15 More Places to Look for Strategic Risk in a Company: Qualitative

Quality is much different than quantity. It includes sensations and feelings from interviews, discussions, and narrative stories that are difficult to turn into specific numbers.

Although it takes more time to collect, qualitative data is extremely helpful because it provides a depth of understanding about very complex problems.

In a previous post, we reviewed 20 ways to gather countable numbers in a business. Check it out if here you haven’t already.

Now, we’ll move on to the other type of data: Quality.

Qualitative Strategic Risk Data

Continuing the numbering sequence from Part 1 (1 through 20), here are 15 additional places to look for qualitative data in your company:

21. Customer complaints (online and in person)

  • What kinds of responses are you seeing and hearing from current customers?
  • Are there recurring themes?
  • What is your policy for responding to complaints?
  • How do you adjust processes based on this feedback?
  • What are you doing to offboard customers?
  • How do you entice frustrated customers to stay?

22. Customer comments (online and in person)

The words people use can tell us a lot about their priorities, beliefs, and needs. While a structured survey is useful, simply talking to people or gathering a free-flowing description of their concerns is a much more robust source of information.

Comments made by stakeholders, especially paying customers, can serve a variety of purposes:

  • Recognize mistakes, errors, and problems in your processes
  • Identify areas for improvement
  • Reward employees who are doing a great job
  • Use the customer testimonial as marketing material
    • on your website,
    • as a blog post,
    • as a video,
    • in a monthly newsletter, or
    • as a case study.

23. Bad-News Interviews

We may not like to hear negativity, but as a leader this is an extremely valuable source of insights about why things are going wrong. (Check out the Honeybee, Scorpion, and Nuclear Employees podcast episode)

  • What is your offboarding process (e.g. exit interviews) like for employees who leave?
  • What is your monthly and annual staff turnover rate?
  • Are there themes for why staff decided to leave?
  • If there is involuntary turnover (not the employee’s choice), how are you updating the policies and procedures?
  • How is the turnover related to your business culture?

Read more: How to Estimate the Qualitative Loss From Staff Turnoverestimate, quality, qualitative, qualitative loss, risk management, staff turnover, layoffs, resignation, strategic risk

24. Word-of-mouth referrals

  • What is the main source of your new referrals?
  • Is there a particular current customer or other source who provides the highest quality referrals?
  • How would influential people in your industry circles describe your company?
  • Are there ex-employees or ex-customers who criticize your company? What are their complaints? How have you bridged the gap to understanding and resolving the conflict?

25. Employee suggestion box

  • Do you use a “suggestion box” for employees to provide their ideas?
  • How is this method communicated? What are the expectations from staff?
  • What is the process to review suggestions? How are ideas reviewed and implemented?
  • How often are ideas offered? How many cards are filled out a month?
  • Do employees feel comfortable sharing their name, or do they write anonymously?
  • Are there other ways that employees would prefer to communicate?

26. Anonymous compliance line/website

Similar to the written suggestion box:

  • How often do stakeholders (employees, customers, vendors, etc.) provide their feedback through the methods you have available?
  • How effective are these methods?
  • Can feedback be provided confidentially?
  • What process do you use to deliver the compliance report to the proper authorities?
  • How do you adjust your internal policies and procedures as a result of the feedback?

Find out more: Healthy Feedback Loops

feedback loop, healthy feedback, empathetic leaders, structured mechanisms

27. Employee for a Day

This is an excellent way to “sit in the seat” of your staff and hear about problems first-hand.

  • How often do you sit with staff for more than an hour?
  • Have you implemented a regular Employee For a Day process?
  • How comfortable do your staff feel sharing bad news with you?
  • What data did you collect after spending a few days with your staff?
  • What stories did you hear?
  • Which problems seem to be the most pressing?
  • How are you responding to these problems?

Read more: What Happened When I Became an “Employee For a Day”
Employee for a Day, Employee, Staff, Foundational Staff, Management, Managers, strategic planning, strategic risk

28. Employee engagement activities

Consider new ways to engage and nurture relationships with your staff.

  • When employees have ideas and feedback, how can they share it currently?
  • How effective are these feedback methods at producing high-quality innovations?
  • Where are most of the ideas coming from?
  • In which areas are you potentially overlooking great ideas and opportunities?

