Crafting SMART goals for professional development: Your roadmap

woman with curly blue hair is thinking about her SMART professional goals

Are you looking to take your career to the next level? Setting SMART goals is a powerful strategy for driving professional development and achieving success. In this blog, we'll dive deep into the world of SMART goals - what they are, why they matter, and how to craft them effectively. We'll provide concrete examples and step-by-step guides to help you master the art of goal-setting. Plus, you'll discover proven strategies for staying on track and turning your ambitious objectives into reality.

Table of contents
What are SMART goals?
What are some examples of SMART goals for professional development?
How to set SMART professional development goals
Strategies for achieving SMART professional development goals
Elevate your career with AI-powered coaching

What are SMART goals?

Put simply, SMART goals are a framework for setting and achieving goals. SMART goals are distinct from unstructured goals making them more likely to be achieved.

Here are the 5 SMART goal criteria:

  1. Specific: The more focused and specific your goal, the better.
  2. Measurable: The goal needs to be something you can track and monitor.
  3. Achievable: The goal needs to be realistic and something you can actually achieve.
  4. Relevant: The goal needs to be relevant to your overall values and long-term plans.
  5. Time-bound: Lastly, your goal must be placed within a time frame.

Far from another fancy acronym or buzzword, SMART goals get results.

A study on 80 trainee doctors at a medical facility found that embedding the SMART methodology into the training program resulted in an uptick in adherence to educational goals and actions.1

And, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the award-winning novella The Little Prince said:

‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’

The SMART framework is an effective approach because it comes pre-packaged with a plan.

If you want to set professional development goals to fast-track your career path, develop your time management skills, enhance business communication or set organizational goals for increasing employee job satisfaction or reducing customer churn. This tried and true methodology makes goal setting effective and easy.

What are some examples of SMART goals for professional development?

Are you somebody who learns best by example? We've got you covered. Here are some examples of SMART career development goals.

Skill development

The goal

A teacher wants to master the use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom within two months by attending workshops and training programs and practicing during lesson planning.

What makes it SMART

Specific: This individual goal focuses on learning a particular teaching tool (interactive whiteboards) within a defined timeline (2 months) by doing specific things (attending workshops and practicing).

Measurable: Progress can be measured by the number of workshops attended and the number of days of practice during lesson plans.

Achievable: With practice and guidance, you can learn the technical skills necessary to use interactive whiteboards effectively in 2 months.

Relevant: If the broad goal is to improve student engagement and performance, the use of interactive whiteboards will serve this larger goal.

Time-bound: The goal has a clear timeline of 2 months for mastering the skill.

Performance improvement

The goal

A financial advisor wants to increase client satisfaction scores by 15% next quarter through personalized services and regular feedback surveys.

What makes it SMART

Specific: The goal is to increase client satisfaction scores by a measurable percentage (15%) within a specified timeframe (next quarter).

Measurable: Progress can be measured through client feedback surveys, ratings, and testimonials.

Achievable: 15% is a reasonable increase that shouldn't require the goal-setter to reinvent the wheel or bend over backward to achieve. It's doable within the given time limit.

Relevant: If the individual's goal is career growth, and client satisfaction is one of their roles' key metrics, then the goal is relevant to their broader goal.

Time-bound: The goal has a clear timeline for achieving the performance improvement.

Career advancement

The goal

A travel consultant wants to be promoted to senior travel consultant within 3 years by completing advanced tourism sales courses, increasing client bookings by 30%, and mentoring junior travel agents.

What makes it SMART

Specific: This career goal specifies attaining a senior travel consultant position within a defined timeline (3 years) through specific actions like completing sales courses, increasing client bookings, and mentoring junior agents.

Measurable: Measurable criteria include completion of courses, tracking client bookings, receiving positive feedback from clients and supervisors, and mentoring junior agents.

Achievable: Being promoted to senior travel consultant in 3 years is achievable through continuous learning, exceeding sales targets, and demonstrating leadership.

Relevant: If the goal setter values a higher salary and supports their family, this goal is relevant to their longer-term goal.

Time-bound: The goal has a clear timeline of 3 years.

Personal growth

The goal

An individual wants to develop a daily mindfulness practice by meditating for at least 10 minutes each day and practicing mindful breathing exercises to reduce stress.

What makes it SMART

Specific: The goal clearly states how often they will mediate, for how long, and what kind of meditation technique they will use.

Measurable: Progress can be measured by tracking daily meditation sessions using an app or calendar. It's also possible to observe changes in stress levels and note improvements in focus and emotional well-being in a systematic way.

Achievable: Developing a daily mindfulness practice is achievable with consistent effort, setting aside time each day, and using guided meditation resources if needed.

Relevant: If individuals value their mental health and well-being, mindfulness practices are a proven way to achieve this. Therefore, it is relevant to their values.

Time-bound: The goal has a clear daily timeline of meditating for at least 10 minutes, making it manageable and sustainable for long-term personal growth.

How to set SMART professional development goals

Now that you understand the SMART framework, it’s time to create your own SMART goal for professional development.

Start with 'R' for Relevant

We suggest the best place to start is at ‘r’ for relevance because if it's not relevant to your overarching values or goals, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

For many, the pandemic was an opportunity to rethink long-term goals and career options. With time to ponder what truly mattered, it turned out a lot of people weren’t doing what they really wanted to.

