The importance of setting personal development goals

In a recent appraisal, I was challenged by my boss on setting personal development goals, asking me to articulate what I needed to work on to achieve where I want to reach.  To be honest, this was a bit of a curve ball.  Like many readers, I spend a lot of time focusing on developing my people, progressing my teams, achieving business goals and revenue targets, and planning for the future achievements in Customer Experience.  My boss’s comments made me reflect on the importance of taking time to reflect on my own development.

In my earlier career, I set myself all sort of career goals.  Sometimes they were around salary (for example, by the time I am 25 years old, I want to be earning £XX,XXX, then by 30, I want to be paid £YY,YYY.)  Other goals centred around responsibility (for example, I want to become a line manager or a head of department.)  I was proud to tick each box, and as I moved forward in my career, I realised that setting personal development goals (over and above what was expected of me in the work place), I did indeed advance my career. By aiming high and imagining myself reaching a certain milestone, I was able to take actions that helped me attain my personal development goals.

Once you reach a certain level, this is not quite as straight forward.  More recent goals have been about stepping outside my comfort zone.  Establishing new functions that would drive business value (for example, creating a customer success team or taking over a retention function.)  A skill-set that I sorely needed to work on was learning to engage at the most senior levels (without compromising my personal style and approach.)  With the words of my boss ringing in my ear, I now realise it’s time to set another set of bold personal development goals to take me to the next level.  In reality, the approach to take is not so dissimilar to that taken in my earlier career.  Here’s the way I tackle this.

Where do I want to be in 3/5/10 years’ time? Sometimes we are at a stage in our career where personal life takes priority over work – a new relationship, an unfortunate change in personal circumstances, family issues.  During these times, we still need to have personal development goals, we just need to be realistic about what can be achieved.  At other times, we may be hungry to move forward our career.  It’s at these times that we need to really let our imagination go, and aim for the “impossible.”

What will I get out of achieving this goal? It’s easy to link our personal development goals too closely to what we are doing now.  “I want to step into my manager’s role”, for example.  Personal goals need to be just that – personal!  Consider the skills you have, and those you want to gain, and don’t restrict yourself to developing solely within your current role or function.  In this way, your personal goals will satisfy the key needs to drive your personal satisfaction and ambition.  I’ve worked in many different industries, always focused on customer-facing teams – this has given me a rich and broad understanding of multiple industries, and allows me to add more value by understanding different perspectives.

Will achieving this goal make a difference to the business I work for? If you intend to build a career within the company where you work, your personal development goal needs to not only help you achieve your ambition, but in order to get support in achieving it, the goal needs to bring value to your business.  As part of your planning, think how you can articulate this.  If your personal goals don’t add value to your business, this is something for you to focus on in your own time (but is no less valuable.)

How will I get buy-in from above and below? The simplest way to get buy-in is to talk about your personal development goals.  Your boss, colleagues and team mates can’t support you if they don’t know where you are heading!  It may feel a little vain or uncomfortable to share your aspirations, so “practicing” on a friendly team mate should help you feel confident in how best to express the goal.  You may need to communicate your goal a couple of times, in different ways to help people understand what you want to achieve, and make sure you allow the person time to digest and consider how to support you.

What is stopping me? If, like me, you sometimes have moments of self-doubt or a wobble of self-confidence, it can be hard to get the ball rolling.  Reflect on your journey so far, your successes and your failures, and give yourself a huge pat on the back for what you have achieved to date.  You may be struggling to articulate your personal development goal, so why not seek the help and guidance of your boss or another senior colleague?  I certainly intend to!  Talking to someone you respect to help you bring your idea to life will also help you validate your thinking.

How do I get started?!  Taking some time to think boldly and aiming high and setting a personal development goal is the start.  Working out a plan, engaging others (especially your boss) to kick start the journey is a really important first step.  So why not take the bull by the horns and share your personal development goal with a team mate or colleague today?


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