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Personal development planning: key considerations for 2019


With workers hinting that access to personal development is often more important than a pay rise, it’s clear that helping employees with personal development planning should be a focus for companies in 2019.

Vision and purpose

There’s a variety of reasons to undertake personal development planning. As well as facilitating career progression and promotion, a personal development plan can also reveal opportunities for a career change or define narrower goals such as focusing on improving one or a few specialist skills.

A personal development plan should always start with employees reflecting on the purpose or direction of their career. Often referred to as a Personal Vision, this is really a subjective view of ‘what success looks like’ to the individual. Often, when determining their personal vision, employees are asked to consider those whose careers or achievements they would like to emulate – people who influence their thinking or inspire them to action. It could be past or current colleagues, people in the public eye, historical or even fictional characters, depending on what your perception of success is.

Following this stage, employees can determine what their strengths are and identify areas of improvement regarding their purpose or direction.

Tools and actions for employees

It’s not easy for everyone to list their strengths and identify skills and knowledge gaps. Completing some simple exercises first to get you thinking more clearly will help. 

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) refers to various tools including self-assessment tests, benchmarking exercises and personal diagnostics. Structured people find these materials useful for outlining objectives and measuring success over time. 

If you’re struggling to identify the skills or knowledge you wish to gain or improve upon, job descriptions can be a useful resource here, as they always refer to specific skills and competencies needed to undertake a certain role. You can take each skill and competency involved in the role you’re either currently undertaking, or the one you aspire to do, and compare them with your own abilities, as you perceive them.

Personal development scorecards can also provide employees with tangible learning objectives. By using weightings for each skill area, they help people map their development in a numerical way and set clear targets (e.g. will attain Level 5 in 6 months). Furthermore, scoring methods can ensure learning objectives include an element of challenge but remain attainable.

Employees can then create a detailed plan of action focused on improving relevant skills and knowledge to maximise effectiveness during an agreed time period.

How employers should help

Employers have a key part to play in the personal development planning process.  Ensuring development plans are aligned with organisational needs is an obvious goal, however, managers should also use personal development planning sessions to help employees frame their development in a way that will have a positive impact on their attitude and motivation.

Companies should, for example, encourage employees to consider where they’re positioned within the context of their chosen discipline or area of expertise. The CMI makes a critical point, stating personal development isn’t always about ‘upward movement,’ but rather a way to facilitate continuous momentum until you reach your full potential. Getting employees to visualise their careers and gain a clearer sense of where or how they can develop, will create a meaningful personal development planning process.

Furthermore, employers who really care about their people will encourage personal development planning activities that focus on honing strengths, as well as in areas where employees have a genuine interest. Too many personal development plans can waste employees’ and managers’ time by emphasising generic and often irrelevant learning opportunities. 

The CMI suggests tailoring personal development so that it’s aligned with an individual’s values, and considers factors like private life, money and mobility constraints, as well as learning styles; again to bolster motivation and ultimately ensure success.

Finally, and perhaps, crucially, companies that benefit the most from personal development planning are ones where leaders are tasked to deliver regular and constructive feedback. Recent research points to the benefit of being transparent about someone’s weaknesses and getting employees to ‘take ownership of their flaws’ to facilitate growth.

Where and how to learn

Returning to the research referenced at the beginning of this article, employees increasingly demand time off during working hours to complete training courses, as well as financial support in paying for training. However, formal ‘training’ and ‘education’ are only components of the wider personal development industry.

In addition to professional qualifications and other formal routes to skill acquisition, companies should also look broadly at how they can prioritise continuous development for all employees, across multiple areas.

One useful way to integrate this into personal development planning is to think about how learning occurs. L&D consultancy 70:20:10, for example, highlight ‘experience and practice,’ ‘conversation,’ ‘observation,’ ‘help and assistance’ and ‘reflection’ as the five basic categories. This approach also shifts the emphasis away from training and development and instead reveals opportunities for performance improvement in the ‘daily flow of work.’

Being creative around on-the-job training can lead to great results. Gartner, for example, demonstrated how employees who had been connected to relevant experts within their own business to learn a skill, became better performers overall. The CMI recommends shadowing, job rotation, secondment, attachment, mentoring, delegation, counselling and coaching as ‘best practise’ methods to consider.

Of course, the third method for developing skills is to leverage self-learning opportunities if and when they arise. Independent study is a great way to keep abreast of trends and developments in your discipline area. E-learning is on the rise, and with so many free resources, reviewing your personal development plan and making the time to engage with relevant content as part of your working day, or at home, is a sensible move.

Other avenues include networking events, ‘out-of-hours’ workshops, or clubs and groups attended by others with the same or similar skills and career objectives.  Even authoring papers, presenting at conferences and being a mentor are ways to stretch your knowledge and skills in the workplace. Forbes recommends personal development techniques such as reading widely, personal reflection and observation, as ways to accomplish more and not lose focus on broader personal development goals.

Importance of challenging yourself

In our recent European-wide salary survey, only 6% of respondents indicated their company had allowed employees to take study leave for external training during the last year. However, what’s revealing is that less than a third said the opportunity to gain new skills would persuade them to change jobs. Instead, 57% of respondents highlighted how it was the chance to engage in ‘new challenges’ that was appealing.

With regards to your personal development plan, anything that stretches your capabilities and puts you outside of your comfort zone will guarantee progress. Even if you fail to meet your personal development objectives, efforts to integrate challenges into your working life – whether they’re formal or informal, work based or independent – are the perfect way to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to your employer. And, if you’re seeking new employment, taking a detailed and challenging personal development plan to interviews, would certainly put you in good stead for the job.

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