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Personal Goal Setting

Ask Questions of Yourself

For managers, personal goal setting is just as important as setting organisational goals, but how many of us give it the time it deserves? How many managers apply their professional expertise to managing their own personal development?

Our article: Success Maker includes some useful tips on personal and career development. Here we build on this advice by asking you to ask some questions. We often talk about things that “asked questions of us”. By that we usually mean something that stretched or tested us.

In this article we give you some questions which will hopefully do just that. Testing and stretching your thinking about your own development is an essential tool for effective personal goal setting.

Six of the Best – Getting to Know Yourself Better

In our article: Best Management Tools Ever, we quoted Kipling’s famous “The Serving Men”:

I keep six honest serving men,
They taught me all I know,
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How And Where And Who.

These words are just as effective in personal and career development as they are in any other management activity. However, personal goal setting is not an easy process. Below you’ll find a detailed checklist with numerous questions based on each of Kipling’s “serving men”. First though, you might find it useful to ask yourself some simple questions to address some complex issues. Start by asking just one question in each category. This will start your personal goal setting by addressing the basics – getting to know yourself a little better.

  • Personal goal settingWhat do you really want to do?
  • Why am I here? – What is my sense of purpose?
  • How can I contribute? What meaningful contribution do I want to make?
  • When do I want to achieve my goals?
  • Where do I want to be in five years time?
  • Who am I?

The final question: “who am I?”, can be especially difficult. It’s tempting to respond with a “what” answer, describing yourself in terms of what you do, such as your job, your role in society, your family responsibilities, etc. Try to use this as a question which allows you to better understand yourself. Who you are is an amalgam of genes, values, beliefs, desires, needs, experiences, education and abilities. Discovering as much as possible about yourself is not a trivial or easy matter, but it’s nonetheless a crucial one. Start your personal goal setting by getting to know yourself better.

If you’ve answered these questions fully, you’ll have started to create a list of things you want or need to do. Take some time to capture those thoughts and ideas. Write down your answers to these six questions as the basis for your personal goal setting.

Personal Goal Setting – a checklist to ask questions of yourself

Once you’ve a better idea of “who” you are, it’s time to ask some questions about where you are, where you’d like to be, and how you can get there. Set some time aside to study the more detailed checklist below.

The checklist is a useful questioning technique, adapted from our problem solving activity. It’s based on the principle of asking the right questions in the right way. A structured way. Questions are perhaps the best management tools at your disposal.
This personal goal setting checklist uses the “pecking order” of questions with the more powerful questions (why, how and what) asked first, followed by the less, but perhaps more specific questions (who, where and when)

Ask yourself:


  • What (exactly) do I want to achieve?
  • What really matters to me?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What am I consistently good at?
  • What is the evidence that I perform well at an activity?
  • What do I contribute to my family/ organisation/friends?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What am I enthusiastic about?
  • What activities make me feel stronger when I do them?
  • What opportunities are there for me to develop?
  • What skills are required for the next job I would like to do?
  • What do I really want to do?
  • What is holding me back?


  • Why do I do what I do?
  • Why do I spend so little time using my strengths?
  • Why do I enjoy doing that particular activity?
  • Why do I want to do this job/career/vocation?
  • Why do I want to develop a particular skill?
  • Why am I here?


  • How will the situation be different if I use my strengths more in my job?
  • How do I prefer to work (e.g. alone or in a group)?
  • How do I learn?
  • How can I make a contribution in my work?
  • How can I measure my performance?
  • How do I view work – is it a job, a career or a vocation?
  • How will a development activity help me grow?
  • How can I overcome any barriers to my development?


  • When do I perform best?
  • When do I perform less effectively?
  • When do I learn best?
  • When was the last time I participated in a development activity?


  • Where do I perform best?
  • Does it matter where I use my strengths? Is the place important? If so, why?
  • Where are the gaps between opportunities and my strengths?
  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to be next year/in five years?


  • Who can give me objective feedback about my performance?
  • Does it matter who I work with?
  • Who can help improve my performance?
  • Who do I work best with?
  • Who knows most about the situation?
  • Who could I learn most from?
  • Who am I?

These questions may be just a starting point and you may wish to personalize the tool by adding your own specific questions. The important thing is that you ask the right questions. The questions in this personal goal setting tool will help you do just that.

For a more detailed discussion of the questions in this tool, read Goal Setting Activity – 5 steps to self-development at work.

Putting your personal goal setting into action!

You can also find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them. It includes:

  • How do you define goal setting?
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?


  • Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
  • Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
  • Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
  • Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
  • Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
  • Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions

Goal Setting Resources

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

Personal goal setting

You’ll find our new e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals is a fantastic, goal setting resource. It’s packed with advice and tools – 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”.


Where to go from here:


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