top of page

Five Steps to an Effective Personal Development Plan

Article written by Shaun Small

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

Personal development does not necessarily imply upward movement; rather, it is about enabling yourself to improve your performance and reach your full potential at each stage of your career. Follow the 5-step process below to create a successful personal development plan which is a key ingredient to self-improvement.

Step 1: Identify Your Development Target

Your development target should be:

  • Interesting to You. You can choose targets that stem from your values; work activities you are passionate about, or other areas that you find energizing and align with your career interests 

  • Part of Your Current Role. Look at your current role and identify targets that can originate from having new responsibilities, opportunities to stretch or competencies that could be required to prepare your successor and managing hands-off

  • Aligned with Long-Term Aspirations. Long-term career aspirations that would require you to build new skills or change your approach in order to be successful could also guide the selection of your development targets

Step 2:  Identify Learning and Development Activities Related to the Target

  • Imagine Your Big Picture. Before you can clearly define each action item, you need to fully understand/visualize the bigger picture. How are you performing at this skill/behavior now, and where do you want to be?  What will success look like?

  • Simplify and Make It Tangible. It’s important that your action be simple, defined and aligned. Alignment here refers to this action’s placement in the larger picture you’ve created. How will it add value and help contribute toward achieving success?   Does your action item define exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it?

  • Measure and Quantify. The more your actions can be quantified, the easier you will find it to monitor and track progress and know that you are making a change.  As an example, how much time per month will you set aside for brainstorming new ideas? For each problem where a tested solution may suffice, how many alternative/innovative approaches can you put forward that would bring the same or even greater value?

  • Follow Up and Keep Yourself in Check. Now that you’ve arrived at a unit of measure, how often will you monitor and measure? The other essential quantitative component to building meaningful action items is determining when and how often you will gauge progress.

  • Seek Feedback So Others Can Keep You in Check. Reflect on your colleagues in the workplace. Who can you turn to that you know will offer candid feedback? By honing in on these individuals and seeking their honest feedback, monitoring action items becomes more scrupulous and increases your likelihood to perform them in a quality manner.

Step 3: Learn and Change

  • Bring Values to the Picture. When you are thinking about changing habits and achieving new goals consistently evaluate how you feel about it. How will you feel if you achieve the goal? Research shows that when you bring emotions and your core values to the picture, the likelihood of you achieving that goal is much greater than if you do not feel a personal and emotional connection in development of your goal.

  • Consistency is Critical. Forming new habits require consistent commitment to your goals no matter how many times you fail. Do not allow failures to discourage you. Replacing negative thoughts with positive, “can do” attitude helps to commit back to the goals. Follow a 21 or a 30-day routine, or 10,000 hours of practice where you consistently try to implement your goal. Building new habits takes repetition and personal commitment.

  • Remind Yourself. It is good to remind yourself periodically about the goal so that you don’t forget about it. Set an alarm on your phone; add reminders in your digital planners or post-it notes in your office. A trigger is something that is already a habit and helps you practice your new habit. Use a relevant trigger to practice the new habit. For example: Monday morning meetings will be a good trigger for practicing presentation skills. The more the habit becomes a part of your daily routine, the easier it is to practice.

  • Reward Yourself. Examine the rewards that would drive the appropriate behavior.  Reward yourself when you are able to commit to the tasks or activities that you have identified to achieve your larger goals. Rewarding immediately after a success helps ensure that the behavior will be repeated in the future.

  • Recognize that Development is a Process, Be Patient. Your initial actions won’t be perfect. They could result in mistakes, self-critiques or even failures. Treat each misstep as a learning opportunity and move on. Whenever you achieve success, celebrate it. Success does not depend on getting everything right on the first go. Change takes time. The goal is to improve incrementally.

  • Know the Benefits. What are the benefits of making the change? How is it going to help you? Determine why you really would like to achieve these goals? A belief that the change is going to benefit you is essential as it helps you justify why you are changing. Review the “Is it Worth It tool” mentioned earlier to help you connect back to the benefits of your targets.

  • Develop Self-Discipline and Visualization. Self-discipline requires you to think about a task and not give-in to your feelings. Being consciously aware allows you to be proactive about what you do and what you do not do. Write your goals where you can visualize it. Visualization helps keep you aware of your goals. Finally remind and encourage yourself about your goals by revisiting why and how these are important to what you want to achieve.

Step 4: Engage Others

Identify stakeholders among different constituent groups including peers, direct reports, colleagues, and managers who can reinforce the development process by providing additional insights and feedback, and can also help change the perception that may exist around a particular behavior. A stakeholder should be someone who:

  • Has the opportunity to observe you in multiple arenas

  • Will be open, honest, and comfortable providing feedback

  • Has a vested interest in your success

  • Is positive and supportive, even when providing unpleasant feedback

Step 5: Measure the Success of Your Targets and Specific Action Items

In order to continue learning, think about the following four questions on a weekly or monthly basis: ​

  • What did I set out to do (in the action plan)?

  • What happened (the good and the bad)?

  • Why did it happen?

  • What will I do next time?

The desired effect is to reinforce each of your successes and ensure you take any needed actions before the next week or month begins.

You can find a template for your personal development plan below:


Download File

Jeff Bogaczyk. "Why a Personal Development Plan Will Make You a Better Person".

Insperity. "The Simple 5-Step Employee Development Plan".

Zulfah Abrahams. "Why You Need to Make a Personal Development Plan".

Success Factors. "Guide to Writing a Career Development Plan".

57 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page