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As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your employees are operating at their best. One of the most impactful ways to do this is by developing a professional development plan (also called an employee development plan or personal development plan). A good development plan provides structured training for your team, leading to higher engagement and more productivity.

In this article, we’ll look at what a personal development plan (also known as a professional or employee development plan) is, the benefits of a personal development plan, and how to get the most value out of it.

What is a personal development plan?

A personal development plan is a working document that plans for and monitors an individual’s personal development. They are often a standard part of a company’s performance management process, helping to ensure employees continue to grow personally and professionally. They keep track of the development of knowledge, skills and experience, enabling employees to achieve more in the workplace and helping to realise company goals.

A personal development plan documents what you want to achieve (your goals) and how you will achieve your goals. It will also detail your progress in working towards and achieving your goals.

Why create a personal development plan?

If you are not focused on what you want to achieve and how you will get there, you are less likely to get there.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

Sitting down and creating a personal development plan helps you clarify what’s important to you and what you want to achieve. The method of how you will get there ensures you can get there in a structured and organised manner. You can then take proactive steps to ensure you do all you can to achieve your goals and seek the appropriate help. Rather than merely hoping you will achieve your goals.

The regular reviews enable you to track your progress, stay motivated and adjust your course needs.

And the best bit, all of this helps you move forward in your career more swiftly.


Managers and personal development plans for team members

Generally speaking, people are motivated by self-development, and research increasingly demonstrates that a lack of personal development opportunities is one of the main reasons people leave their current employers. When managers create personal development plans and make them a part of regular performance management conversations, it can help increase employee engagement and reduce staff turnover. In turn, the company saves time and costs on recruitment, onboarding, and training of new hires.

As the focus on an employee’s development increases, it can improve productivity, engagement and succession planning.

However, there is no benefit to an individual or the company if a personal development plan is forced upon someone because it is part of the performance management process. If employees prefer not to have a personal development plan, despite understanding the benefits, allow them to opt-out. Not everyone has the same aspirations. Allowing people to opt out will enable managers and employers to show they value people as individuals and not just a ‘cog’ within the organisation.

As a manager, ensuring buy-in from your team member can be difficult. Some employees may be reluctant to embrace a personal development plan, especially if they are being introduced for the first time.

Personal development plans must be implemented correctly. Employees should be made aware of why they are being introduced and the benefits for the employee. Failure to do so could cause anxiety and procrastination due to the following:

  • A feeling of being tested
  • Negative emotions that they are not succeeding, hence the plan
  • Fear of not meeting expectations
  • Trepidation about the chances for advancement.

Allow employees to ask questions or raise concerns, and ensure they are addressed appropriately.

Writing a personal development plan

Personal development plans have eight core elements:

  1. Clarification of goals and ambitions
  2. Prioritisation of goals and creating milestones for larger objectives
  3. Deadlines for achieving the goals, including deadlines for any milestones
  4. A review of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and hurdles
  5. The ‘how’ – a structured method for achieving goals
  6. Any support the individual may require
  7. Measuring progress
  8. Regular reviews to reflect on the progress made, make necessary adjustments and update the plan.

1. Clarifying goals and ambitions

Figuring out what you want from your career can be tricky. Some people know exactly what they want and feel comfortable planning for five or even ten years, and others prefer to focus on the following year only.

If you’re still trying to figure out what you want, don’t worry! That’s normal. Focus on what you enjoy most and explore how to develop more in those areas. Remember that you can revisit your goals and make changes at any time – even if it takes a while before they feel right, they will eventually help guide you towards the path you want.

Once you gain clarity about your goals, it provides a structure for writing your personal development plan. Your goals should feel challenging, but your plan helps break them down into smaller, manageable steps that keep you moving towards your desired objectives.

2. Prioritisation of goals and creating milestones

Once you are clear on your goals, prioritise them. If you find that you have listed lots of things that you want to achieve, prioritise four of five of them. Having too many goals can make it much more challenging to stay focused, spreading yourself too thin and achieving less than if you only concentrate on a smaller number.

