“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Those wise words from Benjamin Franklin emphasize the importance of learning and self-improvement in any aspect of life. Advancing in a career takes more than simply gaining more knowledge, it takes a plan. For many people, that means a professional development plan.
Team members love developing their talents. One survey found that over two-thirds of employees say that the most important policy in the workplace is the training and development the organization offers. Yet, sometimes the personal development plan examples provided don’t cut it. When this happens, a person must create their own way to find more job satisfaction and avoid work burnout.
In this article, discover more about the basics of a professional development plan, its benefits, and a step-by-step guide on creating one.
What is a Professional Development Plan?
A professional development plan is an outline that predetermines the steps a person must take to reach a specific goal in their career path. This plan includes phases for obtaining necessary skills and knowledge that they may not currently have. Every plan comes with a timeline that helps the planner better organize and measure their progress.
Professional development plans are often called individual professional development plans (or IPDP for short), but they cover the same ground. Some careers, such as those in education, require employees to put together a professional development plan. However, even if a job doesn’t have it as a requirement, these plans can help people get where they want to go professionally in any field.
What are the Benefits of a Professional Development Plan?
Creating a professional development plan helps people achieve their career goals, while also producing impressive business results. In one study, organizations that provide development plan guidance and programs for their employees experienced an increase of 24 percent in their profits. Yet, companies weren’t the only ones to benefit from this. Compared to organizations that didn’t have the same programs, employees’ income increased by 218 percent. This shows professional development plans are mutually beneficial for employers and employees alike.
How to Create a Professional Development Plan
While there are many professional development plan samples out there, creating one that’s unique to you should be a top priority. Make sure to set aside some time to give it some careful thought. You’ll also want to check out the following steps to create a plan that’s both effective and ambitious.
1. Perform a Self-Assessment
To begin creating a professional development plan, a person should first perform a self-assessment. That means determining what their interests are and the type of skills and knowledge they currently have. For example, an entrepreneur may recognize that they have a love of technology and engineering. In particular, they might study all of the common components of smartphone devices, which positions them to build a competing device.
Self-assessment should also pinpoint where a person may be lacking with their skills and knowledge. Continuing with the above example, perhaps they love working on this project, but fail to understand how to manage the project using business software and project management apps. Identifying these weaknesses is important since it shows the areas people must work on to bring their goals to fruition.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Once you know what you need to work on, it’s time to practice goal setting. While it might feel enticing to write down an objective such as “become CEO of a Fortune 500 company,” goals should be realistic and specific. Otherwise, it’s much more likely that you’ll fall short. Instead, write down goals such as “get a degree in business management,” “reach a salary of at least $100,000 per year,” or “start an LLC that provides business consulting.” Those are goals that people can easily measure as they track their progress.
When setting goals, use the SMART method:
3. List the Steps Needed to Reach the Goals
Once you know what goals to shoot for, you can start planning out actionable steps needed to achieve them. These steps, like the goals themselves, should be specific. For example, one of your steps might say, “Read one book from a prominent business leader every month.” By including this step, you can make sure you’re staying on track. At the end of every month, determine your progress. Were you successful in reading a book that month? If the answer is “yes,” then you’re well on your way to reaching your goal. If the answer is “no,” then you have extra work to do.
Every step should help the planner gain valuable experience, skills, or knowledge. If the step does not do this, eliminate it. All professional development plans should maintain forward momentum toward the goal.
4. Identify Needed Resources
After outlining the steps in the professional development plan, figure out what resources you’ll need for each one. It might be some reading material, or it could be an online webinar or class to attend. Some resources may come from other people. For instance, a mentor can be a valuable resource as they usually have more experience and real-world knowledge. When trying to break into a new industry or learn new skills, mentors can act as guides, helping others along the way.
5. Keep Focused
When trying to reach a new short-term or long-term goal, distractions tend to pop up. As you work on tasks, like reading a book or attending a class, avoid as many distractions as possible. One study found that people who were distracted by instant messages performed much worse than those who experienced no such distractions.
Losing focus means a lower likelihood of retaining knowledge. Becoming distracted can also transform into a bad habit, where some people might not be able to function without having distractions nearby. So put away the smartphone for a distinct amount of time and devote your full attention to the matter at hand. You’ll reap the benefits of doing so in the future.
Having trouble focusing? Try the Pomodoro Technique:
- Set a timer (anywhere from 25 to 55 minutes) where you can focus all your attention on a single task.
- Take a five-minute break once the timer runs out to clear your mind.
- Return for another intensely focused run.
- Repeat until the task is done.
6. Establish a Routine
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Setting up a routine where you constantly work toward goal achievement makes it that much easier. For example, set aside an hour every morning devoted to reading about the knowledge you want to gain. That helps you keep to your schedule and make steady progress. And the more you practice a routine, the more it becomes a habit. As Warren Buffett puts it, “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
Routines can be made on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It depends on the type of steps people need to complete. For many successful people, the morning routine is the most important of all. Some, including Tony Robbins, actually talk about their routines in detail. In Robbins’ case, he spends his mornings with breathing exercises, positive thinking, and visualization practices. However, this is just one example of many. Some people prefer journaling, working out, meditating, praying, or making a healthy breakfast every morning. No matter what you choose, you’ll notice that finding a routine that works best for you leads to goals becoming much more attainable.
7. Finish with a Self-Evaluation
Much like performing a self-assessment, professional development plans need a self-evaluation step to measure progress toward the stated goal. It’s a good way to determine if the plan is effective or ineffective. At the end of every week and month, take time to look at what you did and how it contributed to your goals.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
- What worked the best?
- What wasn’t as effective?
- Is there anything that needs to change?
- Are some additional steps needed?
- How much closer is the goal?
Answering these questions helps paint a picture of each professional development plan’s overall impact. Plans that don’t lead to significant progress will need some notable changes, while plans that work may only need some minor adjustments. Additionally, review your goals as a motivational tool. The closer you get to them, the more you’ll experience excitement and anticipation.
Keep a Record
A professional development plan can be extremely effective at reaching lofty goals, but if it’s not written down, it might as well not exist at all. For a plan to matter, people need to keep a record of it. By recording not just the plan, but what happens during each step of the plan, it’s easier to track progress and identify if certain parts of it don’t meet expectations. A simple example of documentation might be putting a checkmark next to a completed task.
Another way to support plan documentation is to enlist someone else to help out. Tell someone about your goals and what you hope to accomplish. Research shows that people who regularly report their progress to a friend were more likely to achieve set goals. Recording a professional development plan and proceeding with follow-up is a way for people to hold themselves accountable. In a sense, this puts added pressure on them to stay on track and succeed.
Keep Going After Achieving a Goal
Whether your goals involve adopting new leadership styles or developing new solutions to business problems, success must build upon itself. After meeting a goal, it might be tempting to rest on one’s laurels. Fight that urge at every turn. Self-improvement is a continual process, one which never stops no matter how many goals you reach. Someone who ceases what they’re doing at the first sign of success will fall into stagnation, but the person who sets higher goals will reach greater degrees of improvement and professional achievement. As soccer star Mia Hamm explained, “Celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.”
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