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Helping Your Teams Set Developmental Goals for Work

Continu Team
One Platform for All Learning
Learning & Development
October 9, 2023

Guide your teams in setting developmental goals: understand the importance, provide tools, and foster a growth mindset for continuous workplace improvement.

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You know that when each member of your team is successful your organization benefits. Additionally, employees who experience success tend to be more engaged and less likely to leave your company for other opportunities. 

The challenge is that success isn’t just some vague concept. It’s the result of setting and achieving developmental goals

As a leader, one of your responsibilities is to assist your team members in setting and tracking developmental goals for work. These goals should be incorporated into a professional development plan for each employee. Ideally, this will be directly connected to their gaining the skills they need to achieve their own career objectives.

What are developmental goals for work?

Personal development goals are targets you create to enhance your characteristics, competencies, and skills. In order to achieve these goals and reach your full potential, you must first evaluate yourself and determine your areas of improvement. Establish a plan with specific actions in order to begin your personal growth. These actions will help you gauge your progress and maintain focus on your goal.

Common Challenges When Setting Developmental Goals For Work

It can be difficult for employees to set developmental goals for work without some guidance. An employee may understand their personal career objectives and set goals accordingly. However, they might struggle to set goals within the context of the organization’s needs.

While your guidance can help workers build a professional development plan, you have to be careful about exerting too much influence. You may encourage goals that aren’t closely aligned with the employee’s career plans. It can also be difficult for workers to feel a sense of ownership over goals they’re not particularly excited about.

When developmental goals for work fall flat, it isn’t just the individual employee who struggles with engagement. In fact, the whole team can suffer as a result. That’s why every leader needs a reliable guide, like this one, to help their team set and pursue goals that work for them. 

This guide will cover:

  • The importance of setting goals as part of a professional development plan
  • What effective goals look like
  • Tips for guiding your team in setting developmental goals for work
  • Examples of professional goals

You may find that the process of helping workers to set goals and measure their progress is a refreshing approach to performance management. Unlike other methods of measuring performance, this establishes that leaders and employees are on the same team and working toward common outcomes.

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The Importance of Setting Developmental Goals for Work

It’s important to set professional goals because they are a concrete expression of what the employee wants to accomplish, how it benefits them, and how it benefits the organization. The process of setting goals can also add clarity to goals that might otherwise be overly vague.

Developmental goals are generally set for two reasons. They are intended to help an employee improve their skills and productivity, or help them make progress toward career advancement.

Additionally, when workers take the time to write their career goals, it gets them to focus on precisely what they want out of their job and the actions it will take to accomplish that. As they do this, you can provide guidance to help ensure their goals are relevant to the company’s values and mission. 

Setting goals is also a key component of creating a professional development plan. This is a roadmap that establishes the desired career trajectory from the current point into the future. It helps workers to visualize their potential for growth and advancement. 

When workers believe there is potential for them within an organization, they become more engaged and less likely to seek opportunities with other companies.

Finally, by taking time to help workers set goals, leaders show that they prioritize their team’s growth and development. This can be further supported by offering training programs that nurture teams and create a learning-centered work culture.

The Anatomy of an Effective Professional Goal

A professional development goal is a foundation for future success. It can start the employee moving in a positive direction, and promote success for the entire team. 

However, in order for goals to be effective, they must be thoughtfully created. Additionally, the best goals tend to have certain elements in common. These characteristics are best described within the concept of SMART goals.

What is a SMART goal? This is a goal that is created following a set of rules that dictates that goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant 
  • Time-bound

When goals are created using SMART guidelines, employees are more likely to follow through in a timely manner. SMART goals are also realistic, and as a leader, you will find they’re also easy to measure. SMART goals encourage focus and a sense of ownership.

There’s one additional criterion that isn’t covered by SMART. Each professional goal should be relevant, and team members should be intrinsically motivated to achieve every one set forth.

Here’s an example: You might have an employee who wants to be a more effective salesperson. That’s great, but a “close more sales” directive is too vague. It doesn’t do anything to help move them closer to achieving their career objective. Additionally, it doesn’t bridge what they want to achieve with any organizational need.

Now, imagine that the goal was to “attend five or more sales calls with a gold-level team member in the next 30 days to learn better closing strategies and contribute to the team’s goals of closing 15% more sales this quarter.” 

This goal is specific, quantifiable, and designed to happen within a specific period of time. It’s also achievable, with five sales calls in 30 days being quite reasonable. Ultimately, the goal reflects both the employee’s desire to be better at sales and the team’s need to improve their quarterly sales. 

Tips for Building a Goal-Centered Professional Development Plan

It’s helpful to understand the characteristics of an effective professional goal. As a manager, you also need to have the skills and understanding to help your team members write goals and career development steps that motivate them, relate to their desired career trajectory, and connect with your overall team goals.

