You may hear a lot about professional growth, especially if you’re working on setting job or career goals. However, professional development is not much different from personal development.
When you work on your personal evolution, you develop skills, knowledge, and wisdom that you take with you wherever you go, including to the office. When you work on your professional progression, you improve your aptitude, flexibility and leadership skills. You can use these in any area of your life.
Your journey never ends. Even if you set goals, you shouldn’t stop once you meet them. Continuing to revise them will help you innovate and improve your overall vigor in your professional and personal life.
In this article, we’ll discuss why you should set professional growth goals and how to go about doing so.
Professional Growth Includes Personal Growth
According to Wikipedia, personal development includes activities that enhance:
- Current skills or your ability to learn new ones
- Self-esteem and identity
- Strengths and talents
- Your career
- Your potential
- Quality of life
- Social status
- Social relations
- Emotional intelligence
- Spiritual identity
Do you need to improve these areas of your life to succeed professionally? You might be surprised by the answer.
According to psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy explains why people with the same skillsets and talent can have vastly different experiences when it comes to their success. Self-efficacy is similar to self-confidence. It is the positive belief that we are competent enough to perform in a way that generates a favorable result.
“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.” This quote is attributed to Henry Ford. It explains why believing in yourself is so important for getting the outcomes that you desire in life.
Bandura said that self-efficacy predicts success because it:
- Sets you up with an expectation that you will accomplish what you set out to achieve
- Encourages you to take risks
- Inspires you to set challenging goals
- Helps you work through your mistakes if you don’t succeed the first time
- Allows you to control your reactions when things get difficult
It’s easy to see how working on your self-efficacy enhances your professional growth. When you are confident in yourself, you’re more likely to set goals that will further your advancement. You’re less apt to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
Therefore, when you’re setting professional growth goals, you might want to take a step back and start by looking at your personal experience outside of the working world.
Deep Practice Is Essential for Professional Growth
The primary source of self-efficacy comes from experiences that help you master something. According to the book “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, mastery involves deep practice.
Deep practice isn’t just repetition. It involves making mistakes and fixing them. When you recognize and correct errors, you allow new pathways to form in your brain. This is how learning happens.
The more you practice things that you’re not yet good at doing, the more you strengthen the routes that your neurons move through when they’re firing. As you re-wire your brain, the activities become easier, and you gain proficiency.
That proficiency helps you believe that you can succeed. Every time you encounter something new, you’re more likely to face it head on instead of running away from it.
In other words, if you want to grow professionally, you have to believe in yourself. To believe in yourself, you have to create opportunities to learn new things and master them.
How can you set goals that allow you to do this?
One way is to give yourself an opportunity to practice something every day. You don’t have to do this in a professional setting. If you tackle new experiences in your personal life, you’ll take those skills with you into your professional life.
How can you engage in deep practice and continually master new things without burning yourself out? If you’re always trying to take on the world, you can become discouraged when things don’t work out as planned.
Although correcting your mistakes is crucial for learning, constant failure can bring you down. You may not believe that you will succeed if you’re never meeting the goals that you set for yourself.
Coyle explains that the best way to engage in effective deep practice is to break up the exercise into the smallest possible segments. Imagine that you’re learning a new piece of music.
If you expect to play the entire piece from start to finish, you’ll likely be disappointed by all of the mistakes that you make the first time you go through the notes. Instead of attempting to play the whole piece, go through it measure by measure.
Don’t move forward until you’ve mastered each portion. If you practice in this way, you’re breaking a huge undertaking into manageable steps. You’re much more likely to master a single measure without errors than you are to complete the whole piece.
Every time you play a measure proficiently, you’re subconsciously telling yourself that you can succeed. This not only improves your ability to perform the task at hand but also enhances your self-confidence.
Use Deep Practice to Set Goals
You can apply this technique to your goal-setting strategy to make it a habit. When you have a desire, project or dream, do you look at it as a huge enterprise? Do you get overwhelmed before you even begin to address the situation?
