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What is a personal development plan?

To achieve success and happiness in your education, career and personal life, you should continuously improve your knowledge, skills and experience. This is known as personal development, which is a continuous lifelong process.

Personal development is beneficial for you as an individual and also for businesses and society as a whole. If you are making the most of your abilities and skills, this will positively impact your life and others around you. According to the NHS, learning new skills can improve your mental wellbeing, as it gives you a sense of purpose and boosts your confidence.

A simple and effective way of keeping track of your personal development is by completing a personal development plan. If you don’t have a plan, it will make it difficult for you to focus, and you are unlikely to meet your goals – whatever these may be. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you find yourself now. It is never too late to start your personal development plan. Most people have completed one at some point during their education or careers. If you haven’t, there is nothing to worry about, and there is no time like the present to start planning.

This article will help you learn what a personal development plan is and how a SWOT analysis can help you identify things that could help or hinder your progress. It will also give you tips on how to write a personal development plan and what to do after you have completed it.

SWOT Analysis Group Meeting

What is a personal development plan?

A personal development plan, which is also known as a PDP, is an action plan that you can use to identify:

  • Your individual goals and what you want to achieve.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses.
  • The areas you need to improve and develop to meet your goals.
  • What you need to do to achieve your goals.
  • Anything that could hinder your progress.

A PDP is a form of self-evaluation and self-reflection that is typically used in higher education and the workplace. However, it can also be a beneficial exercise in your personal life. For example, you may want to learn a new language before travelling overseas, and a PDP can help you achieve this goal.

In the workplace, a PDP is completed as part of an employee’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which is defined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) as:

“A combination of approaches, ideas and techniques that will help you manage your own learning and growth”.

Employers will sometimes use PDPs as part of their appraisal process, which is known as a Performance Development Review (PDR).

Benefits of a PDP

The benefits of a PDP are:

  • It provides you with clear goals.
  • It helps you to identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • It improves your employability.
  • It improves your performance.
  • It increases your motivation.
  • It helps track your progress.
  • It improves your sense of purpose.
  • It enhances your mental wellbeing and reduces stress.

Overall, a PDP gives you the best possible chance for success and maximises your potential.

Using a SWOT analysis

You can use a SWOT analysis as a starting point to help you create your PDP. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You can use these four areas as a framework to identify what could help or hinder your personal development. If you don’t analyse your SWOT, it is unlikely you will succeed in achieving your goals.

When you are conducting your SWOT analysis, you should look at your current situation and ask yourself various questions relating to these four areas.

Some example questions are:

Strengths

  • What are you good at?
  • What advantages do you have over others?
  • Do you have any resources available to you that others do not?
  • What do others say about your strengths?
  • Do you have any achievements you are proud of?

Weaknesses

  • What skills do you struggle with?
  • What areas do you need to improve upon?
  • What holds you back?
  • Do you have any bad habits?
  • Do you avoid certain tasks due to a lack of confidence?
  • What do others say about your weaknesses?

Opportunities

  • Is the industry you are in/looking at in a promising position?
  • Is there an undeveloped niche in certain markets that you can tap into?
  • Do you have contacts in your network who could assist you?
  • Can you take advantage of the mistakes others are making?
  • Is there an opening for a position not advertised externally yet?
  • Is there a project you can assist with that will help you develop different skills?

Threats

  • What could derail your success? E.g. competition, finances, changes in technology and any other obstacles.
  • Is there a risk of your weaknesses becoming threats?
  • Are there any external changes beyond your control that could be a threat?

It is important to be as honest as possible when answering these questions, particularly when looking at your strengths and weaknesses.

How to carry out a SWOT analysis

Strengths I have very good attention to detail, which allows me to identify things that others miss.
Weaknesses I find it difficult to speak in public, particularly larger audiences, and I will try and avoid it when I can.
Opportunities There is a networking event next month, which will allow me to gain some new contacts. It will also help me with my communication skills.
Threats As my role requires training, my lack of confidence in public speaking could hinder my progress and even threaten my position.

The above is just an example, and you are likely to have far more detail in your own SWOT analysis.

 A SWOT analysis aims to:

  • Promote your strengths.
  • Reduce your weaknesses.
  • Exploit the opportunities available to you.
  • Minimise threats to your success.

You can learn more about SWOT analysis on the CIPD’s factsheet.

Someone Writing Out and Planning Their Personal Development Plan

How do I write a personal development plan?

All PDPs are different. How you write yours will depend on whether you are completing one for personal, education or work reasons. A PDP is also specific to you and based on your individual goals. Therefore, your PDP and what you include will be different from anyone else’s.

In education and work, PDPs are likely to be in a specified format. Employers may also have their own procedures and processes for conducting PDPs as part of an annual appraisal (PDR). In these instances, you should follow your employer’s procedures when completing your PDP.

Regardless of the reason why you are completing a PDP, here are some general steps you can follow to help you write yours:

Step 1 – Complete a SWOT analysis

You should complete a SWOT analysis as the first step of your PDP and as a self-assessment.

