Employee Development Goals: Improve Your Career Development

Author: Emma Williams
Author: Emma Williams

Chief Research Officer at HIGH5

Table of Contents
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Employee development goals are equally important as personal development goals. It is a crucial aspect of career advancement. Having a professional development goal is a great approach to gain new experiences and extra skill sets in the workplace.

Employee development goals aim to improve any critical area of the job and promote effective working habits among employees.

These professional development goals will help broaden employees’ knowledge and expertise. Employees should take the initiative to develop their own development goals.

Organizations need to ensure the development goals are aligned with the organizational priorities.

In this article, we will discuss what employee development goals are and why they are important.

We will also guide you on how to set professional development goals. You will also get to know different employee development techniques and examples of career goals.

Definition of Employee Development Goals

Employee development goals are goals employees set for themselves. The main objectives of setting development goals are to advance their career and improve their competencies and additional skills in the workplace.

Employees can choose from a range of development goals to help them advance in their careers. Most importantly, employees’ goals should be based on their needs and career aspirations.

A well-defined employee development goal combines the employee’s interests and expertise with organizational goals. By taking these variables into account while creating the goals, employees will be more likely to succeed at work.

How to Set Employee Development Goals?

Decide what the end goal is.

It is crucial to create employee development goals with the employees’ ultimate goals in mind. First, decide what the employees want to accomplish in their job roles and career.

Goals are commonly classified into four categories: productivity, efficiency, education, and personal growth. Do they wish to improve their work productivity or performance? Do they want to prioritize their working speed, accuracy, or time management?

Perhaps they are interested in furthering their education or learning additional skills. Do they wish to enhance their problem-solving, time management skills, networking, public speaking, or leadership skills? Alternatively, you can start asking questions to explore your employees’ career goals.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years? What job title do you aspire to be in 3 years later? What industry are you interested in working in? What career/personal achievements do you hope to achieve?

Understanding employees’ ultimate goals can help you work backward to set short-term goals that will eventually allow them to attain professional success.

When in doubt, refer to the employees’ latest performance appraisal.

If employees are unsure which areas they should focus on developing, you should encourage them to refer to their latest performance appraisal.

By doing that, they can see what their manager recommended to them to improve.

Set goals using the SMART technique.

The SMART technique is defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This method is a fantastic and most commonly used tool for creating goals. This method ensures your goals are both actionable, realistic, and measurable.

By setting goals using this method, employees can track their progress and motivate them to achieve their goals. Goals are broken down into smaller tasks and milestones that are easier to manage.

Then employees will identify the short-term and long-term plans that they need to follow to reach their goals.

Break down major goals into smaller actionable tasks.

The more you can break larger goals into manageable tasks, the more likely you will commit to the goals. Find ways to break down each primary goal into smaller chunks of tasks employees can do daily or weekly.

Cross off the completed tasks to see how far they have progressed and achieved in that time.

Conduct regular checks to review employees’ development progress.

When the goals are long-term goals, it is easy for employees to lose sight of them. Thus, it is crucial to schedule regular meetings to check in with the employees and evaluate their developments.

When employees realize that they are making slow but steady progress toward their goals, it will keep them focused and motivated to achieve their career goals.

Why It’s Important to Have Employee Development Goals?

Gives you an indication of employees’ long-term vision.

Setting SMART goals helps employees to define their long-term goals.

With their goals in mind, they begin taking action toward those goals.

Helps employees to improve their skills in the workplace.

Setting goals to hone their skills will allow employees to improve and grow in their job position. And eventually leading to positive outcomes for the organizations.

Boosts employees’ productivity

Having a goal to strive toward may offer employees a continuous stream of inspiration and improve their workplace productivity.

15 Benefits of Setting Employee Development Goals

1. Provides employees the opportunity to improve their skills and expand their knowledge within the job industry.

2. Helps employees to perform a self-evaluation to find out their strengths and areas of development. Employees are driven to improve themselves when they are aware of their strengths and limitations. As a result, their work performance will improve.

