HR Professional Development Goals and How to Set Them

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HR Professional Development Goals and How to Set Them

Setting HR professional development goals helps you develop and improve your skills and advance your HR career. Let’s see how you can establish such goals and grow as an HR professional!

What are HR professional development goals?
How to set and achieve your HR professional development goals
HR professional development goals examples

What are HR professional development goals?

First, it’s important to note the difference between performance goals and professional goals, as these often overlap but are not interchangeable.

Performance goals are linked to the organization’s KPIs. They relate to performance outcomes that employees should strive to achieve. Professional goals focus on improving an individual’s skills and competencies so they can feel more confident in their role and advance in their career.

For example, a performance goal would be to better retain existing talent in the organization, whereas a professional goal would be to improve one’s data literacy skills.   

How to set and achieve your HR professional development goals

1. Chart your HR career path

The first step to setting HR professional development goals is charting your career path.

What role do you hope to grow into in the future? What skills do you want to develop? Is there a niche area you want to specialize in, or would you prefer to keep a broader role? The possibilities in the HR field are vast.

Regardless of your career ambitions, what matters most is knowing where you aspire to be and then mapping out the steps you need to take to get there from where you are now.

Use an HR career path tool to explore the various HR career options available to you and determine the direction you want to go in.

How to Set HR Professional Development Goals

2. Audit your skills

Once you know the career path you want to take, it’s time to conduct a personal skills audit. This will give you a good sense of your strengths and opportunities for improvement and growth.

Start by making a list of your current skills and the skills you need to develop to progress to your ultimate role. Use a scoring system like the one below to rate yourself on these skills. 

  • 4 = Excellent experience and expertise
  • 3 = Good knowledge and experience
  • 2 = A little knowledge and experience
  • 1 = Interested in learning and knowing more
  • 0 = No knowledge or experience 

There may be a tendency to over or underestimate your expertise depending on the person in question. That’s why it’s always beneficial to have someone you trust conduct a similar audit of your skills. This can be, for example, your line manager or mentor. 

Collate your results and discuss them with your manager to see if they accurately reflect your current skills and competencies. From here, you can create a plan of action to bridge your skills gap.

3. Break down goals into smaller increments

The reason why our goals can feel intimidating is that they’re often so big, which makes them feel impossible to achieve. For this reason, breaking your big goals into smaller, bite-sized goals and actionable steps is essential.

For example, a big goal an HR professional might have would be to improve their people analytics skills. On its own, this goal feels vast, and the steps we need to take to achieve it are unclear. 

So let’s break it down into smaller, actionable steps:

  • Get a people analytics certification
  • Improve your Excel skills
  • Shadow or work with a people analytics or data analyst expert for a week
  • Complete two data analyses in your current role
  • Present data findings in your next meeting

Another goal might be to become a stronger presenter and public speaker. This big goal could be broken down into the following smaller steps:

  • Take a public speaking or presentation skills training session
  • Arrange a meeting with someone in your organization who excels at presentations and gain some expert advice
  • Prepare a short presentation with your newfound knowledge
  • Practice it with your mentor and ask for feedback
  • Implement this feedback and present it to a larger group
  • Commit to giving one presentation every two months for the next year

4. Make your goals SMART

Once you’ve broken down your big goals into incremental ones, it’s important to make sure they are SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

SMART HR professional development goals give you a clear framework and plan of action to follow to achieve milestones in your work. They will keep you motivated as you tick them off and help you see if you’re on track to meeting your bigger goals. 

Here are some examples of SMART HR professional development goals:

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Example #1: “Over the next six months, I will improve my conflict resolution skills by attending a dedicated group monthly training session.”

  • Specific – This goal specifies how you will improve your conflict resolution skills by attending a training session.
  • Measurable – Six training sessions will be attended (one each month), and the group will provide feedback on your performance.
  • Achievable – Attending one training session each month for six months is doable considering your workload.
  • Relevant – Improving your conflict resolution skills is relevant for your HR professional development and career progression.
  • Time-bound – This goal will be completed in six months. 

Example #2: “Over the next six weeks, I will complete an online DEI certificate program to give me the skills I need to specialize in a DEI HR career in the future. To do this, I will study for five hours each week.”

  • Specific – You will improve your DEI skills by taking a dedicated online program and obtaining a certificate.
  • Measurable – Every hour and week of study is a small milestone toward your goal. Once you complete 30 hours of study and receive your certificate, you will have achieved your goal. 
  • Achievable – It’s manageable to fit in five hours of study each week.
  • Relevant – This certification is suitable for anyone wanting to specialize in DEI & Belonging in their professional HR career.
  • Time-bound – This goal will be completed in six weeks.

We discuss more SMART goals examples below.

5. Find new challenges in your current job

Don’t let your current role hold you back from developing new skills and taking on new responsibilities that will help you move along your chosen HR career path.

Most managers will be thrilled to let you handle extra responsibilities and manage side projects that will further your professional development while helping to meet organizational goals. 

For example, if public speaking is something you would love to work on and strengthen, ask your manager if you can tackle the next team presentation. If building your interpersonal and mentoring skills is important, discuss with your manager the possibility of taking an entry-level employee or intern under your wing.

