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Goals: The Hidden Professional Development Tool

Hand with a Post-it note stating Set Goals on it. Reports and two cell phones are in the background behind the hand.

Too often organizations set goals for team members without realizing the developmental potential this practice has. A good barometer for how an organization thinks of goals can be found in the goal-review process. Do you leave a goals review feeling reinforced and reinvigorated with what you’ve accomplished and have before you, or is reviewing your goals somewhere between the Inquisition and being called to the principal’s office? Writing goals is an immensely powerful process that can help you accomplish amazing things, but you may have to help your organization appreciate the value of the process. Here are some tips that may help.

Make sure your goals are relevant

Hopefully the goal-setting process is collaborative, and you have some input into your goals. If it isn’t, then it’s time to have a conversation with your supervisor. Start by letting them know you are committed to accomplishing what they consider important for success in your job. Ask if you can help shape your goals. If your boss agrees to collaborate, suggest goals that will help you improve not only in your current position but also in your career development.

If the budget allows, mention training that will help you in both the short and long term. If the budget is limited, set other goals that can help your development. Maybe you can join a team working on a project that isn’t your direct responsibility (now) but will help you cross-train. You could volunteer to accomplish a small project on your own—almost every department has some things that need to be done when “someone can get around to it.”

Make sure your goals are timely 

Well-written goals should include time frames. But the same sense of timing and urgency should be applied to your developmental goals. You’ll show your supervisor that you’re serious about professional growth. As zealously as your supervisor wants you to complete the goals around your current position, you should be as zealous to stay on track in preparing yourself for the next challenge!

Make sure your goals review meetings are productive 

Like much of the process described above, your supervisor probably sets the tone and agenda for the meetings where you review your progress toward your goals. But there’s nothing wrong with you providing leadership as well. Let your supervisor know you’d like to ask some questions that will help you understand how you can do better. Here are some probing questions that can help make the review process more of a coaching session:

  • If you haven’t completed a goal to their satisfaction, what would it look like if you hit a home run in that area?

  • What else would they like to see you do or accomplish to be more successful in your current position (even if not now addressed in a goal)?

  • Do they think the developmental goals you’re working on are still relevant to your professional growth?

  • What else would they like to see you do or accomplish to prepare you for the next position?

Be open to feedback

This is a classic case of being easier said than done. It’s human nature to want to shine and to prefer positive feedback to criticism. And while hopefully you’re getting your share of positive feedback, you also need constructive criticism. Be as receptive as possible to the feedback, as opposed to being defensive (a fine balance sometimes when you have to provide more accurate information about the situation being discussed). Get to the point where you’re perceived as someone who is always trying to learn how to improve.

Goal setting done right—or wrong—is arduous and time consuming. So why not be sure it’s done right? Don’t let the time invested in this process be wasted. You can get value out of it regardless of how effectively it’s now being done in your organization. It will take tenacity and effort on your part, but the paybacks will be considerable!

Bill HoffmanBill Hoffman is CEO of Bill Hoffman & Associates, LLC, a Tampa-based consulting firm with national-level expertise in educational engagement strategies, nonprofit leadership transitions, and organizational and board development. Bill has senior-level nonprofit management experience in education, having been the president of one of the nation’s top K-12 education foundations; functioned as interim CEO for prominent national and state education and philanthropic associations; and led national, regional, and state boards of directors. He is also an adjunct professor at National University, teaching Non-profit Leadership and Board Development.

Topics: Professional Development