Performance Management

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How and why your business should use Personal Development Plans

How and why your business should use Personal Development Plans

If you're looking for a simple and effective tool for boosting your team's development and encouraging them to learn new skills, look no further than the humble Personal Development Plan (PDP). Here, we'll explain why you should use them, how to use them, and share some examples of our own PDPs.

What is a Personal Development Plan?

A Personal Development Plan (PDP) is a document outlining how you want to grow as a person.

In their most basic form, PDPs are documents containing:

  • An assessment of where you are now
  • A statement of where you want to go
  • A plan of how you’re going to get there

What is the purpose of a PDP?

The most productive teams are created when a business manages to align its long-term goals with the personal goals of the people working in the business. PDPs will help your team members define their ideal professional development, what they’re really looking to achieve, giving you the information you need to make that alignment.

More importantly, if your team members aren’t growing, they’re leaving. The ability to develop their people is the single biggest factor in a business’ ability to retain employees. People have a pretty good sense of whether they’re stagnating.

PDPs also help you assess a crucial aspect of any great team member: their commitment to their own ambition. For me, how serious someone is about their own goals and ambitions is often a deciding factor in whether or not someone is "right" for the company.

Find out how to set SMART goals for both your employees and your business.

Why employees should care about Personal Development Plans

If you’ve ever been in a job where you feel like you’re going nowhere, you should jump at the chance of producing a PDP. PDPs give employees the chance to effectively offer their workplace a friendly ultimatum: a list of the things they want help in achieving in order to stick with the company long-term.

They are one of the best ways for employees to share their development needs with leadership, and make sure the company knows about their expected career path.

How to introduce Personal Development Plans in your business

How to make the announcement

“Personal development plan” is not an exciting phrase. If you want people to pay attention and get invested in this scheme, you’re going to have to announce the introduction of PDPs in a punchy way which properly communicates the benefits to your team members.

Whenever I talk to members of the CharlieHR team about PDPs, it tends to go something like this:

“None of you joined this company because you’re passionate about HR software. I don’t think anyone is really passionate about HR software. You joined this company because you thought it would help you along the way to your own goals and aspirations. That’s why we use PDPs – they give us concrete information to improve our ability to help you achieve your goals.”

How to write a PDP (with free Personal Development Plan template)

Your employees should be the ones responsible for writing their personal development plan — it should come from them, not their managers or the HR team. Each one of your team members will have different goals and aspirations: a PDP is where these individual goals intertwine with your business targets.

Here is some guidance you can give your team to help them write their personal development plan:

1 - Come up with a ‘north star’ goal you want to hit this year

If you’re struggling to come up with goals, it can be helpful to think about your longer-term aims, or look at people you respect. What steps towards achieving those goals or reaching their level of experience can you make in a year?

You can have as many of these goals as you like - but most people will probably end up with 3-5.

Here's some examples of what these goals could look like:

Manage a 5-person sales team
Become competent at programming in Haskell
Gain an understanding of financial models

2 - Assess where you are regarding this goal

Make an honest assessment of your current position. What skills and responsibilities do you have? What is the function of your current role? Who do you know who could give you advice or mentoring? Think through all of these and write down the stuff that is relevant to your year-long goals.

The absolutely crucial element to this stage is honesty. If you’re too confident or too modest about your current position, the rest of the process will fall apart.

3 - Work out what you’ll need to move from your current position to the point where you achieve your goals.

This is generally a matter of finding the required:

  • Skills
  • Resources (maybe it's a good time to look at your L&D budgets)
  • Support
  • People

4 - Turn these requirements into sub-goals or 'focus areas' with deadlines

These requirements are now going to become your short-term goals. Make sure they are measurable, put them in an order that seems sensible, and add any other goals which you become aware of. Give yourself achievable and realistic deadlines to complete these by. At this point you might notice your overall goal will take more or less than a year to complete – if so, increase or decrease its scope accordingly.

5 - Tidy up your action plan

Finally - look at what you’ve thrown into your template, and tidy it up into something you’d be happy to present to the rest of your team or your boss. That might mean writing it out longhand, removing some of the more ambitious or specific points, or tidying it all into a spreadsheet.

Download our free PDP template

If you’re wondering what the finished product should look like, have a look at our Personal Development Plan template. (You'll be prompted to create a copy of the spreadsheet to be able to edit it with your details). This is the same exact PDP template that our team members use at Charlie.

How to ensure your PDPs are a success

Once your employees have gone through those five steps and produced their finished PDPs, it’s time for you to get to work.

  • Ensure managers have regular progression and development conversations with their direct reports, and that they use the personal development plans as a way to spot blockers and track progress towards their ‘north star’.
  • Find ways you or others in the business can help them get access to their requirements, and make suggestions for anything they may have missed or any alternative routes they could take.
  • Make sure your other team members are involved in it by running 360 degree reviews to complete the process

As the year goes on, how often and how formally you review career development and the progress your team makes on their PDPs is up to you. You might choose to hold formal review sessions at quarterly intervals, or you could catch up with brief, informal one-to-one conversations on a more regular basis (if you're going down this route, we've actually written a huge guide about how to have world-class one to ones). However, you should recommend that your team members look over their PDPs as regularly as possible: tracking your own progress should become a habit outside of the formal review requirements.

At Charlie, we do quarterly reviews of PDPs as a team, and more regular one-to-one chats about them (once a month) – but you should focus on what feels right for your business and your employees.

And if you want to learn more about performance management, have a look at our resources:

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