How to Create and Follow a Professional Development Plan

Writing down your goals

Gather information.

What professional skills are needed to get where you want to go? After you have identified your long and short-term goals, researching what you need to achieve them is the next step. Which skills under your belt will impress at interviews and make you an ideal candidate?

Take this time to break your long-term goals down into more manageable steps. For example, if your long-term goal is to become an Area Manager, identify what the individual steps required to reach that position might be. These could be progressing to a supervisor position, being promoted to Team Manager and then Area Manager. Each one of these positions will have different job and skill requirements, and breaking them down into individual steps will allow you to create a better plan for the future.

Meeting with your line manager is a good place to start, as they might help you identify other areas you need to work on and offer suggestions about upcoming training opportunities provided by the company. Researching the criteria for the job you envision yourself having, and looking into new workshops that target the key skills needed in your profession, can also be helpful.

This step is important because it helps you identify the professional skills and abilities you need to help you reach your goals, enabling you to plan new learning and development opportunities that are relevant to your professional development.

Evaluate your plan.

Even though you should dream big, setting unreasonable goals and targets will make the experience of following a PDP stressful and disheartening. It’s important to evaluate your plan to make sure you can meet your targets – be it task or time-frame – and that your goals are realistic and achievable.

Are you meeting your targets? Assessing your progress regularly is important. Even though you know your professional development is important (you’ve made a plan for it, after all) professional education can quickly fall in priority.

Measuring your progress will help you know if you are hitting your ‘check lists’, meeting your targets and are on track for reaching your goals. You may need to set more manageable steps, or make new targets, or even set new goals.

Remember that plans change and, as you go through your career, your goals will progress with you. Learning is a lifelong process, and it’s important to continue your professional development to ensure career success.

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.

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:

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.”



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