Do you believe that you’re ineffective at setting goals because you rarely achieve them? You may need to break down your goals into smaller chunks and practice them.
If you do this, you’ll become great at setting goals. You’ll also become more proficient at the activities that are involved in realizing the objective that you’re striving for.
Deep practice forces you to slow down. It allows you to take a hard look at the elements that are involved in mastering a skill. It requires you to examine your weaknesses.
When you engage in deep practice, you give yourself a realistic chance to accomplish something that feels incredibly difficult or uncomfortable. You make your goals achievable.
Making sure that your objectives are doable is one of the keys to setting effective professional growth goals. Research shows that you’re more likely to attain your goals when they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.
Deep practice is a concrete way to take care of the “achievable” aspect of this guideline. There is a great deal of research that indicates that the best goals are challenging. But it can be confusing to make your goals challenging enough while keeping them achievable and realistic.
That’s where deep practice comes in. By breaking your goals down into smaller steps, you make any challenge achievable.
As you go through those steps mindfully, you notice where you fumble. That gives you a chance to focus on the areas that need work. You can master a tiny goal more effectively than a huge one. When you do, you’ll gain the skills and self-efficacy that you need to continue.
Examples of Professional Growth Goals
Now that you’ve learned that the key to accomplishing professional growth goals is to break them up and practice them, you might be wondering what objectives you should set.
In some cases, professional growth goals will be directly related to your job or industry. However, many of them are general enough to be applied to anyone who wants to succeed in life.
Below are some examples of professional growth goals that you may want to set for yourself:
- Enroll in a continuing education course
- Take leadership training
- Take on the responsibility of leading a team
- Learn a new skill or improve one of your weaknesses
- Practice communicating openly and honestly with your colleagues
- Ask for more responsibility at work
- Take a class on negotiation
- Learn the psychology of sales
- Keep a journal of your inner dialogue and how it affects your reality
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Take a public speaking course
How to Create a Professional Growth Plan
Now that you understand the foundations of setting personal growth goals, you can start practicing. However, there is one crucial step that comes between thinking about personal growth goals and taking action. You must write down your plan.
Research shows that you should commit your goals to paper if you want to accomplish them. Storing your goals in your brain doesn’t produce the same results as writing them down does.
When you write your goals, you store them in an external place, freeing up your mind to do more creative thinking. Plus, you can post your goals somewhere that you see every day. By doing this, you can constantly remind yourself of what you’re working toward.
Also, writing your goals down automatically causes your brain to analyze and encode them. You’re more likely to remember your goals just by writing them down.
Steps for Writing Your Professional Growth Goals
We’ve broken down the process for creating a professional development plan into the following steps.
1. Assess the current situation
Start by sitting down and writing the answers to the questions that we’ve posed in this article. That will give you a starting point from which to work.
Before you move forward, make sure that you take an honest look at your current situation. Awareness of the present is one of the most important aspects of driving change. If you don’t know where you are right now, how will you decide where to go from here?
2. Determine what needs to change
Look at the areas where you feel unsatisfied or ineffectual. What would have to change for you to be happier with those areas? Write down all of your ideas.
Ideally, you’ll set goals around factors that are within your control. However, you may come up with some areas that are outside of your control. Write those down for now. You can analyze them later.
3. Write down your skills
Identify the strengths that you bring to your current job. Some of these skills may be personal attributes, such as:
- Strong work ethic
- Strong communication skills
Note the specific skills that help you do your job well, such as the following:
- Type 75 words per minute
- IT experience
- Web coding knowledge
- Negotiate contracts well
Now, ask yourself which skills are transferable. In other words, which strengths will help you succeed no matter where you work? Asking yourself these questions will help you see your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
Some examples of transferable skills include:
- Basic skills: listening, learning new procedures, carrying out instructions, professionalism
- People skills: offering constructive criticism, receiving feedback well, motivating others, handling complaints, developing strong relationships, resolving conflicts
- Management skills: overseeing a team, delegation, recruiting staff, evaluating employees, organizing committees
- Clerical skills: managing records, using software, performing data entry, bookkeeping tasks
- Research and planning skills: identifying and presenting problems, defining needs, using critical thinking, solving problems, making decisions, implementing new strategies
Also, you might break down each skill to determine whether any aspects of them need to grow. Perhaps you type quickly but freeze up when drafting proposals. You may want to improve your abilities in that category.