This was such a prevalent phenomenon that The Guardian had a name for it: The Covid Pivot.2

While some made their Covid Pivot voluntarily, others weren't so lucky at first.

Jon Clemence was a career-focused corporate employee for 15 years until he wasn't.3

As he puts it:

‘On the morning of January 15, 2021, I drove into my job as a quality manager for a manufacturing company. A few hours later, I drove home as another casualty of the global Covid economic shutdown.’

After the initial shock, Jon realized he’d never wanted to be a quality manager and was severely burnt out. While he was diligent and competent in his role, it was not relevant to his values of being close to his family and having personal autonomy. Jon set a new goal of becoming a freelancer and is now much happier.

Make sure it's achievable

The tech world lionizes visionaries. The ‘mad geniuses’ set their sights on crazy goals that nobody thinks they can achieve (until they do). However, research shows that, on average, people who set achievable goals outperform those who don't.4

As it turns out, the myth of the renegade who changes the world is just that: a myth. To illustrate the difference, let's compare the approach of Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Elon Musk.

Musk is the poster child for the visionary approach. He's well known for setting ambitious goals but less known for achieving them. Take the ever-expanding timeline for the self-driving car, for example.

Ideally, your goals should push you past what seems possible, like Sundar Pichai. Under Pichai, Google is known for its OKR (Objective and Key Results) framework for setting and achieving targets.

OKR involves setting goals that feel slightly uncomfortable but are still achievable. It may not be sexy, but it works. Google consistently meets targets, Google employees score high on job satisfaction surveys5, and their stock price has grown consistently for over 10 years.6

So, when setting goals, think big, but not too big. Set an easy goal, then make it a little harder. You'll be motivated to achieve it but not overwhelmed.

Be specific

Consider the difference between the following:

‘I want to get better at sales.’

and

‘I want to increase my monthly sales figures by 20%’

Which goal is more likely to be achieved, and why?

‘Better’ doesn't tell us much. It doesn't say how much better; it doesn't provide any means for determining what ‘better’ is. It's a vague goal.

When setting goals, it pays to be specific. You'll be much more likely to achieve your target that way!

When do you want to achieve the goal? (Time-bound)

This one trips up a lot of people. We all know that things outside of our control hinder our progress toward a goal. This is especially true if we're working within a large team with a timeline dependent on different factors and stakeholders. It might be tempting to leave a bit of extra leeway for unexpected events or even leave the timeline open-ended.

But before you do this, consider Parkinson's Law:

‘Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.’

This means that we often (consciously or not) find ways to overcomplicate things without time limits. Projects that could take 2 days can take 2 weeks. Setting a deadline makes us focused. We ignore the little things that take more time to consider and focus on moving the needle to reach the goal.

At last, it must be a measurable goal

There are many ways to measure progress toward a goal. Let's say you're setting goals for career progression and working towards professional growth to land a leadership role.

You could focus on the following measurable criteria:

  • The books you read on leadership skills
  • The networking events and industry events you attend
  • The number of training opportunities you put your hand up for

These are all great and necessary. But at F4S, we've developed a unique, evidence-based technology to benchmark your work style motivations against our XFactor success models.

Once you answer questions on what motivates you you can see how you stack up against industry giants. Then, you can undertake on-demand, personalized online coaching to transform your workstyle motivations into leadership success.

Answer questions on what motivates you to receive your personalized report

F4S can help you to set, develop, and measure:

Strategies for achieving SMART professional development goals

Once you’ve set your SMART professional development goals, it’s time to get intentional about achieving them. Here are some tips and strategies for putting your plan into action:

Create an 'action plan' roadmap

Break down your SMART goal into smaller, actionable steps that you can take on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This key aspect will ensure you stay focused and make progress towards your goal. Identify specific tasks, deadlines, and resources needed to complete each step, and regularly review and adjust your plan as needed.

Establish an accountability system

Share your SMART goal with a trusted friend or colleague and ask them to hold you accountable. This could involve regular check-ins, progress updates, or even a system of rewards or consequences to ensure you stay motivated. Having someone to report to and be accountable can provide that extra motivation.

Use 'implementation intentions' to overcome obstacles

Identify potential obstacles to achieving your SMART goal and develop a plan for overcoming them. This could include seeking additional resources, finding a mentor, or developing new skills.

Celebrate 'small wins' along the way

Last but not least, remember to celebrate the small wins. Everything that gets you closer to your goals, no matter how small, is a win worth celebrating. Recognizing these wins helps you build the momentum you need to keep going.

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Show References
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  1. Aghera A et al., 2018, A Randomized Trial of SMART Goal Enhanced Debriefing after Simulation to Promote Educational Actions, Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5785177/
  2. Davey M, 2020, Covid Pivot: the people who changed careers and flourished in 2020,The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/29/covid-pivot-the-people-who-changed-careers-and-flourished-in-2020
  3. Clemence J, 2023, Why I’ll Never Go Back To The Corporate World, The Medium, https://medium.com/@jclemence/why-ill-never-go-back-to-the-corporate-world-147ce91d0c7
  4. Newman J, 2016, Setting Reasonable Performance Targets for Public Service Delivery, World Bank Research Working Paper, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2236036
  5. Gitnux, 2023, Must-Know Google Employment Statistics, Gitnux, https://gitnux.org/google-employment-statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20statistics%2C%2085%25%20of,employees%20report%20high%20job%20satisfaction
  6. Yahoo Finance, Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) Share Price, Yahoo Finance, https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/GOOG/

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