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How to Create Professional Development Goals That Work

Whether the objective is to learn a new skill or to one day become a CEO, the only way to truly reach it is by setting actionable and realistic goals your employees can work towards regularly. 

Creating professional development goals is one of the best ways to support an employee’s growth and career trajectory. These goals act as their roadmap to success, keeping them motivated and productive at any point in their career. 

To create a roadmap for professional development goals, explore more about the topic and then learn the steps you must take to help employees achieve them. 

What are professional development goals?

Professional development involves acquiring, using, and maintaining knowledge, skills, and expertise. Professional development goals are the skills and knowledge employees want to acquire to advance their careers—these skills serve as a guide to determining specific career goals and learning paths. 

Types of professional development goals

Learn a new skill

Skill development can lead to stronger team members and a successful organization. Companies must use skills to move their organization forward, and employees desire opportunities to learn and grow. Learning new skills also improves your confidence and sense of well-being and can positively affect others in the workplace.

The skills an employee learns should align with their career path. A junior data analyst, for example, may develop the following skills:

  • Hard skills: Data visualization, MATLAB, SQL and NoSQL, Machine Learning, Python
  • Soft skills: Critical thinking, communication, time management

Balance job-specific skills with soft skills. Combining both gives learners the professionalism that comes from hands-on experience. They can also apply a transferable skill set as managers, senior leaders, and executives. 

Earn a professional certificate

Professional certifications prove that learners have the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific job. As a result, they can help learners advance faster in their careers, especially in industries like human resources or information technology. 

Learners earn certifications after passing a proper assessment by a recognized credentialing institution. They boost credibility for:

  • Professional networks
  • Current leadership teams
  • Future business opportunities 

Taking the time to complete a professional certificate also shows that employees are dedicated to their profession. It communicates a commitment to self-improvement and continuous learning. 

Top advantages to becoming certified in a specific topic include:

  • Competitive advantage
  • Higher earning potential 
  • Better knowledge and skills
  • Professional credibility 
  • Efficiency

“​​The only way for a company to truly grow is for everyone to always be their sharpest and to always be willing to get better.”
Jen Scopo, Instructional Design Manager, WorkRamp

Read books relevant to your field

Reading can help you develop useful skills for your career. In addition, studies show that regular readers can reduce cognitive decline and live longer than those who do not read.  Reading is essential for every career-driven person. It helps:

  • Broaden the mind
  • Improve written and verbal communication skills
  • Foster empathy
  • Inspire creativity
  • Reduce stress 

Encourage employees to read books related to their field, as well as fiction novels and biographies. Reading about one topic will help you gain new knowledge, but educating yourself about various topics makes you more well-rounded, which companies look for in their candidates. 

Suggest that teams share their favorite books. You can even set up a channel in your work communication tool where people can share their book recommendations regularly. By doing so, teams can learn together while strengthening relationships and connections. 

Take professional courses

A professional course helps advance your skills and keeps employees up-to-date on trends and market news. Courses are part of an employee’s custom learning path, explicitly designed with an employee’s skill level, interests, and career development goals in mind. 

For example, an L&D professional may take a course on compliance or DEI&B. On the other hand, a senior leader may take an online course on leadership or coaching to help team members develop. 

Continuous learning helps:

  • Keep skills and knowledge updated 
  • Promote creative thinking
  • Improve team collaboration
  • Identify and solve problems
  • Prepare for unexpected situations

When you create a learning culture in your organization—whether through courses, workshops, or certifications—you help team members adapt to market changes, learn new skills, and grow as professionals. 

How to set professional development goals

Have a clear goal and know what you’re working towards

It’s easy to get caught up in setting too many goals. Psychologists even have a name for it: goal competition. It states that goals often compete with each other for time and attention. When you go after a new objective, you take the focus off of your other pursuits. 

The good news: The best way to make progress is by focusing on one goal at a time. 

Start by figuring out your end goal, and then set smaller objectives to help you get there. For example, let’s say your professional development goal is to improve your public speaking abilities. Your smaller milestones could include:

  • Take a public speaking course
  • Earn a public speaker certificate
  • Find a mentor 
  • Book a free speaking gig
  • Get constructive feedback 

Getting regular feedback can help you work on areas of improvement. Say, for example, your body language and breathing were excellent in a recent presentation, but it took more time than allotted to get your point across. You could take a speech writing class to give a more structured, clear presentation in the next round. 

