7 Steps to Writing a Personal Development Plan

Personal Development Plan Many of you may have written your personal development plan (PDP) for this year at the end of last year.  Do you remember all of what you wrote?  Have you been tracking how you’ve been doing?  Has the plan been placed on the sidelines because there have been too many fires to put out?

Let’s whip out your PDP and see if there is a way to write it where you really do remember your goals and feel, not only inspired, but actually achieve them.

When I first started corporate coaching, many of the PDP’s I saw were littered with intangible or vague goals. For example, one client wrote that one of his PDP goals for that year was, “To become a better leader.”  While that goal sounds good on the surface, there is no way to clearly tell if they achieved that goal.  This is in part because they have not defined what they mean by “better leader.”

The other thing that I noticed is that several had too many PDP goals… one client had 11.  Most had at least 5.  When I asked them how many of their PDP goals they did achieve, the answers that came back were embarrassingly sad.  Most could not tell me all their goals.  When they looked up their PDP, the number hit was less than 25%.  I could completely relate to them as I have at different times in my life designed elaborate goals for myself.  If I was asked the same question, I would have been in a similar place.

So, how are you doing so far this year?  Are you on track?  How about your team?  Are they on track?  If you are, that’s great!  I would love to hear your thoughts as to what helped you and your team get there.

If you are like most out there, you have already forgotten your PDP or have only focused on one or two areas.  I would hate for you to feel bad or defeated.  If you’ve forgotten, I bet your team has as well.

To break this pattern, you just have to rewrite your PDP in a way that is tailored to your core.  If you do, you will find all the motivation you could ever want to achieve it.

How to Write a Personal Development Plan

Here is what has worked for me and many of the clients I have coached.  When writing your PDP goals you need to...

1. Know the most essential part of your role.

What is the most indispensable part of your role?

Whatever that is, go all-in on that part.  Does the way you spend your time reflect a focus on that most indispensable part?  You want to develop your main PDP goal around that area.

In my role as a coach, counselor, and corporate trainer, the most essential part of what I do it is to connect to my clients at a core level–to get to the heart of their concerns and address their issues.  If I whittled that down even further, I have noticed that if I nail what is at the core of their concerns, addressing the issues becomes a lot simpler.

2. Know your essential intent.

I have shared about the book Essentialism by McKeown in previous posts.  If you have not read Essentialism, I would highly recommend that you put that book at the top of your reading list. One concept in the book is that each of us has an essential intent, which has to do with what you were built for.  Look across your life... what do you naturally do better than others?  What are some themes that help you excel in your personal and professional life?  What accolades have you received? What do those accolades have in common?

When I was trying to figure out my essential intent, I asked my wife, friends, clients and mentors what they thought it was.  The most common response was that I get to the heart of the matter quickly.  That is, if a friend is talking about something, a client has an issue they want to address, or if a group wants me to deliver a workshop on a given topic, as they are speaking, I am listening for what is at the root of their words.  Then I repeat back to them what I sense the core is to make sure that I understand.  If I am off, then I keep listening and asking for clarification until I get it.

When we work from our essential intent, motivation comes easy.  We are in our strike zone and we typically feel more alive.  Therefore, finding your essential intent is, for lack of a better way to say it, essential.

3. Line up your essential intent with the most essential part of your role.

As you can see, I built a business around my essential intent.  How about you?  Does your role fit your essential intent?  If not, is there a way that your role could be tweaked so that it fits your essential intent?  If not, could it be a sign that you were not built to do what you are doing?  (If you want help discovering what you were built to do I have a rough draft of an e-book that my team is working on.  I would love insights to improve it so I would be happy to send it to you.)

Now look at your team.  Do you have the “right people on the bus?"  Are they in roles that allow their essential intent to shine?

If your essential intent and essential part of your role line up then great.  Now, how could you better align your essential intent with the most essential part of your role to maximize your time and efforts?

4. Make it tangible.

If I say my PDP goal is, “I want to get to the heart better,” then defining “better" would be the first step.  I would define “better" as having more moments where my clients say something to the effect of, “That’s it!” (implying what I said was the core of the issue).

Next, look for how your goal could happen.

Three options for improving the ability to get to the heart better are:

  1. I could improve listening skills.
  2. I could learn how to ask better questions.
  3. I could also work on how I repeat back or paraphrase what I hear my clients say.

I had a client say that part of his role is that he needs to make speeches from time to time.  He hated public speaking but truly was in the right role for his essential intent.  The problem he had with delivering speeches was his nervousness.  So, he set a goal of “not getting obviously nervous when he presented."  This is not a tangible goal.  How would someone observe that he achieved it?  So we broke down the signs that showed that he was nervous which included:

  1. Shaking hands
  2. Becoming tongue-tied
  3. Forgetfulness

When asked which of those would he want to focus on he said, “Definitely my hands shaking.  That starts the downhill spiral for me.”  So that was the tangible goal we set.

5. Create a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

As you may have seen elsewhere, the acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  As I look at mine, one way I can get to the heart faster is by improving my listening skills.  So my S.M.A.R.T. goal for this year is:

“By December 31, 2016, I want to have implemented 2 better listening principles or techniques to such a degree that 3 longer-term clients say I have improved my listening skills.”  Obviously, I will let them know I am looking to improve my listening skills and would welcome their feedback at the end of the year.

6. If there is another thing your company is insisting that you work on then make that the other S.M.A.R.T. goal.

In many of the companies I coach for, the leader who brought me in already has ideas as to what they want to see their direct reports work on.  I encourage those leaders to look at the most essential part of their direct report’s role and to choose a goal that helps improve that one area.  I also ask them how they would know that goal is accomplished.  Then I suggest we bring the direct report into the conversation so all of us can turn that goal into a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

7. Ask how they want to be held accountable for those two goals.

What is implied in the above points is that killer PDP’s have one or two areas to work on for that year.  If your direct reports make significant progress in just one or two areas you will notice much higher engagement.  You will notice that they love their work more.  You will sense the confidence in them grow and the desire to have new challenges increase.  They will also value you immensely.

Now when it comes to accountability, they may not need as much.  But draw them into the process so that the accountability fits their personality and style.

Developing a killer PDP will turn those who are meant to be on your team into highly engaged and productive people who genuinely want to exceed expectations.  Your job as their leader would be to create an environment where they can flourish.


Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.