3. Helps in forming strong relationships between employees of different departments. Attending in-house training or workshops allows employees to share knowledge and meet people from different departments/teams.

4. Employee development is essential for both the professional and personal development of employees.

5. Critical in bringing out the best potential in every employee.

6. Cultivates a learning culture where employees are eager to acquire new skills and knowledge.

7. Facilitates collaboration and provides a platform for employees to share their aspirations.

8. Assist employees to stay updated with the latest industry developments.

15 Benefits of Setting Employee Development Goals

9. Helps improve employer branding and visibility in the talent marketplace to attract top talent. Employees will also be much more engaged in the workplace.

10. Strengthens the organization’s in-house talent pool. It also helps prevent employees’ skills and knowledge from stagnating.

11. An investment to improve the organization’s performance and productivity

12. Fosters a sense of camaraderie and teamwork within the organization. Employees will become more connected and loyal to the organization. This may boost employee retention and decrease employee turnover as well.

13. Employees’ competence and confidence will increase as they develop and gain new skills and knowledge in the workplace.

14. Serves an opportunity for organizations to reinforce their exact goals and priorities to the employees.

15. Signifies the organization’s commitment to developing and upskilling its employees.

List of 10 Employee Development Goals Methods & Techniques

  1. Training
  2. Task/job rotations
  3. Stretch assignments
  4. Coaching
  5. Mentoring
  6. Simulations
  7. Conferences
  8. On-the-job training
  9. Self-study
  10. Career planning

1. Training

This method involves using a blend of lectures, hands-on exercises, videos, and individual/group-based projects for employee skills development.

It encompasses both formal (classroom-based, instructor-led, eLearning courses) and informal (self-study, YouTube videos, educational blogs/ articles, and posts on credible online platforms such as LinkedIn) approaches.

Each training will be tailored to the organization’s needs and employee development goals. Both parties must be committed for this method to be effective. Employees must actively take part in training to improve their skills in their current job position.

Organizations need to provide support and encourage their employees to enhance their skills to prepare them for future roles/responsibilities.

2. Task/job rotations

Employees are given the space and freedom to alternate responsibilities within their team. They will gain exposure to different tasks and put some of the new skills they learned into practice.

Employers can also rotate employees to other departments/teams to gain practical experience in the skills they want to learn. The main aim of job rotation is to ensure employees can gain new knowledge or put what they have learned into practice.

If not sure if this job is for you, you might consider taking a scientifically-backed career test to give you a wider picture.

3. Stretch assignments

This technique requires managers to work closely with their employees in identifying the skills they wish to develop. Then, managers can assign suitable tasks/projects to them to acquire those skills.

Generally, such projects/tasks will push the employees out of their comfort zone. They will gain new experience and skills on top of what is required in their current job responsibilities.

These projects can be horizontal development, where employees need to learn new skills to perform different tasks in their current position. Or vertical development, where the employee’s role requires them to handle increasing responsibilities.

4. Coaching

Coaching is an effective employee development method to help employees enhance their skills. Coaching usually involves a one-on-one session between a senior employee with less experienced employees.

While this method can speed up an employee’s understanding of a variety of topics, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind the possible drawbacks of coaching. Coaching can be time and resource-consuming.

It may also result in the less experienced employees copying the bad habits or old ways of doing things from the senior employees. Sometimes employees can learn about the subject/skills independently or through insights from their coworkers and mentors.

5. Mentoring

This strategy involves senior leaders pairing with junior employees in a mentor-mentee relationship. The mentor will assist the mentees in developing skills they may be lacking. Mentors will also share their knowledge and past experiences with the mentees.

They provide guidance and encourage the mentees to help them in their career exploration and career development goals. Mentoring programs for senior executive/leadership positions tend to be more formal. On the other hand, junior management mentoring programs may utilize a less formal framework.

6. Simulations

Simulations are getting increasingly popular as an employee development tool. They are practical and engaging in teaching employees how to react to a crisis or learn new skills.

A simulation can be as simple as role-playing an interaction with a customer, such as learning how to calm an upset client. It can also be as complex as reacting to an emergency crisis, such as an unexpected power outage that strikes a hospital.