That way, you can:

  • Identify what could help or hinder you in achieving your goals.
  • Evaluate your existing skills, knowledge and interests.
  • Identify if you have any transferable skills that could help you achieve your goals.
  • Use the results when setting your goals.

You can use our free SWOT analysis template to help you. Please hyperlink here if you want to use the template and/or delete this sentence.

Step 2 – Set your goals

Think about the things you really want to achieve in your education, career or personal life. To meet your overall aims, you should set goals so that you can fulfil your objectives.

Make a list of your goals and ensure they are SMART, which means they should be:

  • Specific
    – Your goals should be specific and precise rather than generic.
    – You should state exactly what you want to achieve or change.
    – An example of a generic and weak goal would be – I want to be a better public speaker.
    – An example of a SMART goal would be – I will attend a training course on presenting to help me improve my public speaking skills, as I lack confidence in this area, and it’s holding me back.
  • Measurable
    – Having a quantifiable goal will make it easier to track and achieve.
    – For example, I will compare three different courses for content and price. I will enrol on my chosen course within one month.
  • Achievable
    – Your goals must be realistic and attainable.
    – Ask yourself whether you can achieve them in a certain timeframe.
    – For example, I have got the funds available to pay for the course. I also currently work part time, so I have enough time to study.
  • Relevant
    – Your goals should relate to your overall aims and longer-term ambitions.
    – For example, a lack of confidence in public speaking is one of my weaknesses, and I feel it is holding me back in my career and personal life.
  • Time-bound
    – Set realistic timescales to achieve your outcomes.
    – Ask yourself when you want to achieve your goals by.
    – Split your goals into short term, medium term and long term.
    – For example, I will complete my course within the next three months. I will also evaluate whether it has improved my public speaking skills.

Having SMART goals makes it easier for you to achieve them and updating your PDP when you have completed them.

Step 3 – Create your action plan

Once you have your clear SMART goals, you should break them down into action points, which will make them more manageable. You can put these points into an action plan with your priority goals at the top.

There is no requirement for your PDP action plan to be in any particular format. It can be handwritten or typed and tabulated or free-flowing text. Whatever format you choose, you should ensure that it is easy for you to produce, follow and update.

Step 4 – Detail the strategies and resources for achieving your goals

You now have your list of goals in your action plan, but how will you go about achieving them? Now you should write down your strategies and resources you need to achieve your goals.

It can include:

  • Further training, e.g. enrolling on a course.
  • Research, e.g. websites, journals and books.
  • Hands-on experience, e.g. volunteering.
  • Taking on new projects or responsibilities.
  • Professional advice, e.g. from a mentor.
  • Guidance and shadowing during supervision.
  • Speaking to people in different roles.
  • Time needed for the strategy to be effective.

Step 5 – Assessing your progress

Finally, you should note in your PDP how you will monitor and assess the progress of your goals. For example, you may be continually assessed throughout a course, and you would use the assessment results as milestones for achieving your goals.

Checkout our free PDP and SWOT templates below!

What happens once I have completed my personal development plan?

Once you have completed your PDP, it doesn’t end there. You need to follow your plan and track whether you are achieving your outcomes or not. If you are not achieving your goals in your specified timeframe, you should identify the reasons why, rectify and update your plan. If you are successful in achieving your goals, you can tick them off and add new ones to your list. Remember, personal development is a lifelong process.

You may find that things do not go according to plan, but you should not worry or let this put you off. Your PDP is not set in stone. It is a flexible guide that you can adapt as and when the need arises. Ask yourself whether you are making the correct choices to get to where you want to be.

It is important to remember that a PDP is not a one-off exercise. It is a continuous process of development, and it should be a working document. You should regularly review and update your PDP to make the most of your personal development.

Summary

Personal development (whether it is for education, career or personal reasons) is important, as it helps you achieve your desires and fulfil your potential. If you are achieving what you want in life, it will improve your mental wellbeing and overall happiness, which will have a far-reaching positive impact.

Some, particularly in workplaces, will look at PDPs as an unnecessary exercise that cannot help them achieve what they want. In these cases, it is usually due to PDPs being used as a tick in the box when annual appraisals come around. To prevent this, employers must look at PDPs as an investment, as employee personal development will benefit their business. Employees should also use it as a good opportunity to improve their knowledge, skills and experience.

If you complete your PDP properly and use it in planning and achieving your goals, you are more likely to succeed in your career and life in general. If you don’t have a plan, you are likely to procrastinate and flounder. Remember what Benjamin Franklin once said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

Why not use our free PDP action plan template to help you. Please hyperlink here if you want to use the template and/or delete this sentence.

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About the author

Michelle Putter

Michelle Putter

Michelle graduated with an MSc in wildlife biology and conservation in 2012, but her career has taken quite a different turn to the one expected. She started in health and safety in 2009 and has worked in several industries such as electrical engineering, aviation and manufacturing. She has been working with CPD Online College since 2018 and became NEBOSH Diploma qualified in 2020. In her spare time, Michelle's passions are wildlife and her garden. She has volunteered for many conservation organisations and particularly enjoys biological recording. Michelle also likes hiking, jogging and cycling.



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