4. Determine what you want
If you’re feeling unsatisfied in any area of your professional development, ask yourself what would constitute an ideal situation. This is a brainstorming session; don’t hold back.
Allow yourself to dream about the possibilities. You can limit yourself to thinking about the opportunities in your current job or dream about the potential if you were to change positions or occupations.
5. Perform a gap analysis
Performing a gap analysis will help you identify where there are opportunities for learning and growth. Ask yourself if there are any technical or professional skills that you might need to achieve the dreams that you want.
Those can become the professional objectives that you work toward. You may realize that you need a certain qualification or certification. You might need to take a class to strengthen your skills.
6. Solidify your professional growth goals
Now that you’ve done all of this brainstorming, write down some concrete goals that relate to your personal growth. Remember to make them specific and set a deadline.
Break down your goals into action steps. At this point, you’ll see why assessing your current situation was important. You may need to do some research to determine how to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to end up.
7. Identify obstacles
Once you know where you want to go, think about potential obstacles, fears or worries. These may be slowing your progress. After you identify them, you can create goals for combating or getting through them.
Some of your professional growth goals may be geared toward gaining the skills to remove these hindrances from your path.
8. Note the resources that will help you
Although professional development is highly personal, you don’t exist in a vacuum. Consider who you can ask for help.
You may also want to outline the resources and tools that will help you accomplish the action steps that are necessary for realizing your goals. The more specific you get at this stage of your plan, the easier it will be to take action later.
How to Follow Your Professional Growth Plan
You can create a plan for success, but you won’t achieve it by sitting on the couch. You must put your plan into action.
If you’ve broken down your goals effectively, tackling them shouldn’t be too daunting. Make sure that your action steps are associated with a deadline so that you can schedule them in your planner or calendar.
Reflect on your progress every day. Doing this will give you a chance to look at your goals regularly, committing them to memory and keeping them at the forefront of your mind.
Daily analysis also creates the feedback loop that will help you gauge your progress. You need to be flexible enough to adapt your goals to your current needs.
If something isn’t working, don’t assume that you’ve failed or been ineffective. Recognizing setbacks or difficulties gives you a chance to alter your goals or set new ones. Writing down how to overcome challenges allows you to stay in tune with the process and helps you do the deep practice that eventually lets you master everything on your list.
Revise your plan if you need to. It’s ok to change deadlines, action steps or the goals themselves.
When you’ve accomplished a goal, let yourself celebrate. Then, go through this process again to set new goals.
This is a constant strategy that allows you to keep your goals achievable and meet them every time.
Self-Reflection Is Crucial for Setting Professional Growth Goals
You must have a healthy sense of self-reflection to identify your professional growth needs. You must also be able to give yourself feedback as you’re working toward an objective. Finally, you need to evaluate your performance once you have realized the goal.
Many of us are afraid to look at our weaknesses. Identifying areas that need work in our lives can make us feel uncomfortable. It’s in this discomfort that our greatest opportunities for growth exist. If you can be honest with yourself, you can continually evolve throughout your life.
Self-reflection doesn’t always have to be a subjective process, however. You can create an objective, measurable feedback loop by setting goals.
If this is your first experience with goal setting, you may not have measurable targets to work with yet. In that case, take a look at your professional life, and ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I satisfied with?
- What am I unsatisfied with?
- What do my superiors or peers tell me is my greatest strength?
- What do my colleagues tell me that I need to work on?
- Looking at a recent project that I was part of, how was I integral to the task’s success or failure?
