How to Set Sustainable Development Goals with Your Employees

Anika Wegner -unless-

In this post, you will learn how to set personal and sustainable development goals for your employees and yourself. Find out here, how you can motivate your employees to follow and reach their goals.

Motivation is crucial for successful learning, but this is often easier said than done. Where does the motivation actually come from? Learning goals often play a decisive role. In this article, you’ll find out how you can help your employees create the right goals from the start. 

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Develop a sustainable learning culture for your team

In our free playbook “Understanding and Developing a Company Learning Culture” you will receive helpful guidance and tips.

Set sustainable development goals with the SMART method

“Only those who know their goal will find the path,” according to a quote by the Chinese philosopher Laozi. For employee development, it’s important for you and your employees to set a realistic goal that you want to reach and can achieve.

The SMART method can help you formulate strong goals that get results. Each letter in the word “smart” stands for a characteristic that should be part of your learning goal.

  • S is for specific:
    Make your goal as specifically as possible so that it’s clear what you want to achieve. “Learn a language” is a goal, but it’s not very concrete because the desired result and actions toward it aren’t precisely defined.
  • M is for measurable:
    Your goal should be measurable so that you can check if you’ve made progress while you’re learning.
  • A is for achievable:
    A goal that isn’t achievable won’t motivate – it will just frustrate.
  • R is for realistic:
    Take into account the factors that your employees’ learning depends on. That way you can guarantee that the goal is realistic. For example, if you’ve set the goal to learn French in one month from scratch, it’s not realistic – and also not achievable. To keep your employees’ motivated, the goals should be manageable, realistic and achievable.
  • T is for time-bound:
    Schedules and deadlines are an essential part of successful learning. It’s easy to lose sight of goals if they’re not part of a fixed schedule. 

Business people writing their goals on a glass board.

Examples of personal development goals for work

A SMART goal can be best illustrated with an example. Let’s take language learning as a potential learning goal:

“I want to improve my English and study 15 minutes a day, five days a week. My goal is to talk to customers in English after three months.”

What are the advantages of this kind of learning goal? It’s clear and concrete. It’s also time-bound and measurable because the learner can measure their progress in a customer conversation after three months. And it’s realistic and, thereby, achievable.

How to motivate your employees to reach their personal development goals

You can let your employees formulate their own goals or help them by giving examples, so that they can orient themselves. The basic guideline is to stick to quite manageable goals and then scale them up over time. Nothing is as motivating for future goals as achieving the first one.

If the personal development goal of your employees is learning a language, the first goal could be for them to introduce themselves in the language after three weeks. Many learners reach this goal even earlier, which motivates them to work toward a new goal.

Another driver for learning is tying a small reward to the achievement of a goal. How does this work? There are two kinds of motivation:

  • Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside, like, for example, a punishment when you don’t reach a goal and a reward when you do.
  • Whereas intrinsic motivation comes from within, arising because achieving a particular goal has meaning for you personally.

Both kinds of motivation are important and actually serve to reinforce each other. So, while your employees connect with their own personal reasons to achieve their development goal, you can help by adding some extrinsic motivation, such as a small prize for the most successful learner.

💡 More about this topic
Find out in another blogpost, how managers can contribute to their team's learning motivation.

The takeaway: Set sustainable development goals

For most effective language learning, aim for sensible goals and realistic timetables right from the start. This way, your employees are very likely to hit those goals and continue on. You might even discover employees who are eager to help support other learners, which will further ensure success. That’s how, together, you and your team will master new achievements and blast through your development goals.

preview download ebook Understanding and Developing a Company Learning Culture Babbel for Business

Develop a sustainable learning culture for your team

In our free playbook “Understanding and Developing a Company Learning Culture” you will receive helpful guidance and tips.

Anika Wegner, B2B Blog Editor


Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.

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