The following tips are designed to help you lead your team in setting goals and making plans for their professional development.

1. Ask Questions to Help Employees Articulate Clear Goals

While some employees will know exactly what they want to accomplish and learn, others will need help zoning in on detailed goals. Still, others will have a good idea of what they would like to accomplish but may need some help articulating those goals clearly. 

Your job is to help them with their personal challenges and to help them understand what the company needs them to achieve as well. 

Consider setting aside time monthly or quarterly to have employee development conferences with each team member. This is the perfect setting to discuss future goals as well as the progress they’ve made toward previous goals. 

What if an employee is struggling to set SMART goals? Try guiding them through the process with some leading questions. For example:

  • Can you list three actions you can take to achieve this?
  • Is there a skill you wish you had that would increase your productivity?
  • How will you know when you have successfully achieved this goal?

Let them guide the process, but don’t hesitate to give suggestions as well. You have more insight into the organization and can point out training programs or other resources.

2. Educate Employees About Pathways and Possibilities

If you want workers to set meaningful goals, you have to set them up for success. Employees can only create goals based on the information they have. One thing that you can do to assist them is to share your knowledge. 

In particular, educate them about upcoming projects, training programs, career development opportunities, and other possibilities to help them match their objectives with things that are meaningful to the organization.

For instance, a worker who wants to improve their coding skills would benefit from learning that the company offers tuition reimbursement for an upcoming boot camp. One who wants to move into leadership might want to know about an upcoming project where their expertise would let them take on a more prominent role.

3. Encourage a Plan behind Each Goal

A goal is something you want to accomplish. A plan is the combination of steps and actions taken to achieve the goal. Essentially, this is where the team member details exactly what they will do to achieve the goal within a set period of time.

4. There Should Be at Least Two Reasons for Each Goal

When a team member sets goals, encourage them to detail the reasons why. This will help them to personally connect to the goal, and ensure it has some meaning.

Why at least two reasons? The first should reflect the employee’s interests or career plans. The second should relate to the needs of the team or the company.

Encourage them to think in both the long and short term. They may wish to earn higher sales commissions next quarter. (Yes, it’s okay for some goals to be financially motivated.) However, their long-term objective may be to earn a promotion to sales lead.

5. Avoid Gatekeeping

Your job is to facilitate the process and help your team members conceive goals that work for them. Of course, you want them to make relevant goals, and you have a responsibility to ensure their goals will benefit the organization. 

At the same time, it’s important that workers feel a connection to their goals, and that they have a sense of ownership. This won’t happen if you assert so much control over the process that the finished goals don’t reflect the employee’s own vision for their career or interests.

6. Find Ways to Divide Large Goals into Smaller Ones

SMART goals are time-constrained for a reason. They encourage people to set goals they can achieve in a reasonable amount of time. If a goal is going to take too long to accomplish, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing. The problem is that the team member may become frustrated or burned out before they achieve it. 

To help with that, encourage workers to break larger, long-term goals into smaller chunks. While it’s great to have a year-long goal, they should be able to break that into monthly or quarterly goals that they can work toward.

7. Encourage Flexibility

It’s important for employees to stick with goals, even when challenges arise. However, that doesn’t mean you or they should be completely inflexible. Things happen. The company may undergo some changes, and organizational needs shift as a result. 

Likewise, an employee may become aware of a new opportunity that shifts their short-term objectives. Sometimes, it may make sense to put a goal off until another time and create new goals in light of new situations.

Examples of Professional Goals

Here are three examples of professional goals. Use these as inspiration, or examples to demonstrate career development goals to your team members.

1. Attend a Trade Show in Q1 to Learn More About Prospecting and Support the Event Sales Team

This goal is specific. It’s relevant to both the employee and their team, and it’s timely. It also connects a goal (learn more about prospecting) with a meaningful plan of action (attend a trade show).

2. Complete a Two-Week Class on JavaScript, then Volunteer to Work on an Upcoming Web Development Project

This goal meets SMART criteria. In addition to this, it leads the employee to learn useful technical skills, which can help them achieve their own career objectives. By connecting the goal to a work-related project, the goal setter shows the value provided to the organization.

3. Review the Demo Videos for the Next Product Release to Increase Product Knowledge by Month’s End

Why does this goal work? It has a clear objective, a plan to meet that objective, a time limit, and articulates the benefit of pursuing the goal. It’s also something that the employee can realistically achieve.

Give Employees the Tools They Need to Achieve Their Goals

Development goals and training often go hand in hand. That’s why workplaces with engaged employees who achieve their goals also have effective training programs. 

Continu is a modern learning management system that allows you to create and deliver the training your team needs to meet their goals. 

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