This article is the first in a series on personal development.

In the corporate world today we are all expected to deliver quality results, but doing so isn’t always easy. Changes are quickly happening around us in the global economy, business environment, government enforcement activities and within our own companies. Attorneys not only need to be able to respond and adapt to these changes, but also lead others through them. Like everyone else, attorneys and legal functions need to continue to raise their standards of excellence, and what better time than the New Year? To begin, you should  creating your personal goals.

I am not talking about resolutions. Resolutions usually are vague statements with no real commitment, no plan and no metric for success. Go to any gym on Jan. 3 and then go again on Jan. 30 you will see a significant drop in attendance. Most of the people that have resolved to exercise in the new year will already have given up. What we need are tools to help us change our behaviors and spur us to get off of the plateau on which we find ourselves.

Most people and most attorneys don’t take the time to consider, write down and create goals for what they would like to achieve beyond the business objectives they are required to complete. However, it is important that they take the time to do this. Many companies have instituted programs requiring their employees to chart out personal development goals. These companies recognize that in order for the company’s performance to rise, the performance of each employee needs to rise.

Being at organizations that have required personal development goal setting, I have had the opportunity to discuss with many individuals their personal goals. I have learned important things from these discussions, that led me to change my assumptions. For example, I assumed that one of my direct reports would never be interested in managing people based on a few off-hand comments that person had made several years before. Through the discussion of her goals, I discovered she was very interested in managing people. Maybe she discovered this while creating her goals. The result was that I worked with her to develop a plan to eventually move her into a role where she managed a group of attorneys.

You don’t need a company program to set personal development goals. You can and should do this on your own. You are responsible for your own career development—it’s not up to the company. Companies can provide tools and assistance, but only you can drive your personal development.

I have encountered individuals who don’t understand this, and have witnessed them waiting for something to happen and for time to pass in the hopes of a promotion. Tenure may be a factor in promotions today but it is more likely at law firms than in corporate legal functions. Legal departments these days typically are flat structures where opportunities may take forms other than promotions, such as the opportunity to expand one’s professional growth, supervisory responsibility or change one’s locale.  Attorneys (and everyone else) should focus on how they can be the best at the positions they are currently in, maximizing their current positions with a focus on adding value to the business. This mindset will bring the greatest success both personally and professionally.

Creating personal goals for yourself also is helpful in that it forces you to honestly assess where you are today. You may need to get feedback from others or do some self-assessment to understand your current state before you set goals for the future.  You should measure where you started and how well you did. You may be amazed by what you are able to achieve.

Personal goals should not be solely related to work skills and experience. They should include whatever is important to enhance your life including health and fitness, relationships, work-life balance, spirituality, hobbies, etc. All of you, not just your ”work self,” shows up each day at the office. If you are happy and satisfied in all aspects of your life, you will likely perform at a higher level of excellence at work.

Remember when you create your personal goals, you need to:

1) Write them down. This is fundamental. If you do not write them down, they don’t exist. It takes very little time to do so.

2) Be specific as to the result you want to achieve. For example, ”Lose weight and exercise” isn’t specific but ”achieve 32-inch waist size” or ”achieve dress size 4 are specific and measurable. 

3) Include tactics for each goal. This is the plan for obtaining the goal. An example may be ”workout for one hour per day, six days per week.”  Tactics may change but goals do not.

4) Include timeframes to achieve the goal.  You need to have an end date in mind. It may be calendar- or event-driven.

5) Put your goals in a place where you can regularly see them. You need to continually think about them and your tactics for achieving the results you want.