Qualitative data: observations that can’t necessarily be measured or quantified.
Qualitative data helps provide project leaders a more holistic view of a problem or issue at hand. While the ability to analyze hard data is an incredibly valuable skill for a leader, having a complete skill set that includes relational skills is becoming more necessary to navigate the growing complexity of the business environment. Adaptive leaders understand the growing emphasis on qualitative data and how it can contribute to problem solving, innovation, and collaboration.
The following are examples of ways that qualitative data appears in the business world, and how adaptive leaders can use these observations to their advantage.
1. Developing and Leveraging Networks
Business is becoming more complex, and employees are now asked to wear different hats and fulfill multiple roles across their organization. This has made networking and relationship building a critical aspect of all workers’ day-to-day function. In the past, it may have been acceptable for workers to punch in and out and check the boxes off a task list. However, in today’s fast-paced business environment, organizations are relying more on people at all levels to contribute to strategy, provide feedback, collaborate across boundaries, and share their unique perspective and expertise.
Being able to understand the relationship dynamics that exist within your organization will allow you to interact more effectively and exert greater influence over the progress of projects. Further, by establishing a trust network, you can rely those around you when you need information or encounter an unexpected obstacle to getting work done.
2. Identifying and Understanding Patterns
With advances in technology and new ways of doing business, organizations today are encountering never-before-seen problems. By default, the tendency is for businesses to look back at previous challenges and apply “what’s always been done” to a completely different problem. It probably goes without saying that using old solutions to solve new problems is not a successful method.
So how do companies adapt? Adaptive leaders must be able to make sense of the unfamiliar by experimenting and iterating. Part of this process uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative data analysis that might contradict our initial biases or assumptions. By uncovering patterns in this data, leaders can generate insights that will allow them to try something new. Not every experiment will be successful, but the learnings that come out of them will be valuable in moving forward.
Observing patterns around relationships can also facilitate the ability to interact with and influence people across the organization in a way that fosters greater collaboration and problem solving.
3. Taking Note of and Adapting to the Environment
Since projects today have more interdependencies than ever before, understanding the environment around you has become as important as the work itself. Taking a “heads down” approach does not allow people to quickly address the changing circumstances in business. Having a full grasp of the external environment (e.g., political or economic factors) as well as the internal one (e.g., having an understanding of work other people are doing that may take priority over your own) is critical to advancing your organization’s strategic goals. An adaptive leader uses the information gained through observing the environment and the people around them to better prepare and progress.