How to set personal growth and development goals

Become the best version of yourself by setting yourself specific and challenging goals

Whether you are a fresher, a mid-career professional, or just want to stay ahead of the pack, setting personal development goals can help you gain clarity about what you really want to do and where you want to be so that you can chart the road that takes you there.

This playbook is intended to be a guide for those looking to set personal growth and upskilling goals so that they can grow as individuals and professionals. But before we expand on the subject further, let’s first understand the concept of goal setting.

How to set personal growth and development goals
A 7-step guide to successfully upskill your employees

What is goal setting?

Edward Locke and Gary Latham, pioneers of goal-setting theory, define “goals” as “the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.”

So, goal setting is the process of identifying your “goals” and taking active steps to attain the desired outcome.

What exactly are personal development goals?

Personal development or personal growth goals are goals you set to enable yourself to reach your full potential. The process of setting these goals include assessing your skills and identifying areas of interest and aptitude so that you can chart a roadmap to become the best version of yourself. Examples of personal development goals could be resolving to develop soft skills (becoming more  empathetic or communicating effectively) or building technical skills (mastering SQL or Python).

What is upskilling?

Why is it important to set personal growth goals?

There are many reasons why individuals should set themselves personal growth goals. 

For one, research has established that there is a link between setting goals (for personal or professional reasons) and increased motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence and autonomy. Additionally, there is a strong link between goal setting and success because goal setting helps you develop your strengths, which, in turn, helps you be successful at whatever you set out to achieve. American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn sums up the importance of a third reason rather well in the following quote: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” 

Rohn has a point. It may be safe to say that once we enter the workforce, the majority of us “fall into” a career plan that we haven’t really charted out for ourselves. Our career trajectories proceed almost by default with a promotion or raise here, a layoff there, or a fancier designation by one of your employer’s competitors. To add to that, most organisations aren’t very good at developing talent (though that is changing albeit slowly). So the best way most individuals can grow personally and professionally is to set their own goals and chart the steps they need to take to achieve them. Setting personal development goals helps you do this by focusing you and giving you a clear sense of direction with regard to your career. It also gives you a head start over peers who don’t set such goals.

What is goal setting?

“the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.”

7 steps to start your own upskilling programme

How to set personal growth and development goals

Why upskill - graphic

Step 1: Draft your vision

If you don’t know where you stand or where you are going you cannot chart a route to get there. So, the first step involves some self-reflection. Think about your interests and ambitions and skills and abilities. What motivates you? Do you love what you do? Are you as obsessed with your job as paper salesman Dwight Schrute is about his? Are you happy to stay on your current career path? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

The answers to all these questions will help you set realistic and achievable goals.

As part of the process of ascertaining what energises you, conduct a SWOT Analysis – an assessment of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

For strengths, ask yourself what do you do better than others? Do you have a natural talent that you can hone further or that you can use to your advantage? What skills do you love and are proud of using? What energises you? 

The list of your weaknesses could include skills you aren’t really good at – those that don’t energise you or those you are learning while on the job (such as leadership skills), which you have an interest in building but are not proficient at yet. It could also be a skill that you don’t particularly enjoy using, say, public speaking, but you realise that it is an important skill to have. You don’t have to list all your weaknesses, just those that are relevant to your goals. To get additional perspective of your strengths and weaknesses, tap your boss, colleagues or peers for their inputs.

An opportunity could be an interest you have in an area that is gaining currency today (such as data analytics) or a skill you really love using, which, if developed further, might open up some new opportunities for you. A threat could be a skill that is likely going to be obsolete in a few years because of automation or artificial intelligence.

One way to develop a realistic vision for your personal development is to discuss your goals with people who have been there, done that and ask for advice. These people can be a mentor, your boss/manager or even a senior colleague you admire. If you have a supportive boss who likes your personal development plan, they may even help you achieve your goals by getting the organisation to fund any training or clearing any time-off.

Why upskill - graphic

Step 2: Set specific, realistic and achievable goals

Once you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and have a vision for the future, it is time to set the goals that will help you get there.

