How to set professional goals for 2019 that you'll actually keep

Written by Nick Gold on 13 February 2019

Reading time: 5 minutes.

One of the most positive aspects of the 2007-8 financial crash was the shift in psychology. The crisis opened the floodgates to a realisation: fulfilment for an individual couldn’t solely depend on financial ‘success’, but instead a quality of life determined by something more than the salary they were earning.  

This new dawn coincided with the millennial generation taking their first steps on the career ladder. Or, indeed, heading off to university, pursued with hopes of better prospects but under the cloud of debt.

People were looking at their working lives and careers, wanting more than just progression through defined path. They were looking for challenge, fulfilment, purpose and meaning. 

Now, in 2019, 11 years after the financial crisis, the development of professional goals for individuals should be at the forefront of the agenda for any company. In doing so, there exists the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship to emerge.

The employee has goals which are broader than a prescribed career path and the company has an employee who not only feels valued but empowered to pursue their development and interact with the company more holistically. 

No longer are we in an era where training courses must have a direct correlation with the day-to day-job specification. 

There are questions arises to answer about the balance of setting personal goals whilst keeping professionalism at the forefront of the conversation. 

However, I would be tempted to argue that the two aspects are inherently intertwined. The critical aspect, to me, is that the company views the starting place for an individual as a blank page (and not, at the initial stage, trying to shoehorn goals around a company structure or even a pre-determined path for specific careers).

Business leaders must understand that employees, with individual and personal goals, are looking for multi-faceted careers that have flexibility and diversity. Once this is understood, the business will develop as one that can react and progress in an environment where uncertainty is the new normal.  

For example, ‘traditional’ career paths such as accountancy or law, shouldn’t restrict their employees to professional goals that solely focus on the development of ‘status’ in these established career paths.

After all, in the world we now exist in, it is acknowledged that the process-driven facets of a job are more likely to be subsumed by automation. The challenges are with the services dependent on the human element. 

As such, an individual who can develop a wider grasp of other skill sets – that are both complementary to the business and enhance their core skills – can enhance and sustain themselves and the company in times of change.


Once the employee has a blank page to work on, their professional goals, and the company has an understanding that all skills should be viewed as positive attributes for both the business and the individual’s sense of purpose, the next steps can be taken. 

The next step is to identify what specifically might be of interest to the individual in terms of setting their professional goals.  And here lies the joy of training...No longer are we in an era where training courses must have a direct correlation with the day-to day-job specification.

Instead, training offers the opportunity for an individual to try out new skills and develop themselves to identify both what they like and where they could potentially add value to the company. 

Naturally, the individual should be challenged by the training course and by the employer as to how they can benefit the business. But there also needs to be clear objectives within the course so that success can be measured, and so these objectives can act as the bedrock of the development of the individual’s professional goals. 

A blank page with no pre-determined career paths for individuals is, therefore, a critical step for a business leader to make when sitting down with an employee to set their objectives. 

It requires an open mind to understand that skills which, on the surface might have no correlation to the individual’s career, should not be read as negative, but discussed in a frank conversation about their value.  

If there is a strong professional relationship in place and the employee understands that the leader, (and the company), encourage a multi-faceted development path, then opportunities begin to open.

The challenges that might arise from conversations are not seen as blockers or negatives in the first instance but rather as teamwork and joint responsibility amongst all involved. 

This ownership of development paths from everyone will mean that the individual will have access to opportunities to develop in directions which will stimulate, excite, challenge and fulfil them.

In 2019, this is the bare minimum that any leader should be striving for in terms of setting professional goals for their employees.


About the author

Nick Gold is managing director of market-leading speaker bureau and consultancy, Speakers Corner

Share this page

Related Articles

18 November 2019

Concluding his third article in the series, Rob Hubbard looks at innovation in larger companies.

4 November 2019

TJ meets Audrey Watters, education writer at Hack Education, independent scholar and author.