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There are several ingredients in the recipe to achieving success and happiness in your professional and personal life. One key ingredient is the continuous improvement of your knowledge, skills and experience, often called continuous professional development (CPD). This is also known as personal development – an ongoing lifelong process.

It is beneficial for you and your employer if you maximise your abilities, and it will give you a sense of personal satisfaction and improve your confidence in your abilities. A simple and effective way of keeping track of your progress is by putting together a personal development plan (PDP).

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • What constitutes a personal development plan (also known as a professional or employee development plan)
  • The benefits of creating it
  • What should be included
  • What to do following completion.

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 both personally and professionally. They keep track of the development of knowledge, skills and experience, enabling employees to achieve more in the workplace, helping to realise company goals.

In this way, a personal development plan documents your development goals, creating an action plan of what you will develop, how, and when. It also provides for reflection, constructive updating and review.


Why create a personal development plan?

A personal development plan is a simple and effective way of keeping track of your career and personal growth aspirations. It will help you gain clarity in what you are striving towards and maintain the focus to achieve your goals. If you are not focused on what you want to achieve, you are less likely to get there. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

Managers and personal development plans for team members

Generally speaking, people are motivated by self-development. Research is increasingly demonstrating that a lack of personal development opportunities is one of the main reasons people leave their current employers. Therefore, 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 spent on recruitment, onboarding, and training new hires.

As the focus on an employee’s development increases, it can improve productivity and help address future business needs and succession planning.

However, there is no benefit to an individual or the company if a personal development plan is forced upon someone just 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 types of 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. If they are not implemented correctly, they could cause anxiety and procrastination because of:

  • 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 any concerns, and make sure they are addressed appropriately.


Writing a personal development plan

Personal development plans are made up of eight core elements:

  1. Clarification of goals and ambitions
  2. Prioritise these goals and create milestones
  3. Set deadlines for achieving the goals
  4. Review strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and hurdles
  5. Develop the ‘how’ for motivation
  6. Consider what support may be required
  7. Measure progress
  8. Reflect on the progress made and update the plan.

1. Clarifying goals and ambitions

Some people know exactly what they want from their career and feel comfortable planning five or even ten years ahead. Others prefer to focus on one to three years.

Figuring out what you want is the first and hardest step in planning. If you don’t know what you want, there is no point in creating goals for the sake of them. Focus on what you enjoy doing and explore how you can develop more in those areas. Either way, you can review and amend your goals. Very few of us want the same things from life and our career now as we did ten years ago.

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 to break them down into smaller and manageable steps that keep you moving towards what you wish to achieve.


2. Prioritise your goals and create milestones

Once your goals have become clear, prioritise them. Most personal development plans focus on a one year period which is often aligned to the company’s financial year. Annual goals or objectives can then be broken down into smaller goals for each quarter or month. These smaller milestones then gradually build into the one main goal over the year.

3. Set deadlines for achieving goals and milestones

Each goal or objective should have a time by which it will be achieved. Setting a date is essential for motivation to encourage the gradual attainment of small building blocks until the main annual goal is reached. However, these dates should not be unrealistic – unrealistic deadlines may lead to disillusionment. 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 to understand which abilities or skills you should develop, those you may struggle with, what opportunities are out there to help you, and anything that may hinder your progress.

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?


  • 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?


  • 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?

Threats (or hurdles to your progress)

  • What are the challenges that may get in the way of you achieving your goals?
  • Is there something outside your control that could be a threat, for example, the behaviour of a colleague or manager?
  • 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. To do this, managers need to be clear with their team as to what training or other development opportunities are available. You can then include these details within the personal development plan. Such development opportunities may consist of classroom training, shadowing, coaching or gaining experience as part of a secondment opportunity. It may also include online learning, evening classes, cross-functional project teams or being mentored by a senior manager.

As a performance management document, it should also set a timeframe for what training the individual will complete, when and what extra support will be available to ensure employees have the time to complete their training and develop their skills.


6. Consider what support you'll need

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 all by yourself. Some of your goals may need support from others, and it is crucial to have a support network you can go to for advice and encouragement.

When managers implement personal development plans, there should be time set aside for an open discussion to explain how they will support individual employees and address any apprehension they may have.

7. Measure your progress

It is crucial to measure your progress to ensure that you are on track and working towards your goals so you remain motivated.

However, measuring progress is not just about going forwards. Sometimes you may have setbacks or blockers to your personal development, and it is vital to recognise these and work out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again. Working out how to overcome these hurdles will give you a sense of satisfaction and renew your purpose.


8. Reflect on your progress, review and update

A personal development plan is a working/living document, and this means that you should review the contents and update it at regular intervals. 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. Some of your goals may no longer be relevant, particularly if your role or responsibilities change. As you develop, your training needs may change. Other factors that could impact your personal development plan include changes in business needs, new processes or technology.

Whether you create your own personal development plan or it forms part of a formal performance management process in your workplace, we recommend that you review the plan with your manager to help support you in achieving your professional goals.

If you would like to discuss how Delphinium can help you to create or support you in achieving your personal development plans, get in touch to arrange your free consultation.

Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 20th December 2021