Goal Planning Not Working? Try an Approach that Fits your Persona

We’re told that goal planning is an important tool for professional development. Goals focus our attention and energy, and they inform our choices. But what if goal planning isn’t working for you?

We’re typically encouraged to pick a desirable destination a few years out, then break the journey down into manageable steps. What if you don’t know where you want to be in a few years? Or what if you want to focus on your role today? What if you have several areas you want to explore, and you don’t want to be restricted to one path?

I’ve put together some personas that offer alternate perspectives for goal planning. We don’t all have the same needs, and the classic approach doesn’t work for everybody. I’ll give a summary of each persona, some thoughts on when it’s most useful, and a few tips.

The Navigator

This is the classic approach. You know your destination, you chart the shortest path to it, and you take careful measurements along the way to make sure you’re staying on course.

Use When

  • Your destination is clear. You know what you want, and you (mostly) know how to get it. You want goals to help you focus and check off the work needed to reach your destination.
  • This persona is most commonly used when you’ve settled into your current role and have a clear next career step in mind.


  • Take advantage of all the goal planning literature out there; this persona is what it’s geared towards! Make your SMART goals, and get to work!

The Explorer

You’re not sure what’s out there, but you want to learn! Your goal is to sail for promising, uncharted territory, and see what you discover.

Use When

  • You don’t know what your destination should be. You feel pressured to pick a focus, but you’re not sure what all the options are or which one you’ll get the most out of.
  • You’d love to get a good map of what’s out there and a feel for what you like and what you don’t.


  • Don’t just chase shiny objects; be intentional. Make thoughtful choices about where you’re exploring.
  • Prefer the scary unknown rather than the safer waters close to home.
  • Don’t get stuck in the doldrums. When you find that you’re not making progress, pick a new heading. You’re really looking to find your passion here; you’ll know when you do.
  • Don’t stay in Explorer mode forever. It’s not an excuse to indefinitely avoid making choices.

The Gardener

You like it right where you are! You’re not looking for a big change — you want to focus your energy on making your current spot more beautiful, full of life, productive.

Use When

  • You want good choices in your current role to drive your career, rather than rolling the dice on an uncertain future.
  • You’ve reached a role that you love, and you want to maximize your enjoyment of it rather than working towards a next thing.
  • You’ve just taken on a new role, and your focus should be on this role rather than a next one.


  • Be selfish! What will make you happier? Ask for it! A happier you is probably good for your team and your client.
  • Be generous! A happier team and client is probably good for you!
  • Changes focused on the present will do more to improve your day-to-day satisfaction than steps towards a hoped-for future. The opportunities are known, and the returns are immediate.
  • The changes you want to make are probably within your sphere of influence. You have a lot of control in this space.

The Builder

You’ve amassed knowledge and experience over the years. You don’t want to add another brick to the pile. You want to use all those bricks you’ve gathered to build something amazing!

Use When

  • You want to focus on doing rather than learning.
  • You have a great network and a strong skill sett. You want to use the leverage you’ve built up to do something impressive.


  • Focus on the big exciting thing that seems outside your reach. Easy is boring, and you’re probably already a little bored.
  • Have fun, and do something cool. You’ve built up all that ability for a reason.

The Philosopher

You’re not chasing the next thing or building your skillset. You’re taking time for introspection. What’s worked? What hasn’t? What’s the point of it all anyway?

Use When

  • You’ve been through big changes. You need to do some processing before picking a next step.
  • You want to focus on reconnecting with your core values.
  • Your energy reserves are low. You need to prioritize self-care for a bit.


  • Think back to your last few projects. What’s really worked? Is there something there to explore? What hasn’t? Is there an opportunity for better outcomes in the future?
  • What’s really made you happy? Where do you want to spend more of your time going forward?
  • Pamper yourself. If you’re taking a break to recharge, make the most of it.

To use these personas, pick the one that best matches where you are. Then use it as a lens to focus your thinking around where you want to spend your time and energy.

I hope these can help you think about goal planning through some different perspectives. Is there a persona that fits you? If not, create your own and share it in the comments!