6. Focus on core competencies and future HR skills

The four core competencies in HR are:

  1. Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, interpret and apply data to make improvements.
  2. Digital dexterity is the ability to leverage and integrate technology to increase personal and organizational efficiency. 
  3. Business acumen is the ability to understand an organization’s goals, purpose, and vision and create HR processes, policies, and activities aligned with this that best serve the organization and drive it forward.
  4. People advocacy refers to creating a strong internal culture and getting the best out of people.

These are a solid base to build further specialist skills and competencies on. 

Here are other future HR skills that will be increasingly important in the workplace:

  • Change management and change consulting 
  • Risk management
  • Management of strategic deals and alliances
  • Ethics and data privacy
  • Critical and systems thinking
  • Resilience and being SAFE
  • Project management

With your desired HR career path in mind, you can layer on top of these foundational skills depending on where you want to go.

For example, if you desire to progress to an HR manager or business partner role, skills like project management, stakeholder management, and management of strategic deals and alliances would all be relevant and valuable.

If your goal is to become a people or diversity officer, then skills like integrating cultural differences, change management, change consulting, and inter-departmental collaboration would be more relevant. 

7. Track your progress and hold yourself accountable

The final step to setting and achieving your HR professional goals is consistently tracking your progress. Use a calendar, spreadsheet, or project management tool (like Trello, Asana, or Slack) to stay on top of your to-do list and progress. Assign yourself weekly tasks that help you achieve the SMART goals you set and track where you are in relation to your bigger goals and career map.

Hold yourself accountable, or enlist the help of a mentor or coach to hold you accountable. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Remember, this is your career, and you have the power to shape it!

HR professional development goals examples

Here are some examples of SMART HR professional development goals.

Mentoring SMART goal

“Within a month, I will establish a mentor relationship with someone I trust and admire who is willing to invest their time and share advice with me to help me grow.”

  • Specific: Make a list of potential mentors, highlight the best matches, and arrange to meet for coffee with them over the next month.
  • Measurable: The relationship will either be or not be established.  
  • Achievable: It’s realistic to set up short coffee meetings with people you already have a working relationship with and have one of them agree to mentor you. 
  • Relevant: A mentor will help you gain valuable advice and a fresh perspective on HR and your future in this industry. 
  • Time-bound: Decide on a mentor within a month, and set up regular monthly meetings over the following six months.

HR certification SMART goal

“I will deepen my general skills and competencies in HR by completing an HR generalist online program and gain a certification over the next four months.”

  • Specific: Enroll in an online, self-paced program where you can gain an HR generalist certificate.
  • Measurable: The certification will either be earned or not. 
  • Achievable: The course requires 40 hours of study time. That means you will need to devote 10 hours per month to it over the four months (around 2.5 hours each week). 
  • Relevant: A HR generalist certificate will help equip you with key HR skills. It will also give you a solid understanding to build on for the future. 
  • Time-bound: This course will be completed within four months.

Time management SMART goal

“I will improve my time management skills over the next month by using Google calendar and a project management tool and be 10% more productive.”

  • Specific: Set up your Google Calendar, decide on a project management tool, and start blocking out your time and the steps you need to take to achieve your goals. 
  • Measurable: Use your calendar and tool to see if you are staying on track with your tasks and accomplishing everything you set out to each day. 
  • Achievable: Blocking out small sections of your day to work on your most important tasks is realistic. You can notify your coworkers and manager when you won’t be available. 
  • Relevant: Knowing where your time is going and tracking the progress of your goals will help you get more done in less time. 
  • Time-bound: You’re committing to doing this for at least one month. Then you can evaluate how successful it is in helping you manage your time more effectively.

Negotiation skills SMART goal

“I will build on my negotiation skills by attending a half-day training program at work once a week for the next month.”

  • Specific: Sign up for the negotiation skills training program and put all the sessions into your work calendar.
  • Measurable: The training program will either be completed or not.
  • Achievable: It’s achievable to spend a total of four days on a training program over a period of a month.
  • Relevant: Building your negotiation skills will help you lead better negotiations in your career, which will be particularly beneficial if you desire to grow into an HR business partner role.
  • Time-bound: This training will be completed within a month.

Project management SMART goal

“I will develop my project management skills by taking a one-day training program and then lead a project to put my newfound skills into practice over the next three months.”

  • Specific: Sign up for and attend the project management training program and complete it. Speak to your manager about taking on a side-project so that you can practice the skills you learned in the real world.
  • Measurable: The training program will either be completed or not, and the side project will either be successfully led and completed or not. 
  • Achievable: It’s achievable to spend one day at a training session and take on an extra project at work alongside your current responsibilities. 
  • Relevant: Learning to lead a project from the front will be a valuable skill to learn, particularly if you hope to progress into an HR managerial role. 
  • Time-bound: The training will be completed in a day, and the project will be led over three months.

Over to you

Concrete HR professional development goals enable you to focus your career growth efforts effectively. Even if you don’t have a clear idea of which field of HR you want to progress into, you can set goals that will help you develop and improve core HR competencies and future-proof your skill set regardless of the direction you take.

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