At a more advanced level, simulations might encompass fully virtual environments, such as firefighting or pilot training. Such simulations allow employees to acquire the necessary skills in a non-contextual setting.

Simulations are beneficial for applying conceptual theory/knowledge in a real-world environment. In a simulated environment, employees have the space to make mistakes and learn from them. As a result, they can develop the necessary skills and confidence to carry out such duties effectively.

7. Conferences

Conferences are an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals and industry experts. Employees can also gain access to the latest knowledge and expertise within and outside the industry.

Such conferences are usually focused on providing the latest research and trends about specific industry topics. Organizations can invite employees to attend conferences related to their specific interests.

8. On-the-job training

On-the-job training is an excellent way to develop employees’ technical skills. This method is helpful to employees who already acquired basic training in related technical skills.

Essentially, on-the-job training is learning by doing. Employees will apply the skills they learned immediately to a specific task/project.

This is a standard method of employee development that most organizations adopt. Most organizations do not have the time to teach every employee all the necessary skills to perform their duties correctly.

9. Self-study

Self-study can be achieved by reading/researching, attending classes, etc., outside of working hours. The advantage of this method is that the employees can choose subjects that interest them and proactively pursue them.

On the other hand, it may be challenging to encourage employees to spend their free time on work-related learning.

10. Career planning

Most of us may think career planning is an employer-driven initiative. But, it requires both the employees and employer to work together to develop a mutually beneficial career plan.

Organizations can identify future skills and expertise that need to be adopted to meet the organizational goals. Furthermore, they can conduct organizational workforce assessments to assess the skill level of their current employees and identify areas for improvement.

Employees should also initiate discussions with their managers/supervisors to examine their strengths and weaknesses.

Together with their management, employees can develop personalized career development plans with specific milestones.

Types of Employee Development Goals (with Examples)

Short-term goals

Short-term professional or personal goals are something you want to achieve within 12 months or less.

Example Get to work earlier:

Making it a habit to arrive 15 minutes earlier before work or any event can be a short-term goal. While it may seem like an insignificant habit, being punctual may potentially boost your long-term career prospects.

You will have more time to focus and organize your day before your colleagues reach the office. You will also give the impression that you are a diligent and committed individual.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term professional goals are something you want to achieve a few years down the road. These goals usually require more than 12 months to achieve.

Long-term goals are usually broken down into several short-term and long-term goals.


Job promotion: A job promotion includes both shorter-term and longer-term goals. You start by pinpointing the next role in your career pathway. You will then assess your qualifications and skills required for that specific role.

Once you identify your skill gaps, you can start planning goals to help you gain the necessary skills and knowledge to close the gap.

Depending on the complexity of the skills, it can be a short-term goal where you can master the skill in a short period through training, attending workshops, etc. Or it could be a long-term goal where you will need to attend a course or degree to further your education.

Examples of Professional Development Goals

Grow your professional network

A strong network of connections may help you grow in your career in ways you would not be capable of achieving on your own. Building connections can help you to meet professionals from different levels and expertise.

These connections may assist you in improving your skills and knowledge and give you potential career advancement opportunities. To expand your network, you must be ready to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there to meet people.

Look for networking events within your industry and interest that you can join. You can also expand your network through social media (e.g., Linkedin) to connect with other professionals/experts.

Improve performance metrics

Data collected to assess behavior and activities related to performance is referred to as performance metrics. Increasing your work performance metrics helps to demonstrate your workplace productivity and efficiency.

Examples of performance metrics include your job role’s KPI scores or how frequently you complete a project on time. Consider tracking your performance indicators to observe how you progress over the year.

You can also establish your professional goals and monitor your progress and achievement of the goals. These metrics can also be included in your annual performance appraisal. They can serve as supporting information to support your request for a raise or promotion.

Complete a professional certificate or degree

Completing a professional certificate or degree is one of the ways to support your career progression. Continuing education can enhance your current skills and knowledge. It can also assist you in applying for future promotions or changing jobs.

