How to go About Your Development Plan

January is the season for updating development plans. Here’s my take on how young professionals should structure their development plan.

The personal development plan should be the core of your career. I have talked about it before on several occasions. The Career Minerals Christmas Advent 2015 was all about finding inspiration for your development plan in the New Year. Also in my post on Emotional Intelligence I discussed what could be on your development plan.

A common mistake
My hypothesis is that many young professionals tend to make the same mistake. They think that it’s up to their manager to ensure continuous learning and development. However, the only person that you can reliably rely on in this matter is yourself.

But in the spring of the career; it can be very hard to figure out how to work actively with a development plan. Many enter the development meeting, performance appraisal, HR evaluation, or whatever it’s called at your place, with high hopes. Hopes of leaving with a clear plan of what to work on until the next meeting. Most of the time though, all we leave with is a list of “things to get better at”. Great. Rarely do we leave with something concrete and actionable.

A simple framework
I have been working with a simple framework for the last two years. It’s a simple setup that addresses the need for action. For each of the items your “things to get better at”-list; you fill in the following:

  • Competence – the skill you want to improve. E.g. written communication or presentation skills
  • Current level – a brief characterisation of where you are today
  • Needed level – a brief description of where you want to be
  • Gap bridge – actions you need to take in order to bridge the gap between current level and needed level
  • Priority – an evaluation (e.g. High – medium – low) of where your focus is most important in the development period.

Thinking about these different aspects of your development needs help you make your plan very concrete. The key is making an additional iteration thinking things through.

The process
Filling in the template works best in three steps: 1) Identify the parameters together with you manager. This is usually done in the annual or semi-annual reviews with your manager. If not, then think back on some of the feedback you have received the last three months. Or seek out the HR department – they can provide you with a competence model your company uses. Use this as inspiration. 2) Fill in the template by yourself. Send the template to your manager for a review. 3) Have a meeting with your manager to agree on the actions and priorities. He or she will also be able to assist you in identifying actions if you struggled with this on your own. Use their experience to your advantage.
The results
Involving yourself to this degree will clarify your ambitions to your manager. And it will also help you define and keep track of your career. If used pro-actively, I pose that it also increases your chances of moving forward faster compared to just using the “things to get better at”-list approach.

A few tips
There are three things you need to keep in mind to make it a success:

  1. Keep the development plan focused. That means that you should limit yourself to a maximum of five competences to work on. Having more will stretch your focus too much. And you risk doing a little bit of everything and missing your target across the board.
  2. Follow the SMART principle.
    • Specific – Avoid using fluffy words and general descriptions. Get to a very concrete level in your descriptions.
    • Measurable – this goes for both the actions you identify to bridge the gap and the needed level description. There is nothing worse than not being able to really evaluate if you have moved at all when evaluating the results at the end of a development period.
    • Attainable – make sure you stretch your abilities. But you need to be able to reach your target. Otherwise it’s no fun and you risk losing steam along the way.
    • Relevant – remember the big picture. Where do you want to be a year from now? Are the competences helping you get there?
    • Time-bound – Be particular about when you and your manager sit down and evaluate your progress. Six months is usually a sufficient period of time.
  3. Involve your manager. He or she should sign off on your development plan. Get them enthusiastic about your path. They can be a huge asset along the way as a sparring partner.

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