our daughter about what we do every day.
After coming home from work, my wife called me over from the kitchen to hear our daughter tell us something she learned that day.  When I arrived, our preschooler explained to me that "quantitative means numbers and qualitative means words."  While my daughter learned something about data, I learned something about success.

Numbers Help Us Compare Results Against Competitors and Our Previous Results

From an enrollment perspective, I can examine admissions or enrollment numbers and compare them to similar numbers from last year.  While we have experienced growth in online enrollments over the last few years, some semesters are more challenging than others.  As a teacher, my students earn numeric grades based on their performance.  I can compare their individual results to the results of their classmates or students in previous semesters.  The students evaluate me at the end of each semester and I can compare their numeric evaluations each semester to see where I am making progress.  Supervisors can provide numeric evaluations for the people they lead in performance reviews.  Quantitative researchers can analyze data points using mathematical formulas.  However, we all know this is only part of the picture.

Words Provide Context and Help Us Tell Our Story

If I graded my students' work, but provided no written or verbal feedback, my students might know where they struggle, but may not know where to make changes and improve.  They may also be less motivated without my feedback.  In a world where we can do so much without talking to one another, feedback may mean more now than ever.  The same is true for the people I lead.  Numbers need context.  While data-driven decision making is important, we don't serve data, we serve people.  Also, as leaders, we need to be able to persuade others as champions of the people we serve.  Data helps make our case, but telling the story makes the data meaningful to stakeholders.
The struggle between numbers and words also relates to goal setting.  If I rely on numbers alone in goal setting, I may achieve success as an employee, but not as a husband or father.  I may also have to rebuild a culture where students and employees feel overworked and under-appreciated. 
Words can also help us form our core values.  No one wants to work with a leader who values excellence, but not integrity.  Someone who calls himself or herself a leader but doesn't serve others or treat people with civility is merely an achiever.   Sooner or later, a life of achievement alone does not equal a life of fulfillment.

The Power of Numbers and Words

Infographics combine numbers, words, and pictures to help quickly make a point and encourage people to respond to a call to action.  This infographic from the Kresge Foundation helps illustrate the challenges facing U.S. higher education and offers a solution of collective impact.
When I think about my role as a teacher, I think about the number of students I have served, but I also think about how I have helped them.  When I think about my role as a parent, I think about how many words she knows, but I also think about the experiences she's had that have allowed her to learn those words.  As a leader, I think about the organizational goals we've achieved, but I also think about the personal goals I've helped my team members achieve.  Simply put, numbers and words are #MyMetric.
So how do numbers and words help you tell your story?  
Let me know in the comments.
Dr. Anthony Edwards serves as a higher education faculty member and administrator.  He writes about leadership at and about work-life balance at


Popular posts from this blog

25 Ways to Share Your Witness within Your Sphere of Influence