Personal development plans that actually lead to personal development

A typical personal development plan runs like this:

  1. I need time management training … so …
  2. I will do a time management course

As a personal development plan this isn’t really very good.

In fact I’d go as far as to say that it is pretty bad.

The only thing it has in its favour is a two-step structure: a need; and an activity to meet that need – but because the learning need is not properly understood, and the activity insufficient to meet the vague need, what actually happens with that plan is this:

1. Nothing

Then …

2. Quickly do a “Time management” training course five minutes before the performance management review

And then …

3. Nothing changes

I was recently delivering a workshop on building personal development plans and I introduced two key approaches that worked really well. This is nothing special, it’s just doing some proper gap analysis using coaching questions to dig deeply when defining the question and not rushing headlong to the answer.

The first question to ask is something like this:

  • What do you need to be able to do?

In the “time management” example above, the delegate hadn’t really thought it through in that sense, they just knew they were busy and quite overwhelmed with the volume of work and so needed “time management”.

Gap analysis 1

The more we discussed it, the more it became clear that they really wanted to be more efficient in how they used their time, more disciplined, and less distracted by shiny little things like emails.

So it became something more like this …

I need to focus better, and have a more structured approach to my working day in order to be more efficient and less distracted

This takes time and some fancy questioning skills to dig around to gain a proper full understanding, but this can be really rewarding.

The next question is this:

  • What do you do now? (or What happens now?)

The answer to this was easier because a lot of the thinking was done with question 1, but it often takes some digging to get to a good answer.

We came up with this:

I take on too much, I work inefficiently, getting distracted by stuff and flitting from one thing to another. I have too many things to do that don’t add value

In reality, the answers to the above two questions were not as neat as I’ve put here, but that doesn’t matter, it’s my blog and I can cheat if I want to. This isn’t about perfect prose or putting obstacles in our way by insisting things follow a formula, it’s about asking cracking questions to dig deeper to get some insight about what’s really important and what’s really happening.

The next thing to do is to try to articulate the gap, again it needn’t be perfectly phrased (as you’ll see!):

  • I need to be better at saying no (knowing when to say no?) and setting realistic deadlines
  • I need to cut down on the meetings and committees that don’t add value for me
  • I have some bad working habits (email always on, lunch at my desk etc.)
  • I am easily distracted, lack of focus and concentration
  • I just have too much work coming in! (Do I need to approach my boss on this? What’s stopping me?)

The list ended up as a bit of a mix of “gaps”, “issues” and “complaints”, but as long as it’s specific and roughly captures the problems, then it’s fine.

Then we did the same thing with a strength.

This was great fun because most development plans in my organisation usually have three objectives, and it is typical to address three weaknesses areas for development, but I like to encourage people to include at least one strength because, in my view, this really is an area for development.

The example chosen was “I am good at statistical analysis and using data“.

The questions then becomes:

  • What could you do with this strength?

After some discussion, it was less about to develop this strength, but more about how to develop the impact this strength had on the organisation. In other words, how to make a bigger splash.

I could ensure my analysis is used more for decision-making in the organisation, it could get a wider audience

  • What do you do now?

I don’t communicate my analysis, I keep it to myself a lot of the time

So the gap is:

  • I could get better at presenting my analysis (statistical, graphics etc.)
  • I could get better at presenting in terms of my communication skills
  • I could get more confidence to present my work

Gap analysis 2

We now have two objectives with reasonably specific gaps identified.

The next step is to think how to address these gaps with a collection of relevant activities, and what’s interesting is that now we have smashed open the vague whine about “time management” into its component parts, the idea of a “time management” training course doesn’t look like such a clever all-encompassing solution.

Taking this approach to personal development plans creates a much more motivational and effective set of activities focused on what’s actually getting in the way of performance.



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