- What do I want to change about the way that I work?
- What do I need to learn to achieve my goals?
The answers to these questions will reveal some areas that you can focus on to propel your growth.
Once you’ve begun setting goals, you can use them to measure your success as long as they’re clearly defined and quantifiable. To do this, you can ask yourself, “How will I know when I’ve accomplished my goal?” Posing that question when you’re establishing your professional goals automatically gives you the opportunity to reflect.
You can even break that question down into smaller chunks by asking, “What are some interval markers that will show me that I’m making progress as I move toward my goal?” Asking this will let you assess your progress.
Although performance goals are different than professional growth goals, you can use your performance as a marker to indicate whether you’re meeting your development goals. For example, you might set a goal to work on your communication. A performance indicator that would help you determine whether you’re progressing might be that you hold a weekly meeting with your team.
Professional Growth Goals for Specific Professions
Many other professions, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, and pharmacists require ongoing education and professional development. Below, we provide some examples of professional growth goals for a few different industries and professions.
Professional Development Goals for Teachers
Although professional growth goals apply to any occupation, they are especially important for teachers. That’s because educators are partly responsible for instilling personal growth skills in their students. If the instructors don’t work on their own development, how can they serve as useful role models?
Research shows that the most important element that influences a student’s academic success is the quality of teaching. Therefore, schools often hold professional development training for their staff.
Professional growth goals for teachers may include:
- Attending conferences and seminars
- Collaborative learning with a team
- Independent reading and research
- Observing a colleague’s work
- Learning with a peer
When educators participate in learning that affects their professional development, they transfer their knowledge to the students, resulting in an improvement in student achievement.
Some specific examples of professional development goals for teachers are:
- Taking time for yourself outside of the classroom – This can help you stay motivated and avoid burnout.
- Give students some control and independence – Work toward giving children more freedom in the classroom. Learning how to help children evaluate their own work or introducing Montessori activities that encourage kids to choose their own activities can help.
- Incorporate technology tools – If you’ve been thinking about expanding technology in the classroom, set a goal to make it happen.
- Work better with parents – Communication with a student’s family is important, especially for young children. Personal growth goals that relate to this can make you a more effective teacher.
- Make learning fun – The best teachers inspire a love of learning in the children. You can improve your teaching abilities by learning ways to make school more enjoyable.
- Teach self-reflection – Just as self-reflection is an important personal growth goal for educators, it is a skill that can be developed in students.
Professional Growth Goals for Managers
Anyone in a leadership position can benefit from setting professional growth goals. In fact, many managers are encouraged to use the steps for creating a professional development plan at the beginning of every year.
As a manager, you may have to work with your department head or supervisor to determine whether there are any costs involved in accomplishing your goals. You might also want to work with your colleagues to make sure that you’re on the same page as your organization.
Some examples of personal growth goals for managers are:
- Improving strategic thinking so that you’re not just bogged down by day-to-day tasks
- Developing better listening skills
- Shifting your leadership style from instructing to coaching
- Gaining more industry and competitive knowledge
- Improving your ability to collaborate
- Getting a handle on time management
Professional Growth Goals for Doctors
If you work in the medical field, you don’t just see patients. You may need to know how to manage and run a practice or network with colleagues. Some personal growth goals for doctors include:
- Enhancing your networking skills
- Taking licensing exams and completing continuing education courses
- Learning from a mentor
- Improving research skills
- Advancing competence in clinical diagnosis
- Cultivate medical ethics
No matter what kind of professional development you’re after, you must be able to answer one question about your goals: Why are they important?
Recognizing the reason behind your actions will help you stay on track when things get hard. Having a strong purpose is motivating. It helps you feel like the actions that you take are meaningful.
Ultimately, setting professional growth goals will help you feel more fulfilled in your career and in life. Don’t avoid doing this just because it seems like more work. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at goal setting. In time, you should find that you become more satisfied with your personal life and your career when you set goals wisely and consistently strive to better yourself.