How to Set (and Achieve) Professional Development Goals [+ Downloadable Template]

6 minutes • Jul 6, 2021
How to Set Professional Development Goals

Setting goals and measuring their progress helps employees grow both personally and professionally. And rather than just watching them jump ship for the land of more opportunity, it will always benefit your organization to help employees develop and achieve their career goals—but how can you show that you’re invested in their growth? 

Below, we break down how to set professional development goals, with templates and examples to help you get started. 

What Are Professional Development Goals?

Professional development goals are objectives that employees set in order to learn and improve in the workplace.

They’re extremely important for engaging and retaining talent. In fact, career goals are so important that a survey of the current job market revealed 86 percent of professionals said they would change jobs if they were offered more opportunities for professional development.

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Why Professional Development Goals Are Important

What is the importance of professional development goals, and why should you bother setting them with your employees? We've hinted that they can help their careers overall, but here the reasons why they’re extremely important:

  • Provide a sense of purpose - These goals can give employees something to work towards, something to attain, providing them with a sense of purpose in their professional life. 

  • Develop new skills and competencies - No matter what job role they perform, there will always be new skills to learn. Developing professional skillsets is crucial if employees want to advance their careers and find better jobs. 

  • Enhance their current skills - Similarly, employees can improve upon their existing skills within the workplace. Setting professional development goals helps them hone their craft and become an all-around better employee in their lines of work. 

  • Increase motivation & productivity - Goal setting is the number one way to make employees more motivated. They have something to work towards every day, which gives them the push and internal drive to achieve success.

How to Set Professional Development Goals

You know why they are important, but do you know how to help employees set goals? Below are the 6 key steps for any professional development plan. Each step is vital in helping with setting goals that will lead to a better rate of achieving the success they’re looking for.

Step 1) Start By Establishing Their Overall End Goal

Once an employee finds their end goal, you can plan backward and figure out how they can get to that position and the smaller goals required to take them there. Using some career planning templates can be a very good way to help them establish an end goal and work out what they want to do with their professional life.  

Step 2) Use Your Latest Self, Peer, or Managerial Evaluations

It is always useful to look at the most recent evaluations or performance reviews when setting professional development goals. 

Some common ways to begin understanding areas of growth are through company succession plans, employee self-evaluation surveys, feedback from peer-to-peer recognition programs, or notes from one-on-one meetings.

Recommended Reading: What is the 9-Box Model and How to Use It [+ Free Teamplate]

Step 3) Choose Measurable Goals

When setting professional development goals, it’s also wise to consider how to measure them. Make it a point to set measurable goals and keep track of how often they’re met. 

For example, increasing monthly sales and taking specific courses are easy for you to track, and you can see real progress being made over time. When you recognize that employees have been successful, celebrate those wins (even the smaller ones!), so they remain engaged and inspired to continue growing with your organization.

Step 4) Gamify The Goals (Understanding Big Goals as Many Smaller Goals)

Gamifying professional development goals involve thinking of them as a game of sorts. 

In essence, it's a case of breaking down a big goal into lots of smaller bitesize ones. This keeps people motivated as they feel like they're constantly making progress by ticking off small achievements and can slowly see themself 'leveling up' to reach the bigger goal. 

Recommended Reading: Gamify Onboarding - Make New Employee’s Learning Process Fun

Step 5) Establish a Plan with Check-in Dates For Each Goal

Establishing a timeline with acknowledged dates helps build accountability. Specific dates act as timestamps for when employees should take action to achieve their goals. This motivates them to work towards achieving their goals or to hold themselves accountable for missing dates. 

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Step 6) Put Actual Time on The Calendar to Complete Goals

Similarly, your staff needs to set time aside on the calendar to work towards goals. For example, set aside a few hours per day in the evening to work on different tasks that move them closer to their goals. Again, it gives them a sense of accountability while also ensuring they have time in their schedule to intentionally work on professional development goals. 

Examples of Professional Development Goals

Consistently learning new things will always benefit people’s professional lives. As touched upon earlier, it can open up career advancements, help them achieve a better work-life balance, and even advance the productivity of entire teams.

