3 ways to win with professional development plans

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The first quarter of the calendar year has passed, and that means we’re approaching mid-year reviews. If you—or your employees—don’t have a development plan in place, now is the time!

I admit that I’m a bit of a training and development fanatic. Not only have I spent more than a decade developing training content for learners, I’m also always focused on ways I can develop my skills. While some people dread the idea of drafting a professional development plan, it’s something I look forward to doing at least once a year—here’s why:

Development plans require collaboration.

That familiar saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” was never truer than in the case of development plans.  Whether you’re a manager or an employee, don’t attempt a professional development plan without asking for advice and input from people you trust.

If you’re a manager looking to help your direct reports with their development plans, gather input and feedback from other people in the organization. Ask around to find out what people view as your employees’ strengths. Then, with each member of your team, begin drafting an individual development plan that will help them build on those strengths.

If you’re an employee who wants to map out a plan for your development, talk to trusted advisors, colleagues, and your manager about your interests and the areas in which you want to develop. Ask them for ideas about how to increase your skills. Maybe they can recommend a book, a workshop, or a mentor who can help you in that area.

Development plans create momentum.

That list of 15 skills you want to develop in the next three months? That’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to development plans. It’s impossible to make progress if too many goals are competing for your time and attention. If your plan lacks focus and doesn’t clearly define the specific goals you want to achieve, it’s easy to lose momentum.

Rather than identifying 15 skills you want to develop, identify just one or two areas of focus for your development over the next six to 12 months. Then, define how you will work on improving in those areas.

For example, I want to improve my storytelling skills when I make presentations.

To do this, I’m going to:

  1. Find and read two articles about using stories in presentations.
  2. Pick three storytelling tips to use in my next presentation.
  3. Rehearse the presentation and record it on video.
  4. Review the video and adjust my stories as needed.
  5. Present the final presentation and request feedback from a trusted member of the audience after the presentation.

Will you stick to this plan exactly? Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. The important thing is that you have a manageable plan in place that provides direction and next steps to help you develop your skills.

Development plans celebrate success.

During the day-to-day activities of our jobs there are many competing priorities and interests. As we navigate competing business priorities it’s easy to forget the strides we make—but just think about the strides you’ve made and the skills you’ve acquired in the last year…or, in the last five years. You’re probably doing things now you never knew you had the ability to do.

With a plan in place, it’s easy to observe and track the progress you, or the employees on your team, have made. Take the time to review development plans and celebrate any and all accomplishments.

So this year, try to embrace all that a professional development plan can do for you and your team. And no, you don’t have to be a training and development fanatic…but by the time the year’s over, you just might find that you’ve become one.

By liz sheffield
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