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Goal Setting Activity


Goal setting activity: 5 steps to self-development at work

Possibly the most effective goal setting activity is the that contributes to your self-development. Attending to your personal growth is the most important goal you can set but how do you set and achieve personal goals?

This article builds on Charles Handy’s argument of gaining a “proper education.” He makes this point in his book: The Hungry Spirit, which is a highly recommended read. Handy argues for an education in which how we learn is as important as what we learn.

Each goal setting activity in this article is focused on your development in the workplace but the principles will be of equal value in any area of your life.

1 – Discover yourself.

Achieve personal and business goals … be SMART and SHARP

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First set a goal which allows you to discover as much about yourself as possible. Self-knowledge is a particularly difficult kind of knowledge to gain. Handy uses a quote from Marianne Williamson in her book “Return to Love”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.”

Handy summarises and qualifies this powerful quote with: “the sentiment, whether put in a religious context or not, should be one of the articles of belief of a school for life and work.”

It would be superficial to suggest that discovering “who you are” is something you can do overnight. However, it’s all too easy to overlook what is a fundamental goal setting activity. Knowing more about yourself can help you make choices about what you do.

Goal setting activity:

Here are some areas where you might learn more about yourself and what you want to do:

  • Decide what it is you do best, using feedback and evidence to support your conclusions;
  • Ask people who know you well – they often see your strengths better than you can;
  • Think about how you work best – do you work better alone or in a team, on projects or on routine tasks?
  • What kind of organization do you prefer to work in – large or small, where there is less certainty or more certainty in your work? Do you enjoy working to the pressure of deadlines?
  • Where do you belong? What kind of job, what kind of company, with what kind of people?
  • How do you learn best?
  • What are your values? Do they fit well with what you are doing?

Konosuke Matsushita reflecting back on his life as he approached the age of 94 pondered the idea of destiny and his advice? “Be yourself. Once you know what you like to do, what you are good at, then all you have to do is work hard at it.”

2 – What are you good at?

Find out what you are good at. Too often we don’t do what we’re good at in our work. Working to our strengths is one of the keys to improving motivation at work. If we’re overstretched, or doing jobs to which we’re not suited, then work can become frustrating, tedious or difficult. In many cases it’s possible to craft your work so that you’re doing things that are based on your strengths. If we allow ourselves to drift into activities which are not based on our strengths, then gradually it dawns on us that we’re no longer enjoying the work we do.

Use some of the questions from section one to clarify your strengths and then think about how you can put them to work. How can you design your job to more closely fit your strengths? Propose ways in which you could contribute to the performance of your team/area using these strengths, highlighting the potential benefit to your organization. Read our page on “boss time management” for some tips on how to do this.

Crafting your job in such a way may also involve re-thinking what you do. It may be you need to change what you do, looking for fresh opportunities. Perhaps firstly with your current employer, perhaps by looking for a transfer or for assignment to specific projects. If not, then perhaps you need to look elsewhere. For example, where do you think you sit in our Happy Work-cycle, explained in our Happiness Goal Setting Tip article?

Goal Setting Activity:

Identifying your strengths is not necessarily an easy activity, but it’s a crucial one. Set aside some time to think through what you are good at.

  • What do you think you’re good at?
  • What do others consider your strengths to be?
  • Where have you had success in your work?
  • What strengths did you use to achieve this success.
  • Looking back over the last month, what things have you done which make you feel strong, which make you look forward to doing them, and that come relatively easily to you?

3 – Look for Meaning and Insight.

Much of our education, and what we consider learning, revolves around learning facts and knowing “what”. Learning about your strengths, and building on them, is more about asking “where”, “how” and “why” questions. Often our strengths are associated with our enthusiasms. Being good at something you’re passionate about is a powerful combination. Plan to become as knowledgeable as you can about your area, build on your strengths and enthusiasms. Use our career goal setting tips for some guidance.

Another crucial addition to your thinking here should be to ask: where is the knowledge and experience you have most valued? How could you use your strengths to meet customers’ needs? If you want to earn a living or build careers based on your strengths and passions, then they need to be in areas that people value. Otherwise your strengths and enthusiasms are really a just a hobby. Handy’s advice to his children was to “look for customers, not jobs.” By that he meant: “only if you can make or do something that other people will pay you money for will you ultimately be employable.”

Goal Setting Activity:

  • Identify how your strengths and enthusiasms deliver things that people value;
  • Create a plan to develop then build on your strengths;
  • Learn more broadly than just seeking facts or information. Look for meanings and insights. Explore and ask wider questions.

4 – Life is a Process of Discovery

Life is a process of discovery. The first two points in this article ask questions about who we are, and what we can do. A goal setting activity for personal growth will ultimately ask questions about why we exist and what we believe in. Handy argues that this is a “circular process, because when we discover what we are capable of and work out why we exist, it changes the way we see ourselves, which can send us off in new directions, discovering new capacities and new reasons for our existence.”

One of the merits of thinking of life as a circular process is to see that opportunities often come around again if we missed them first time. It is also worth thinking about what you are now able to do because of the experience or knowlegde you have gained. There can often be periods of your career that at the time may not have appeared to be of much value, that later you see gave you skills or experience that proved invaluable for what you may now be doing.

Goal Setting Activity:

  • When was the last time you did something for the first time?
  • What activities could you now engage in because of what you’ve done and learned recently?
  • What new things have you discovered about yourself?
  • What new opportunities do they suggest for you?
  • How have you improved in particular aspects of your life?

5 – “Learning is Experience Understood in Tranquility”


Handy powerfully suggests that “learning is experience understood in tranquility”. We all have a wealth of experience but often don’t learn from that experience because we don’t take the time to reflect.

For example, a manager, often have a vast amount of experience from which he/she can learn. The workplace is a great place to learn, but it is often a messy place to learn.

The busyness of our working days often prohibit finding time to reflect. It is therefore an appropriate final point to make: find time away from the busyness of your life to reflect on your experiences.

A crucial goal setting activity is to develop good habits. One of the best is to make time to regularly reflect on your experiences and to learn from those reflections.

Goal Setting Activity

  • Build reflection time into your weekly experience;
  • Take some time out to seriously reflect on your own personal goals;
  • Decide what is important for you.

…. then ….

Act! This is a key success factor in any goal setting activity!

Goal Setting Resources

You can find more of our goal setting resources by reading our featured pages (below).

Goal setting activity

You’ll find our new e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals is a useful goal setting tool. Use it to help you set SMART goals then take SHARP actions to achieve them!

One of our affiliate partners also has an excellent on-line goal setting resource. GoalsOnTrack is a “personal success system that will help you really accomplish goals by getting the right things done”.

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