Okay. Your manager mentions at the department meeting that this year’s annual review will include a discussion of your personal development plan. “YIKES”, you say. “I don’t know how to create a personal development plan. I’m not even sure what I want to develop.” Don’t panic. It is easier than you think. Let me explain.

A personal growth plan, AKA personal development plan, is your written action plan for self improvement. Compare it to planning your vacation. You identify where you are now, where you want to be, and map out the route to arrive at that destination.

  1. Identify where you are now by identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t make a long list. Just identify your top 2-3 strengths and 2-3 weaknesses that are holding you back.
  2. Identify where you want to go by reviewing your organization’s strategic goals. Is your organization expanding, perhaps globally? Is there a specific growth area that sparks interest from you? The business world is ever changing and growing. To remain relevant in coming years, you must continually develop new skills. For example, I began my professional career using a typewriter. I had to learn computers, followed by ever increasing (and sometimes complex) software.
  3. Part two of where you want to go: concentrate on your strengths. Your weaknesses will always be your weakness. Conversely, as you hone your strengths, those strengths increase exponentially. Take for example the stereotype of a professional athlete. They generally have a gift for their sport. Their talent comes naturally. Coaching only improves that talent. However, most are not gifted academicians. Those athletes may graduate college with good grades, but they will likely never solve quantum physics.
  4. Now, begin to map out your destination by narrowing your focus. It takes time and energy to develop yourself. If you spread your development activities over more than 4 or 5 competencies, you will dilute your development plan. To have a robust plan, select no more than 2 strengths and no more than 2 weaknesses (preferably only one of those).
  5. Complete your destination map by developing your action plan. Your action plan should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound (SMART). Remember that adults learn best through practice. Therefore, your development plan should focus more on experiences. A good rule of thumb is, devote 60-70% of your development activities to experiences in the workplace; 20-30% to exposure; and, 10% to education. A few examples of experience (on-the-job), include working on special projects, or taking on an additional responsibility from a higher level employee. Exposure is exactly what it sounds like – being exposed to different thoughts, practices, or behaviors. Examples of exposure include attending higher level meetings with yourmanager, observing a mentor, or job-shadowing. Education includes formal class programs, webinars, reading business books, etc. 
  6. Include timelines to complete various actions. True development takes time. You cannot postpone action until the 4th quarter and assume you will successfully develop new competencies. It takes time, it takes practice and it takes repeated application to establish new skills and knowledge.
  7. Establish accountability. The old adage is true, that which gets measured gets done. Identify some method of accountability. Consider your supervisor, mentor or peer as an accountability partner. Schedule regular check in times to track your progress. Once a month is my recommendation
  8. Ask for feedback. Your supervisor, peers and/or direct reports can be great sources of feedback. After all, the people with whom we work are those who see the results and are impacted by our efforts.
  • Development Plan Example Strength: Collaboration
  • Action Plan: Experience:
  • Exposure: Education:
  • Volunteer to lead or participate on a cross functional special project team. Project on-going Quarters 1-4.
  • Sit in on at least 3 meetings with your manager as they present ideas to senior leadership. Quarters 2 and 3.
  • Read a book on collaboration such as, How Leaders Avoid  the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results by Morten Hansen. Complete book by July 31.
  •  Deliver arecap of the book to your team. Complete recap by August 15th.

To recap, a personal growth (development) plan is just that: a strategic, intentional plan to increase your knowledge, skills and competencies. The hard part is identifying what you want to develop and keeping a narrow focus on those skills. Be very specific regarding development activities. The more specific the better. Devote adequate time to your plan. It is, after all, your future you are planning.