29. Press articles, features, and media mentions

  • Has your business been featured in news articles?
  • Were you interviewed on a radio, podcast, TV, print publication, blog, or other media platform?
  • Who is talking about you on social media? What are they saying?
  • Are you publishing fresh content on your company blog?
  • Do you write for any outside publications or cross-post with industry collaborators?
  • When is the last time you published a press release?
  • How are you leveraging the awareness from interviews, articles, and other newsworthy events? (sharing the links on social media, writing a blog post, writing a press release, sharing in your newsletter, creating a video)

30. Brainstorming Sessions

31. Pull Back the Curtain

To build an authentic connection with your stakeholders, invite them to take part in strategic decision-making.

  • Have you shared your company’s private financial gains and losses with your staff and/or customers?
  • Do you discuss competitive challenges and ask for input?
  • What are your customers experiences? Are you asking current and past customers for feedback on how to improve?
  • Do you invite staff to discuss your blind spots and share “bad news” with you at any time?

32. Reverse Interviews

  • Are staff encouraged to talk to you candidly about issues that pertain to the business?
  • This could be in a small group, 1-on-1, or in a townhall meeting style.
  • Consider hosting a monthly “Ask Me Anything” session with staff and/or customers (even more effective if you record a video!)

33. Pre- and Post-Flight Checks

Consider reviewing all the essential elements that must happen for a major project or campaign to succeed. Many organizations find a checklist to be very useful, because it minimizes the chance for overlooking a critical step.

I recommend reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s excellent book on this topic for more ideas. It’s called The Checklist Manifesto.

Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande, New York Times bestseller, checklist, medical checklist, healthcare management, risk avoidance, risk management, strategic risk
“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande
  • Do you use a checklist before and after major events?
  • Who is responsible for this critical step?
  • How often are your checklists reviewed and updated?

34. Post-Mortem/Lessons Learned

35. Legal action

Many things can threaten an organization, including the potential for lawsuits to be filed (or threatened) by employees, customers, and/or competitors.

  • In which segments are most of your legal threats coming from?
  • Which issues so they involve?
  • Are there changes that need to happen to avoid future lawsuits?


Key Questions for Qualitative Data

When reviewing the qualitative experiences and stories, asking deeper questions will provide tremendous insights into the reasons why negative things occur in your organization.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Why is this happening?
  • To what degree?
  • What can we feel and sense?
  • What’s the emotional impact?
  • What are the root causes?
  • How can we avoid it?
  • What can we learn?

Evaluating the Results of Qualitative Data

Consider some ways to apply measurable data to decision-making. Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to feedback from both satisfied and dissatisfied customers
  • Agree to be interviewed via podcast, live video, magazine, radio, newspaper, and/or TV
  • Review comments on social media and website posts
  • Recognize employees who initiate problem-solving and suggest innovative ideas
  • Identify what makes your staff feel satisfied and what causes dissatisfaction
  • Take time to find out why unexpected setbacks happen and why they occur
  • Adjust your leadership style and evaluate whether it is too pushy (Yang) or too weak (Yin)
    Read more: Yin and Yang and the 5 Risk Roles of Executive Leadersyin and yang, risk, risk roles, executives, executive leaders, leaders, management
  • Review last year’s goals and see whether you met them
  • Find ways to gain control of internal processes


Be sure to read the other articles in this series so you can gain a deeper understanding of Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Method data evaluation:

Or listen to my podcast, What’s Wrong with Your Business? to learn how to evaluate these areas.What's Wrong with Your Business, WWB Podcast, Episode 6, quantitative data, qualitative data, interpreting numbers, customer experience, strategic risk, Grace LaConte


What did you think of these data sources? Which ones have you used to evaluate risks in your company? Leave a comment below.


Interested in hearing how you can reverse staff turnover and increase your profit margins? Find out more here.


Grace LaConte is a business strategist, writer, and workplace equity advocate whose risk management graphics are used around the globe. She specializes in finding hidden threats and opportunities in organizations that employ working parents. Grace is the host of the What’s Wrong with Your Business? Podcast, which provides tools to adapt in a rapidly changing market.

Find more at laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.

Grace LaConte is a marketing strategist, writer, and speaker. She is the founder of LaConte Consulting, which offers guidance for manufacturing owners who want to improve their profit, growth, and value. Grace also helps accounting and finance professionals to become top-tier business consultants.

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