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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, look no further than the humble Personal Development Plan. 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

Why business leaders should care about Personal Development Plans

The most productive teams are created when a business manages to align its own goals with the personal goals of the people working in the business. PDPs will help your team members clarify 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 the people who work there 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.

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.

How to bring Personal Development Plans to your business

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.”

The Process

You're ready to go. Here are the instructions you should give your team:

1 - Come up with a list of goals 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 these goals.

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
  • Support
  • People

4 - Turn these requirements into sub-goals with deadlines

These requirements are now going to become your short-term goals. Put them in an order that seems sensible, and add any other goals which you become aware of. Give yourself 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 it up

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.

If you’re wondering what the finished product should look like, we’ve got some examples for you, straight from the employees at CharlieHR. There’s loads of variety here – and you should bear in mind that the instructions we’ve given you are really just a starting point. Feel free to customise this system to your heart’s content – add success markers, predictions, more granular goals – whatever works for you. Here’s the PDP that Rob, our CEO produced, here’s Oyinda’s (she’s one of our product managers) and here’s Tom’s (he’s our head of product).

Moving forward

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

The first couple weeks are crucial. Read through everyone’s PDPs until you’re completely familiar with them, then hold one to one conversations with everyone in your team to go through their PDPs. 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.

As the year goes on, how often and how formally you review 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 – but you should focus on what feels right for your business and your employees.