Four simple steps to design a personal development plan

Consider the ructions digital disruption is bringing to global labour markets, and the anxiety felt by workers fearful of losing their jobs.

Speaking at Davos this year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff described a looming “digital refugee” crisis. World leaders recognise that closing a rising gap between rich and poor can only be achieved by engineering a massive forced re-distribution of wealth, or by making people more employable through better training.

Personal development plans can go deeper than your everyday performance review. They offer managers and their staff an effective survival template. It’s just a matter of doing them right – so they don’t become the tedious box-ticking exercise so many consider them to be.

It’s about them, not you

Even when staff are eager to impress, there’s a risk they’ll see development plans as a chore. That is, unless managers stop concentrating on their own needs and appeal to their staff’s passions and abilities.

Of course, the reason for even bothering with growth plans is to address business needs. The holy grail, then, is to create a plan that simultaneously excites staff. If that’s not possible, try to cover at least one motivational factor other than business need, while doing as much as possible to make workers feel like they own the process.

“Personal development does not necessarily imply upward movement,” says the UK’s Chartered Management Institute. “Rather, it’s about enabling individuals to improve their performance and reach their full potential at each stage of their career.”

Don’t get too carried away, though. Have a written copy of your business model at hand to ensure employee needs gel with those of the company.

Be serious or don’t bother

One of the key ingredients to making a personal development plan work is engendering a sense of trust. At a basic level, that means regularly finding time for staff. But it could also mean finding money.

Access to finance, equipment or outside professional training could well be needed.

As HSBC warns, “If you underestimate the resources required, you risk setting employees up to fail and damaging morale, productivity and the trust of employees.”

Getting serious about development plans also means getting serious about their structures. You need to do more than simply asking staff to write down their skills and hobbies. Philip Clifford, Associate Dean for Research at the University of Illinois, told science journal Nature that they should have four key components. These include sections for self-assessment and reflection, career choices and pathways, explicit short and long term goals, and ways to achieve and implement those goals.

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