As James McDonagh, director of EMEA at Frank Recruitment Group, succinctly puts it, “It’s easy to set vague career goals — and even easier to not achieve them.” But that is where a personal development plan comes in — a document that defines both your professional and personal goals, and provides structure and direction toward achieving those goals, he says.
“If used correctly, it’s a way to detail exactly what you want to achieve and gives you room to work out and visualise exactly how you’ll do it,” says McDonagh, making your personal development plan one of the most valuable tools in your proverbial workplace toolbox.
How can you create one? Here’s how to make and follow a personal development plan.
No surprises here: To create a document meant to help you achieve both your professional and personal goals, the first step is to identify and define those goals. And while “some of us happen to know them instinctively,” says Kim Aviv, CEO of Pathfinder Software, “most of us will have to sit down and think them through.” Take some time to identify your aspirations, striking a balance between professional development and personal satisfaction, Aviv says.
“Usually, either personal aspirations are shaping the career path or the other way around — professional goals are determining personal development,” Aviv explains.
Your goals might be to snag a promotion, attain a higher education or certification, or find time to pursue your hobbies or volunteer. There are no wrong goals to add to the plan!
With your goals defined, it’s time to “prioritise the order you want to achieve everything,” says McDonagh. “As this is a plan designed to bring structure into your professional life, it needs to be full of detail.” And that includes a reasonable order in which you’ll pursue your goals, McDonagh explains. “Methodically plan which goals are necessary to reach others as a starting point,” he advises, “before weaving the rest [of your goals] around that order.”
With priorities in place, assign deadlines to your goals, too. “Without a definitive timeline, it’s much harder to quantify your success,” McDonagh explains. For example, “if you want to gain a promotion, that’s great — but stick it out anywhere long enough and you should be able to achieve this. Adding when you want to do it by will help give you some focus as well as the motivation to achieve it. Nothing gets people working harder than a deadline does.”
Of course, it’s smart to keep your timeline realistic. If you’re too aggressive, you could find yourself overwhelmed or even unmotivated, Aviv warns. “Remember that personal and career development is a marathon — not a sprint — and it never really stops,” Aviv says. “For this reason, a development plan has to be dynamic to accommodate internal changes and external changes that are outside of your control. Adaptability in terms of assumptions and planning is essential, because every individual will reshape the path while they’re on it.”
Your plan is in place, but your work isn’t done — not even close. “You need to find a way to measure your progression through the plan,” points out McDonagh. For example, let’s say you want a promotion, and you want it in two years. Look at what needs to happen along the way to a promotion — the steps you’ll have to take — and make sure you’re taking them. “Being able to put markers down throughout the process will keep you motivated,” he says.