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Personal development plan - your total guide to making them work

Published 1st February 2017 by Melissa Farrington

Personal development plans: what are they?

Personal development plans are essentially action plans created through self-analysis of your life, goals, strengths, weaknesses, career aims and life aims in order to create a map that takes you from the current point in time to where you want to be.

They are popular in the workplace because they help align employee career and life goals with organisational goals and therefore positively impact learning and development at work. They can be undertaken by anyone, no matter how senior.

Personal development plans: what do they include?

There are many models, frameworks and templates for personal development plans. Essentially they are made up of four areas but it’s important to note that deep reflection is required at each stage.

  • Stage 1: What are your goals? What do you want to achieve?
  • Stage 2: What strengths will help you achieve these? What weaknesses will hold you back?
  • Stage 3: How will you bolster strengths and address weaknesses to make you more likely to achieve your goals? These are learning opportunities.
  • Stage 4: What actions will you take to achieve your goals and how often/when will you do them?
  • Stage 5: How will you reflect on progress and move on to the next stage?

Personal development plans can be as simple or complex as the individual needs them to be. Some people need each action broken down into smaller steps. Other people need a general guide that’s open to daily innovation. It depends on the person.

Personal development plans: why create one?

Personal development expert Jim Rohn said that “when you look at successful people, you will almost always discover a plan behind their success. It is the foundation for success.”

Unless we know where we’re going, it is very hard to make anything other than arbitrary decisions between several choices that are actually broadly similar.

Here are some of the major benefits of personal development plans:

  • Stacking the odds: if you’re on a long car journey, a map increases your chances of getting there. It’s no different in life and work.
  • Awareness of strengths: by becoming more aware of your personal strengths, you are more able to deploy yourself successfully where it counts
  • Cognitive direction: the brain has a million directions to go in. The clearer the boundaries you give it, the easier it finds it to innovate and give you light bulb moments.
  • Learning awareness: by understanding your strengths, weaknesses and skills better, you’re able to spot blind spots, areas of uncertainty or areas you need to skill up in, making you more of an all-rounder.
  • Control: it’s a human need to feel in control of your life and there’s nothing better for feeling in control than making conscious decisions to take actions to improve your career and life every day.

Personal development plans at work: tips to ensure they work

Five-year personal development plans are useful at work because they work on a reasonable timeframe of medium-term career prospects.

  • Make sure goals are SMART. It’ll make it easier to track progress and ensure you are building on your achievements to date.
  • Work with your line manager. Line managers have training budgets, insight, coaching skills and more to bring to bear on helping employees achieve goals. Working together also fosters a more trusting relationship.
  • Think about the organisation’s goals. Linking in with the organisation’s goals essentially provides a strong business case for your own self-development. It’s a win-win situation.