Whether you’re starting out in your career, chasing that next promotion or just looking to grow professionally, a personal development plan (PDP) can help you along the way. Especially with many employees about to complete their mid-year review or appraisal, it's important to be able to clearly articulate your progress, communicate the actions you took to get there and identify any gaps or next steps that add to your pathway to success.

A PDP is a framework where you identify your strengths, weaknesses and career ambitions, which are then used to build personal development goals, aimed to help you grow and improve in key capabilities or upskill in certain areas.

So why have a PDP? Studies have shown only 8 per cent of people who set goals actually achieve them, and the main difference between these people and the other 92 per cent of the population is that they set specific and challenging goals.

On top of this, you end up wasting 30 per cent of your capacity and performance potential at work when you don’t focus on your goal – ultimately leading to less productivity and slower outcomes for yourself, your team, and your company.

From professional to personal ambitions, having a goal and a plan to reach it will set you up for success both now and into the future. So how can you create your own PDP?

Start by defining your ambitions and current skills

Before launching into your plan, it’s important to take time to understand where you are and where you want to be – this means reflecting on your current skills and capabilities, as well as thinking about your career ambitions.

Start by writing a list of where you are at right now: what would you say are your current skills, strengths, and weaknesses? These can include things like leadership skills, communication skills, time management, decision making, or technical competencies.

Once you have these, spend time identifying your long-term vision or goal: are you trying to switch careers, prepare yourself for management, or improve as a leader? From this, you can conduct a skills gap analysis to assess what areas you need to improve or develop to help yourself reach these goals, and use this to inform your PDP ideas.

Focus your attention on 3-5 development points

While it can be tempting to try and include everything in your personal development skills plan, the path to success involves focus. This means choosing the areas of development that will be most beneficial in helping you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re aiming to become a manager, focus on developing things like communication and coaching. Alternatively, if you’re aiming to switch careers, it helps to look at the job description for your dream role and focus on developing the main skills and competencies needed to land the position.

Set SMART goals and break them down into smaller goals

For each one of your development points, it’s helpful to break them down into smaller and more manageable chunks so you can focus on progress one step at a time rather than one big end goal, which can often seem daunting.

Under each point, set yourself short, mid, and long term goals using these timelines as a guide:

  • Short-term goals are often quick wins, or actions that could be achieved in the coming weeks or month
  • Mid-term goals are goals that you can typically achieve within 30-90 days
  • Long-term goals can range in timeframe from 90 days to 6 months, or even a year

Based on these timelines, you can set SMART goals which typically form the structure of a PDP template.

This means having goals that are:

  • Specific. Your goals should be as detailed as possible – the more you can visualize your goal, the more likely you are to be able to achieve it.
  • Measurable. You should be able to have KPIs to measure your achievement, either through qualitative or quantitative feedback.
  • Actionable. Within each goal, identify a list of actions or initiatives you can take to help you achieve them.
  • Realistic. Your goals should be challenging but ultimately achievable within the time frame you defined, and with the current tools and resources you have available to you.
  • Timely. Set timeframes for when you want to achieve your goal, as well as any check-in points to help evaluate your progress.

Write them down and set up regular reminders

People who vividly describe their goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them than those that don’t. What’s more impressive is that Harvard Business Study found the 3 per cent of graduates who had their goals written down ended up earning up to 10 times as much as the other 97 per cent combined, 10 years after graduation.

Write down your goals in as much detail as possible:

  • What will it look like when you achieve them?
  • How will you feel?
  • Do you have any photos that can inspire you?

If you describe your goals more vividly, they’ll not only become more tangible – you’ll also be more motivated.

It also helps to put prompts on your fridge, mirror, desk, or even a recurring reminder on your phone. This way, you’re constantly reminded of what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. In addition, writing down your goals also helps you with a process called ‘encoding’, which means that over time your goals are stored into your long term memory and you can recall them and focus on them more easily.

Share your goals and track your progress

The path to achieving your goals is rarely straightforward, and at some point it’s likely you’ll lose motivation, fall back into old habits, or procrastinate. In order to help combat this, use a feedback cycle to evaluate your progress: set regular follow-up times every week or month, and write down your progress for each goal.

It’s highly beneficial to align on your goals and share them with your manager and team – this way, you’ll be more accountable to them, and you’ll have a support network to help you achieve your individual development plan ideas. After all, while it’s your PDP, success is a collective effort.

PDP template recommendations

  • Start by listing your strengths, weaknesses, and technical skills and competencies
  • Skills gap analysis: this should include the skills needed for the current role/future role, and then a self-evaluation for each skill, which can help determine which areas to develop in future
  • List out your 3-5 development points to focus on
  • Include one page/section for each development point, including:
    • Vision/goal
    • KPIs for achievement
    • Short term goals, actions and timeframe for achievement
    • Mid-term goals, actions and timeframe for achievement
    • Long term goals, actions and timeframe for achievement

Follow up plan

  • How often will I evaluate my progress?
  • Who will I check in with to ensure I’m achieving my goals?
  • One sheet to track for each of the 3-5 development points, including key reflection questions:
    • How am I tracking along with my goals?
    • What areas did I do well?
    • How can I improve in the future?
    • Do I need to readjust or improve anything?
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