Depending on the level of education you seek, this might serve as a short-term or long-term goal. A short-term goal can be finishing a four-hour online class on a particular skill, or a long-term goal can be earning a PhD or master’s degree in a specific field.

Some organizations provide development programs to invest in their employees’ career advancement. You may want to ask your manager/supervisor about this. If you are thinking of gaining industry-specific skills, ask your organization if they offer such training programs.

Setting SMART Employee Development Goals


The first stage in developing a realistic goal is to be specific in your description. Describe the goals in quantifiable terms and decide what actionable steps you need to take to achieve them.


After you have determined your specific goal, it’s essential to consider how you will measure it. The second stage will challenge you to devise strategies to track your progress toward your goal. The second stage also considers any measures you may want to put in place to progress toward your goal.


You may want to consider how achievable your goal is after specifying and assessing how you will track it.

Thinking about the duration, potential barriers, and progress measurement methods will increase your probability of achieving your goals. When the goal you set is realistic and achievable, you will be more likely to strive toward it.

Setting SMART Employee Development Goals


A relevant goal is closely related to a skill or professional development plan that you aim to improve. For example, if you want to improve your Excel skills, you should create a goal that will enable you to learn new or more advanced Excel skills relevant to your job.

Furthermore, any actions you take should have a direct impact on your progress toward your goal.


Time-bound refers to the schedule you have set for achieving your actionable goals. This timeframe will also show you the duration required to reach your milestones and achieve your goal.

Before setting a timeframe to achieve your goal, evaluate whether your goal is short-term or long-term. Your timeframe should be reasonable, allowing you sufficient space to make changes to your goal.

Employee Development Goals FAQ

How do you Write Individual Development Goals for Employees?

To write an individual development goal for your employees, you need to start asking questions. Ask questions to explore your employees’ personal goals and career goals. Determine what the employees want to accomplish in their personal life and career.

By understanding employees’ ultimate goals, you can work backward to set goals that will eventually allow them to reach their personal and career ambitions.

How Do You Set Development Goals at Work?

First, decide what the end goal is for you and the employee. When in doubt, refer to the employees’ latest performance appraisal. Remember to set SMART goals using the SMART technique.

Make sure to break down major goals into smaller actionable tasks. Lastly, conduct regular checks to review the employees’ development progress.

Case Studies, Academic, and Research-Based Sources:

  1. Noe, R. A. (2017). “Employee Training and Development.” McGraw-Hill Education.
  2. Garavan, T. N., Carbery, R., & Rock, A. (2012). “Mapping development and learning techniques for employees: A study.” Journal of European Industrial Training, 36(1), 5-30.
  3. Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2015). “Reinventing Performance Management.” Harvard Business Review.
  4. Gurdjian, P., Halbeisen, T., & Lane, K. (2014). “Why leadership-development programs fail.” McKinsey Quarterly.
  5. Collins, D. B., & Holton III, E. F. (2004). “The effectiveness of managerial leadership development programs: A meta-analysis of studies from 1982 to 2001.” Human Resource Development Quarterly, 15(2), 217-248.
  6. Kozlowski, S. W., & Salas, E. (2009). “Learning, Training, and Development in Organizations.” Routledge.
  7. Aguinis, H., & Kraiger, K. (2009). “Benefits of Training and Development for Individuals and Teams, Organizations, and Society.” Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 451-474.
  8. DeRue, D. S., & Myers, C. G. (2014). “Leadership development: A review and agenda for future research.” The Oxford Handbook of Leadership and Organizations.
  9. Arthur Jr, W., Bennett Jr, W., Edens, P. S., & Bell, S. T. (2003). “Effectiveness of training in organizations: A meta-analysis of design and evaluation features.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(2), 234.
Author: Emma Williams - Chief Research Officer at HIGH5
Author: Emma Williams - Chief Research Officer at HIGH5

Emma is a certified strengths and career coach with more than 25 years of international experience in helping individuals and organizations achieve success by nailing and maximizing their unique value propositions. She is an entrepreneur, proud mother and a C-level executive at HIGH5TEST, where she leads its coaching and research programs.

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