Typically, personal development plans focus on objectives you want to achieve over 12 months, often aligned with the company’s financial year. You can then break down larger goals into smaller sub-goals (milestones) for each quarter or month. These smaller milestones help you to ensure you are on track to achieve your objective, which also helps to keep you motivated.

For example, if your goal is to increase revenue by 15% this year, set quarterly targets that support this goal. These might include increasing revenue by 10% in Q1, 5% in Q2, etc.

3. Set deadlines for achieving goals and milestones

Deadlines are essential for motivation. Setting a date by which you want to achieve your goals gives you something concrete to work towards and provides a sense of accomplishment as you gradually attain small building blocks until you reach the main annual goal.

Make sure dates are challenging but realistic. Unrealistic deadlines may lead to disillusionment, apathy and self-doubt. Feeling goals are unachievable can result in disappointment, apathy and self-doubt.


4. Review your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats

Known as SWOT analysis, this is a great starting point for creating your personal development plan. It will help you understand which abilities or skills you should focus on developing, those you may struggle with, opportunities to help you, and anything hindering your progress.

Once you’ve completed the analysis, seek feedback from a manager or trusted colleague. Sometimes they can see things we can’t and can add additional value.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself when developing your SWOT analysis:


  • What qualities have been recognised by others?
  • What achievements have you gained?
  • In which areas of your current role do you excel?
  • Which of your abilities or skills give you an advantage?


  • What are your current knowledge and skill gaps?
  • Where could you improve?
  • In which areas do you lack confidence?
  • How may you be holding yourself back from excelling?


  • Which colleagues could help you achieve your goals?
  • What processes could be improved?
  • What projects or roles could you support to help you build new skills?
  • How could you take on more responsibility?
  • What training, coaching or mentoring opportunities are available?

Threats (or hurdles to your progress)

  • What are the challenges that may get in the way of you achieving your goals?
  • Is something outside your control that could be a threat, such as a colleague’s or manager’s behaviour?
  • Are there any processes that threaten your progression?
  • What may prevent you from taking on more responsibility?

5. Develop the 'how'

It is crucial to determine how you will achieve your goals and milestones. Before finalising this part of the plan, you may need to consider what training or other development opportunities are available. Creating an action plan, only to discover that you cannot access training or gain the relevant experience within the timeframe, will mean setting yourself up to fail.

Consider a range of potential options such as classroom training, shadowing more experienced colleagues, coaching, mentoring or gaining experience as part of a secondment opportunity. These may also include online learning, evening classes, cross-functional project teams or mentoring from a senior manager.


6. Consider what support will be required

Although a personal development plan applies to your personal and professional development, it is essential to remember that you don’t have to do everything alone. You may need support from others to achieve your goals, and it is crucial to have a support network you can go to for advice and encouragement.

You also need to make sure that you ask for that help. Failing to seek support through stubbornness or fearing what people will say will only mean that you are less likely to achieve your goal or at least take longer than necessary. During this time, you could miss out on a fantastic opportunity.

When managers implement personal development plans, they should take the time to discuss how they will support individual employees and ensure they provide that support.

7. Measure progress

Measuring progress is an integral part of the process o ensure that you are on track and working towards your goals, so you remain motivated.

But it’s not just about going forwards. Sometimes you may have setbacks or blockers to your personal development. When they occur, it is vital to recognise these setbacks, look at what went wrong and what you can do to ensure they don’t happen again. Working out how to overcome these hurdles in the future will give you more confidence and increase your chances should you face similar challenges.

8. Reflect on your progress, review and update

A personal development plan is a working/living document, meaning you should review the contents and update it regularly. Reviewing your progress monthly or at least quarterly will enable you to see your progression and celebrate your wins, which will help to keep you motivated. These regular reviews will also allow you to adjust your course should you need to do so. For example, your goals may be irrelevant if your role or responsibilities change. As you develop, your training needs will also change. Other factors that could impact your personal development plan include changes in business needs, new processes or technology.

If you would like to discuss how Delphinium can help you achieve your career goals, book your free discovery call now.

Originally published on 20th December 2021. Last updated 30th September 2022.