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Struggling with Professional Goal-Setting? Why It’s More Important Than Ever and 5 Tips for an Effective Professional Plan


January 4, 2023

Read Time

3 minutes


Original published on November 2, 2022 and updated on January 4, 2023.

Author: Susan Thomas

This time of year many people are thinking about their new year’s resolutions, goal-setting, and professional plans. Goal-setting is the cornerstone of any effective professional development program. Still, it is also something that can feel easier said than done, especially when we’re overwhelmed with other work obligations. It’s during these times of busyness, however, when professional plans and goal-setting can be most valuable.

An article in Harvard Business Review summed up the benefits of setting goals in times of uncertainty like this:

“Research shows that to engage our motivational systems and direct our brain’s energy to the right actions (both consciously and below our awareness), we need to have a clear sense of where we are, where we’re going, and whether we’re closing the gap between the two at the right rate. Without goals, we make bad choices and miss opportunities to act. But just as important, we can’t feel effective, which many psychologists believe is the most powerful source of life satisfaction and well-being humans have.”

In other words, professional plans align with the age-old adage “work smarter, not harder.”

After a 17-year career as a teacher, I joined LP this year as a Learning and Development Manager. In that time, I have focused on helping attorneys and practice group leaders develop their personal and group plans. The following are some of our tips for creating an effective professional plan regardless of your career or industry:

1. The plan should work for you; you don’t work for the plan. Your goals should be guideposts and a way to track the steps you are already taking to achieve your long-term goals.

2. Treat your professional plan like a marathon. A trackable plan with measurable milestones along the way will be far easier to maintain than a vague goal you might not attain for several months or even years.

3. Be realistic. When I taught in the classroom, my students were far more likely to be motivated and reach for attainable goals. For example, setting a goal for test scores within reach was far more likely to generate enthusiasm and motivation than a goal that was likely out of reach. The same is true for professionals. Professional plans can and should include “big dreams,” but they should also have “stretch goals” that are close enough for us to reach with effort.

4. Gather support. Even though your professional plan might focus on personal goals, success often depends on the network we have to support us along the way. At LP, we offer recorded learning sessions that guide attorneys through the process of creating a professional plan. We also increased the support provided to practice group leaders as they build their group plans to enable leaders to make group plans that are more robust, organized, and intentional.

5. Be flexible. At LP, we advocate for professional plans as a living, breathing document. As situations change, your goals may also need to pivot. In this article, Harvard Business Review suggests building flexibility into your plan:

“In such uncertain times, it’s important to explicitly establish progress and pivot points on a timeline right at the outset, so you can monitor both your rate of progress and the need to shift in light of new information along the way.”

For additional information on professional development and learning:

Feedback Is a Vital Tool of Lifelong Learning—How We’ve Revamped the Process

Making Professional Development More Than a Buzzword

How Minimalism in the Workplace Can Advance your Business and Professional Development

How to Get Bold with your Leadership Development Programs

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