Helping Employees Commit to Professional Development Goals: 4 Tips for Success


Setting professional development goals is an essential skill leaders use to align their team to the organization’s strategic objectives. Good goal planning helps keep day-to-day operations running smoothly and efficiently. Planning also motivates team members, helping them see how their efforts make a real difference for the larger good of the organization.

During the late 1960s, University of Toronto psychologist Gary Latham and University of Maryland psychologist Edwin Locke — considered the godfathers of goal-setting theory — discovered what we now hold as truth: the establishment of a goal is one of the easiest ways to increase motivation and enhance performance.

Almost all organizations today understand this importance and have a performance goals evaluation process, but many do not have a follow up process to ensure employees stay on track. According to a research study conducted by i4cp, “2013 Keys to Performance Management”, only 55% of respondents said that existing performance development processes had a positive impact on their organizations and only 28% believed their organizations were actually effective at performance management.

An important part of being an exceptional team leader is recognizing the importance of setting professional development goals as a collaborative process between the leader and the employee, which includes following through to help employees achieve these goals. With careful planning and performance goal setting, managers can provide a road map for the organization’s success. Below are four crucial tips to manage and help keep team members on track with their performance goals.


1. A Collaborative Process 

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Performance goal setting should be a collaborative process between the manager and the employee. Goals should be discussed during a performance planning meeting or at the beginning of the performance cycle, and re-visited for review and feedback on a regular basis as well as at the end of the cycle.

In Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory, they found certain moderators or conditions needed to be in place to enhance goal performance. The most important factor was commitment. Latham states, “Big goals work best when there’s an alignment between an individual’s values and the desired outcome of the goal. When everything lines up, we’re totally committed — meaning we’re paying even more attention, are even more resilient, and are way more productive as a result.”

Helpful factors to consider when helping an employee set performance goals should include:

  • What interests the employee most?
  • Do they want to learn a new skill?
  • What are they good at?
  • What is the most challenging part of their job?
  • What obstacles might come up related to this goal?
  • How can you as a manager support the goal? What resources need to be provided?

Goal alignment and commitment from both sides are critical to ensure the success of the organization. When everyone works together to achieve performance goals, strategic objectives can be executed quickly and efficiently. The next step in the process is writing what we call S.M.A.R.T goals.


2. Setting S.M.A.R.T Performance Goals

Writing specific, targeted goals (or “S.M.A.R.T” goals) helps ensure an employee will commit to them and stay on track. If you have vague or ambiguous goals, the outcome might be just that. To make sure your goals are clear and attainable, each one should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results Orientated, and on a Time Frame.

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Using the S.M.A.R.T goal setting structure helps team leaders openly outline their expectations. Individual and organization priorities are clear and both sides understand what is expected from them to reach the goal.  


3. Tracking Performance Goals

Once you have established what the goals will be, it’s important to track the progress of these goals and have regular check ins with the employee. This can be done in a weekly or monthly meeting where the progress is reviewed and challenges/next steps are discussed.

Free tools and online project planners are a great way to keep your team on the same page. Project management tools can be used to create project tasks and groups and assign these to specific team members. Using a system like Asana, creates goal accountability for all involved and keeps everyone updated on on-going projects.


4. Performance Review & Feedback

Now that you have set collaborative, S.M.A.R.T professional development goals, there should be a process in place for providing effective feedback. Most employees want to receive feedback about their work and strive to improve workplace performance. Providing high-quality performance feedback to your team members gives them the information they need to succeed.

Effective performance feedback should be specific and tied to specific actions. Try to focus on the situation, task or behavior. Be as objective as possible; avoid saying, “I think” or “I believe.” Those phrases usually suggest personal opinion. For example, if John writes a company newsletter, instead of saying, “I think the newsletter looks great,” you could say, “Thank you for sending out the newsletter; the topics were relevant and the design outline fits well with our company culture.”  

As with the actual goal setting, performance feedback should be a collaborative effort. Ask the employee for their evaluation and feedback on how the project is going and what can or should be improved upon. Then agree on what actions need to be taken going forward.

As a manager and team leader, you are aware of your team members’ performance, and are uniquely positioned to provide effective feedback based on the performance goals you set together. Establishing a process that helps improve workplace performance while maintaining strong relationships within the team is crucial to an organization’s success.

Whether given formally during a performance review or informally during a one-on-one meeting, clear and actionable feedback helps to ensure that employee professional development goals are reached.



When employees clearly understand their performance goals and how they relate to the larger goals of the company, they become more engaged with their work and committed to the success of the organization. Successful companies recognize the importance of setting collaborative, attainable professional development goals and having a follow up process to ensure employees are on track.


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