Rather than setting multiple goals and stressing to achieve them all, set one. Then define how and when you’ll accomplish the goal.  

Set SMART goals

Many professionals follow the SMART framework to ensure that goals are appropriate and timely. SMART stands for:

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

SMART goals are focused, strategic, and actionable. You can use them to set both long- and short-term professional development goals. 

Let’s look at what each element means and create a SMART goal based on becoming a better public speaker.


When setting a SMART goal, be specific about what you’ll accomplish. 

Example: I will become a better public speaker, so I can share learnings, motivate people, and present to my colleagues more effectively. 


How can you measure success? Measurements can be quantitative (productivity results or money saved) and qualitative (testimonials, certifications, etc.). 

Example: I will work to lower my speech rate to +/- 100 words per minute and structure speeches for easy comprehension. 


This element focuses on the goal’s importance and how you can attain it. Consider how to accomplish the goals and if you have the tools you need. Also, make sure the plan is realistic and reasonable.

Example: I will complete the required training and courses from my company. I’ll also sign up for free local talks and present more to my colleagues. This will help me apply my learning and become a better speaker. 


Make sure the goal is relevant to your overarching career goals. 

Example:  I can empower my team and communicate more clearly by becoming a better speaker. I aim to get that promotion using my credentials as a speaker. 


Be sure to set a deadline and create a schedule for your goal. You may not achieve your goal if you don’t have a realistic time frame. 

Example: My speaking skills will improve within the next 90 days. Then I will re-evaluate and see where I should upskill in my speaking abilities. 

Why are professional development goals important?

Goals give us a roadmap to follow. They are an important part of having a successful career. Goals give you a clear focus and set targets for you to work towards, plus so much more:

  • Provide a sense of purpose. Employees expect their jobs to provide a sense of purpose. Goals help them align their focus and promote self-improvement. Employers can meet this need by helping team members set professional development goals.  
  • Develop new skills and knowledge. Data shows that 49 percent of employees want to develop their skills and competencies but don’t know where to start. Creating a professional development plan can help close the skill gap and retain top talent. 
  • Enhance existing skill sets. Upskilling and reskilling are top learning and development priorities for organizations globally. By creating professional development goals, they can improve their current skills and become a master at their craft. 
  • Increase motivation. Goal setting is linked to task performance. Setting specific and challenging professional goals and proper feedback can lead to increased motivation, employee engagement, and productivity. 

How a learning management platform can help employees reach professional development goals

Using a learning management platform for your online training makes it easier for employees to work towards their professional development goals. Here’s what you can do to support employees’ efforts. 

Create specific learning paths

Each employee will have different goals based on their skill level, compliance requirements, and long-term goals. A learning management platform can ensure employees get the specific training they need. Program managers can assign and schedule employee training programs in their learning platform. Employees can access training on any internet-connected device. 

Measure training results

A learning management platform provides various learning analytics to help you understand learner behavior and achievements. For example, you can see metrics like course completion, time spent on a particular course, and performance on post-course assessments. 

Using analytics from your learning platform can help you measure the efficacy of your program and the employee’s progress towards their goals. According to research, monitoring progress increases the chances of success.

Provide reskill and upskill opportunities

A learning platform gives you insight into employee testing and certifications. Understanding each employee’s current position can create future learning programs that enhance skill sets and competencies. 

Offer various learning formats

A learning platform makes professional development goals more realistic. Employees take advantage of blended learning opportunities, mentoring, and social learning sessions with other colleagues. 

Use professional development goals to help employees succeed

Professional development goals help team members excel in their current roles and set them up for success in the future. Keep employees motivated and equip them with the resources they need to thrive.

Want to learn more about how WorkRamp’s All-in-One Learning Platform can help employees reach their professional development goals? Contact us to book a free, personalized demo. 


Complete the form for a custom demo.

Michael Keenan

WorkRamp Contributor

Michael is a SaaS marketer living in Guadalajara, Mexico. Through storytelling and data-driven content, his focus is providing valuable insight and advice on issues that prospects and customers care most about. He’s inspired by learning people’s stories, climbing mountains, and traveling with his partner and Xoloitzcuintles.

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