A 10-Step Path for Setting Professional Development Goals

Professional development goals help employees take measurable steps toward improving themselves, their companies, and their careers.

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A 10-Step Path For Setting Professional Development Goals

Where do you see yourself on your professional career path 5 years from now? What personal and professional goals do you need to create to achieve your dream career?

It may sound cliche, but it’s a fact that successful people set goals for themselves — in their personal life and professional life. For a lot of employees, goal setting might seem intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Setting personal and professional goals is a great way to achieve personal growth, and gain new skills. 

Whether you’re helping team members to develop better time management and communication skills, or to stretch beyond their comfort zones, setting professional development goals can prepare your whole team for a better future.

Set SMART goals

A lot of career development goals, or goals generally, fail because they are too vague, unrealistic, or lack clearly defined performance metrics. To succeed, every personal and professional development goal should follow the SMART method:

  • Specific — If you want to improve your leadership abilities, do something specific like complete leadership training courses and reach out for opportunities to practice what you learned there.
  • Measurable — Set a goal that focuses on a daily effort that you can measure. For example, if you sign up to earn a professional certificate in your field, doing the required readings, projects, and assessments to earn the certificate are all concrete ways to measure your progress.
  • Achievable — Pie-in-the-sky goals are great, but people often lose sight of them because they seem so far away. If your dream job goal seems too distant from where you are in your current position, set smaller goals that you need to achieve to get yourself incrementally closer to the bigger goal.
  • Relevant — If you’re working toward your dream career, pick a goal that will get you there. For example, if your desired position requires giving a lot of presentations, take seminars and seek opportunities to grow your presentation skills by speaking in front of team members in other departments. Be willing to receive feedback in order to improve.
  • Time-based — Set a realistic deadline for achieving your professional development goal. This will keep you responsible for your own success. Setting quarterly professional growth goals is one way HR can help their teams with this.

As you help your employees set and achieve SMART goals, you’ll start to see how their personal development translates into more career satisfaction — which generates better employee engagement and an actual competitive advantage for the entire organization.

Ways to set and achieve professional development goals

Each employee can create a personal development action plan with a growth mindset in mind.

Employers can help their teams tackle new challenges by helping them set professional development goals. Each employee can create a personal development action plan with a growth mindset in mind. Here are some examples of professional goals to help employees achieve professional accomplishments that will propel the entire company forward:

1. Pick up a new skill

Do you ever look around at other professionals in your organization and think, “I wish I could [insert target skill here] as well as they do.” Well, maybe you can. Is there a specific technology they know how to use? Ask them about how they learned that skill and then take a class to get up to speed on it. Classes and seminars are great ways to set SMART goals.

2. Learn more about the industry

If an employee is in a new job, encourage them to chart a course to success by helping them set goals to learn more about the job and the industry. Beyond reading the employee handbook, if it’s one of their personal aims to go further in the industry, have them set other reading goals that include excellent books about it, and have them share their insights with other team members.

3. Build networking skills

Have a great employee who struggles to build professional relationships outside of their department? Help them set goals to build mutually beneficial relationships with other team members, or have them attend networking events or professional conferences where creating a professional network is one of the goals.

4. Set work-life balance goals

Happy, healthy, relaxed employees are more productive, creative, and positive team members. If you’ve got some hardworking team members who struggle to set healthy work-life balance boundaries, encourage them to set a goal to take personal days they may not be taking. Encourage them to go outside for lunch every day or take a short walk when they’re feeling stressed.

If you’ve got some hardworking team members who struggle to set healthy work-life balance boundaries, encourage them to set a goal to take personal days they may not be taking.

5. Boost leadership skills

Every employee can and should develop leadership skills. Making a SMART goal here could start with sending them to leadership courses and then giving them projects where they can practice those skills.

6. Enhance creative thinking Skills

This one seems hard to achieve because it can be hard to be “specific” and “measured.” In this case, focus more on the process than the end result. Focus on team-building exercises that bolster brainstorming skills in a fun, relaxed environment and watch new ideas bubble up.

7. Improve time management skills

Some of the most brilliant and creative employees struggle with time management, but they can still develop these skills. Some specific, measurable goals that can help them improve here include timing themselves on how long different tasks take to complete and helping them visualize their schedule in new ways that help them manage time better.

8. Tap into emotional intelligence

Again, this can be a hard one to measure at first, but the people skills needed to succeed in any career often depend on emotional intelligence. In addition to workshops and seminars that can be measured, a good goal here would be to have employees keep an emotions journal that helps them understand themselves and their coworkers better.

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9. Build your own personal brand

Employees who have a sense of pride in their work tend to be more productive, especially those in creative fields. Help them set a goal to build their own personal brand that dovetails their personal and professional lives. One way to do this is to have them build their own personal website.

10. Improve presentation skills

Being able to give a sharp, interactive presentation that excites the department or prospective clients is a very desirable skill. In addition to classes, which are measurable and specific, help employees set goals to give presentations in small groups and then provide feedback for improvement they can use in the future.

Help employees along their professional path

Many companies have shifted their focus on standard Human Relations functions to expand into People Operations. Some HR can be automated and centralized, leaving People Ops representatives work on employee success and empowering workers.

This effort can include helping employees set personal development goals. It shows them that you appreciate them and their hopes for the future, which incentivizes them to be more productive and engaged. Zenefits can help business leaders and HR professionals set great career goals.

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