For  inspiration on what goals to set, here are four examples of what people commonly choose to target for professional development:

Improve Presentation Skills aka Public Speaking

Being able to present well is perhaps the most sought-after goal of all communication skills. It can engage an entire team, boost morale and boost a team member’s overall confidence as a professional. Improving presentation skills also comes in handy if they’re responsible for pitching ideas to clients, managers, etc. 

Challenging an employee to give a presentation during a team meeting is a great way to work toward a goal of improving those skills! Organizations like Toastmasters are an excellent resource to help employees build on their communication and leadership skills.

Build Team Communication Guidelines to Improve Workflow

Learning how to do this can allow for more workplace transparency where everyone understands the organization's mission and what their roles are. Interestingly, one review found that only 60% of employees felt confident that they knew the direction of the organization they were working for. 

As you can imagine, lots of people try to build team communication guidelines as it brings managers closer to employees and helps them feel more valued. In short, it can lead to a more cohesive business with an improved workflow. 

Recommended Reading: Guide to Making an Employee-Centered Internal Comms Plan

Grow Professional Networks

Knowing more people means people have more opportunities waiting around every corner. Establishing a large professional network can help you find new jobs, suppliers, partners, or mentors. Many people choose to make it a mission to grow their network because they want to see these benefits. 

Generally, Learn a New Skill or Tool

Another great development goal is learning a new skill or a new tool. (Or both!) Employees can grow professionally by developing new abilities and exploring an emerging technology that can improve both your team’s productivity and capabilities. For example, a graphic designer might be interested in learning about coding to gain a new skill set. Or maybe the same designer is already proficient in Adobe Photoshop but would like to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator as well.

Key Ways to Achieve Career Goals

What different things can employees do to achieve their personal and professional development goals? Let's take a look at some regular suggestions:

Take a Course

Courses are accessible, affordable, and offer flexibility in terms of how and when you complete them. Consider offering financial support to employees interested in taking a course relevant to their role.

Resources include:

Attend an Industry Event

There are so many industry events every year—and employees can learn a lot just from being present and networking with others in the field. Whether it’s a conference out of town or an afternoon presentation down the street, employees can benefit greatly from attending industry events.

Resources include:

Set Short and Long-Term Goals

With a few professional goals in mind, it’s a good idea to establish a timeline for achieving them with milestones along the way. Having a plan for accomplishing both short- and long-term goals motivates employees to be proactive about learning and development. Start by creating a timeline and assigning deadlines to each step and final deadlines for reaching the ultimate career goals. Breaking goals up into small, achievable steps is less daunting and makes them easier to accomplish. 

A project management tool like Trello is a visual, interactive way to house specific tasks and then assign those tasks to dates. Using Trello, employees can create checklists and track progress toward meeting both short- and long-term goals over time. 

Measure Professional Development Progress With SMART Goals

Many people follow the SMART principle to ensure goals are appropriate and timely. SMART is an acronym that’s used as a guide for setting professional goals. To ensure goals are clear and realistic, they must be:

  • Specific: Set clear and concise professional goals.

  • Measurable: Have the ability to track progress.

  • Achievable: Goals should be challenging yet achievable.

  • Relevant: Goals should be relevant to the employee’s career.

  • Time-Bound: Goals should have deadlines for achievement.

Setting SMART goals helps to clarify ideas, focus efforts, and use time and resources wisely. Overall, working with employees to help them set and meet professional development goals is a great way to show them they’re valued while increasing engagement, closing skills gaps, and improving retention in the process. Employees can use a tool like to track their progress toward achieving SMART goals over time.

Pingboard Supports Professional Development Goal Setting

If you’re convinced that professional development goals are a good investment but unsure of how to get started at your organization, we’ve got you covered. Download our Professional Development Goals Templates to get started.

Download Our Free Professional Goal Setting Template

Click here to get your own Professional Goal Setting Template!

In addition, Pingboard’s solutions make locating professional development opportunities easier for everyone. Whatever professional skill or tool they’d like to use, employees can use Pingboard’s interactive company directory to locate potential mentors within your organization that can likely teach them what they need to know.

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