For this step, it may be instructive to look at the research of goal setting theorists Locke and Latham who set out five key principles that support the creation of effective and successful goals. They are:

  • Clarity: Clearly stated and well defined (unambiguous) goals motivate people more than vague goals.
  • Challenge: The goals must be challenging yet attainable. Locke’s research showed that the more challenging the goals were, the more people pushed themselves to achieve them.
  • Commitment: This is the degree to which an individual is attached to a goal. Commitment motivates us to work towards our goals despite facing obstacles. People are more likely to work towards a goal if they are invested in it and if it is perceived to be attainable and important, according to Locke and Latham.
  • Feedback: One of the best ways to motivate yourself to reach your goals is to get feedback. This can be done either by measuring progress consistently (for instance, keeping track of how many classes you have attended or books you have read) or asking your accountability partner (more on that later) or mentor to give you feedback on how you are doing. According to Locke and Latham, clear goals along with feedback “are more effective in motivating high performance or performance improvement than either one separately”.
  • Task complexity: Too much complexity in your goals can hurt motivation as people get overwhelmed in trying to achieve them. It may help to break down complex goals into smaller ones that are more easily handled.
Why upskill - graphic

Step 3: Determine the skills you will need to achieve your goals

Once you have a fair idea of your strengths and weaknesses, skills and capabilities, motivations, ambitions and goals, you must determine the skills you will need to achieve these goals.

One way of doing it is to work backwards. Let’s say, you are really interested in becoming a pro at data analytics. What are the top hard and soft skills data analysts need to possess? Data visualization, creating data analysis dashboards or reports, writing and communication skills and public speaking are among the skills you will need.

Whatever your goals are, compare the list of your strengths with the skills you will need to attain them – some kind of a skills gap analysis. The gap between these two lists is what you need to start building on. 

Set a plan to develop your skills

Step 4: Develop a plan to develop these skills

You may find that you have a number of skills to build. It may be a good idea to prioritise the top five skills and draft an action plan on how to develop them. It is possible that you are a beginner at a skill and you only need to develop this skill further to reach your goals. Include this in your list for an easy/early win that will keep you motivated.

There are many different ways you can develop the skills you need to achieve your goals. These include self-study, professional certifications and working closely with a mentor.

  • Self-study: The internet is a virtual treasure trove for the curious mind and self-study is one of the best ways to pick up the skills you need to achieve your goals. Online learning resources include engaging tutorials on YouTube, podcasts, videos and online classes hosted by subject experts. Several online learning sites offer a wide variety of courses whose levels range from introductory to advanced. While some like Coursera and Open Learn offer more structured courses with lectures and assignments, other resources – Udemy or even YouTube videos – are less intense. Depending on the platform, the courses offered are both free and paid. You can also “audit” some paid courses for free. This means that you can take the course without being assessed or being given a certificate of completion. Open Learn has 1,000+ courses that are completely free.
  • Professional certifications: Besides increasing and updating one’s knowledge and skills, certifications build professional credibility.  In fact, some of the top skills in demand over the past few years – data analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Digital Marketing – have professional certifications run by leaders in the field, some of them are free. The drawback of going down the certifications path is that it is largely an option only for those in the tech space.
  • Working closely with a mentor: What better way to develop soft skills such as leadership, effective communication, listening and networking than working with someone you look up to? Mentors are also great to tap for feedback, which as mentioned earlier, is a great motivating force.
Accountability Partner

Step 5: Evaluate progress and consider keeping an accountability partner

People have a better chance of achieving their goals if they monitor progress regularly, according to research

One way to do this is to write down your goals and conduct monthly or quarterly reviews where you list your achievements or the roadblocks you faced.

MuchSkills users can use the skills visualisation tool’s 3x3 expertise scale to monitor their progress. It helps users to not only track their skills growth over time but also enables them to set goals for the future.

There is another effective way to hold yourself accountable: Research has shown that those who write down their goals and share it with a friend accomplished significantly more than those who did not. This 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews found that the cohorts who delivered the best results did the following three things:

  1. Written goals: They wrote down their goals
  2. Public commitment: They publicly committed to action by sending their commitments to a friend
  3. Accountability: They held themselves accountable by sending their friend weekly progress reports.

Some experts suggest that people go a step further and get themselves an accountability partner to help them achieve their goals. An accountability partner is someone who helps you keep your commitments and with whom you share a reciprocal relationship (that is, you help them keep theirs). Think of it as the friend you partnered with in school to finish a tough assignment or study for an exam. The difference in the grown-up version is that accountability partners don’t necessarily need to work on the same projects. They usually check in on each other regularly and support each other so that both stay focused on their goals.

Here’s an example of how an accountability partnership can work. Joyce, an aspiring writer, found it difficult to stick to her daily writing targets because she was constantly getting derailed by the demands of her job and family. She decided to tie up with a friend Asha who was struggling with her writing goals too. They kept in touch regularly, even setting up a Slack account to communicate where they reminded each other of their targets, brainstormed when either had hit a roadblock, and generally listened to each other’s rants about how difficult the writing process was. Both say having an accountability partner has helped them achieve their short-term goals so far and are hopeful that the partnership will continue to be beneficial to both of them.

Sign up to MuchSkills for free

Try MuchSkills today

Start for free and add your whole team

Sign up for free