Measuring Professional Development Goals

by Jul 23, 2019Coaching, Goals, Organizational & Workplace Learning, Reflective Practice0 comments

Today is part 2 of my 5-part series on SMART Goals, those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. While basic information abounds on what they are and how they are used, there are fewer resources for how they can be written and applied, specifically in the area of development goals. This application into professional development goals is the focus of this series.

Goals should be Measurable

For goals or objectives that we want to achieve, we need to clarify the criteria we will use to determine if we made it. Did we actually accomplish the goal we set out to reach?

Yes? Great . . . what criteria did we use?

No? Too bad . . .what criteria did we use?

We cannot clearly claim to have achieved a goal unless we have some criteria with which to measure it. This is the M in SMART goals — Measurable. If we can clearly state what we used to define success, then we are really measuring it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, determining success does not always mandate numbers of objective criteria. However, when we set personal or professional development goals, we need to have some measurement criteria in mind to know that we are successful in our efforts.

For example, I may want to lose weight this year. But what does that mean? 5 pounds? 10 pounds? Enough so that I feel comfortable in a bathing suit? There are really no right or wrong answers, as the goals are ultimately up to us, but it is much more difficult to track progress if we do not have some clear criteria to follow.

Without being able to measure, how do we know when enough is . . . enough?

Keep in mind, we are avoiding judgment issues often reduced to “good” or “bad.” These are highly contextual, and our exploration here is focusing on what it means to measure . . . and not if we should, the implications, or the factors for us to address if we do not live up to the measurement criteria. Is 5 or 10 pounds enough, not enough, or too much? That is beyond what we can speak about with any clarity, and assumes you already have some reason for stating those amounts at all.

Measurable = The Space between Start and Finish

Let’s try something a bit different. Let’s talk money. My goal is to travel to Paris this year for vacation, and in this situation my focus is on saving money for the flight. I start with $100. My goal is $1,000 for the tickets. Guess what? The gap is the space between start and finish, and thus measurement becomes easy . . . did I raise the gap, $900, and get to $1,000? Anything less means I did not fully achieve my goal.

Now, to be fair, if I saved $889, most people would consider that to be the same as the $900, and thus success.

OK, what about if I saved $888? How about $850? Some would say yes, or perhaps, or not quite, or instead bring in countless other factors into the discussion.

You see where I am going? If we set measurable criteria, then we are clear about our success. If we are not clear in the measurability, then we will always be vague in how well we did as there are no clear boundaries.

Measuring in the Professional Development Cases

Perhaps we can revisit our brief cases from yesterday to see what this means in the context of our professional development goals we planned?

Thomas, the Research Assistant

Thomas, the research assistant, wants to advance his career and manage staff. However, he is afraid of confrontation and the interpersonal burdens he believes will come with having direct reports managing staff. He is considering taking an internal corporate training program on management skills, whereby he hopes to learn about being an effective manager. If he enrolls and completes the course, he has achieved a specific goal. However, is that really measurable?

Well, yes and no. If the goal is to take the course, then yes, that is specifically measurable. However, is that goal of taking the course really Thomas’ goal, or is it more a step he determines will help him really achieve his goal of getting a promotion and feeling confident in starting to manage people?

In this situation, we can see that being specific can be useful, though it is really important to clarify about what success actually is, as that is really what we really want to measure. No more, and certainly no less.

Perhaps Thomas hopes to gain the knowledge and confidence in completing the course, or perhaps he is hoping that through that completion he is really in fact able to measure a change in his readiness for going after that promotion. Depends on what is important to us, as that is only what we will really care about measuring.

Measurable goals can at times be a challenge, but without taking this step, we will never be able to monitor our progress.

Marcy the Middle Manager

Marcy, the middle manager, wants to apply for and get her boss’ position after retirement, and she really want to have a plan in place for managing remotely, along with the shift in her way of thinking about this. In seeking to boost her knowledge and skills, she requests to work with a corporate mentor who agrees to coach her through this.

One of the early conversations they have involves the question, “What does success look like in this mentoring and coaching?” What she may envision it looks like and what the mentor has in mind for it needs to become explicit, for otherwise it will be unclear if they are really making progress.

This is measuring the result of their work together.

It may be tempting to suggest that Marcy applying for and getting the job may be success, but that may be putting an unreasonable demand on the mentoring or coaching itself, as there can be all sorts of factors at play that have little to do with building knowledge or shifting perceptions. So, as they begin their work, what is measurable as an outcome will need to be discussed, especially as it relates to the ultimate goals itself.

Yes, goals can at times be layered, and it is important to be able to measure how they fit together! Likewise, through the mentoring process itself, Marcy may discover other factors that raise the possibility of shifting the ultimate goal. If that happens, then what she learned is that she may have outgrown the goal itself, and thus has some new standard for measuring it!

Andy the Senior Director

Andy, the senior director, wants to work on his boundary issues, especially those related to his hands-on workaholic tendencies, and his conscious decision to spend more time with his family. As he has been thinking about doing something creative in this manner, he realizes he will not be able to maintain 80 hour work weeks, yet he cannot change immediately.

He decides to do something completely different, as he already listens to audio books on confidence and management and leadership he does not feel he needs to learn more through study, but more through the learning that comes about through experience.

He decides to try to meditate, as that may help him slow down a bit and become more introspective on this need to always engage in action. 

He realizes that meditating is a specific goal, such as through a guided meditation application on his phone. However, that in itself is not measurable. For that to be so, he will need to determine if he should do it for a certain period of time each day, or for a certain number of days, or even until he is able to sit still for more than a minutes (a seemingly small goal, but perhaps not?).

Again, the time or quantity are only to help him achieve the larger goal, which is to reduce his time at work to 60 hours a week, or for no work at all on Sundays (trusting his direct reports to call him if any emergencies arise). Measuring the time with meditation may be useful as doing it only once or twice is often not enough to see impact. 

Goals that are Specific and Measurable

All 3 individuals have needs and future states they want, though all must get specific about the goals they need to set and have a clear set of criteria for determining if they have achieved them. More about these steps tomorrow . . .


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.