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What Are Personal Development Objectives?

Portrait of a girl in the office workplace.

Here we explore the mean­ing of Per­son­al Devel­op­ment Objec­tives, why they are more effec­tive than PDPs and how to agree on devel­op­ment needs

It is well recog­nised that per­son­al devel­op­ment is a key dri­ver of organ­i­sa­tion­al per­for­mance and employ­ee engage­ment. Empha­sis­ing per­son­al devel­op­ment links to employ­ee reten­tion — a vital and ongo­ing con­cern for employ­ers. For rea­sons such as these, Per­son­al Devel­op­ment Plans (PDPs) form part of many organ­i­sa­tions’ per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems. How­ev­er, despite their many advan­tages, PDPs also have invit­ed crit­i­cism, which has caused HR pro­fes­sion­als to re-exam­­ine them as a con­cept and to explore alternatives.

The main con­cern sur­round­ing PDPs is they are com­mon­ly treat­ed as some­thing to pay lip ser­vice to and then set aside, for­got­ten. This results in noth­ing but a sig­nif­i­cant waste of time for employ­ees and man­agers alike. As such, we gen­er­al­ly rec­om­mend replac­ing PDPs with SMART Per­son­al Devel­op­ment Objec­tives, which man­agers and employ­ees review and updat­e on a con­tin­u­ous basis.

The act of turn­ing PDPs into mea­sur­able, attain­able objec­tives lends them more weight, there­by encour­ag­ing employ­ees to take account­abil­i­ty and deliv­er on them. That’s why here at Clear Review, we encour­age employ­ees to set spe­cif­ic per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives, along­side their per­for­mance objec­tives, which HR then col­late to deter­mine the train­ing needs of the organisation.

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When imple­ment­ing and cre­at­ing per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives with­in your organ­i­sa­tion, be sure to fol­low the steps below for opti­mal impact:

Define per­son­al Devel­op­ment Objec­tives to Employees

HR pro­fes­sion­als should bear in mind that employ­ees are unlike­ly to be as famil­iar with the con­cepts of objec­tive set­ting as you are. So as part of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion or train­ing for employ­ees on objec­tive set­ting, explain what per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives are and why they are important. 

So what is the mean­ing of per­son­al objec­tives? In our com­mu­ni­ca­tions, we describe per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives as:

Spe­cif­ic areas in which you need to devel­op in order to achieve your per­for­mance objec­tives, career goals or to improve an aspect of your per­for­mance. A per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tive could be about devel­op­ing a spe­cif­ic skill or behav­iour, or increas­ing your knowl­edge in a par­tic­u­lar area.”

Pro­vide staff with a vari­ety of acces­si­ble learn­ing mate­ri­als on objec­tive set­ting. Videos are a par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive media when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing HR con­cepts and should be incor­po­rat­ed when pos­si­ble. Clear Review’s per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware pro­vides short ani­mat­ed videos for employ­ees on var­i­ous per­­for­­mance-relat­ed sub­jects, includ­ing writ­ing effec­tive objectives.

How to Agree on Devel­op­ment Needs

Before you draw up per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives, you first need to assess an employee’s devel­op­ment needs. The first step is to meet with the employ­ee to get his or her per­spec­tive. Where do they feel con­fi­dent? Where do they think they are lack­ing? What strengths do they wish they had, but feel they have no time to explore or advance? Con­sid­er all ideas remote­ly tan­gen­tial to the employee’s role and posi­tion at your com­pa­ny — or the posi­tion they are work­ing towards. 

Fur­ther to this, you can review the employee’s job descrip­tion. From here, you can iden­ti­fy skills that require devel­op­ment and train­ing. You should also have an hon­est and open dis­cus­sion with your employ­ee regard­ing their career aspi­ra­tions at your com­pa­ny. If they are eager to advance along a par­tic­u­lar career path, you should give them the tools, train­ing and resources nec­es­sary to devel­op these skills — so they become a strong and val­ued con­tender for the position.

Final­ly, you can look over the notes from your past one-on-ones. What skills did they express an inter­est in? What areas did they strug­gle with? Take all of this into con­sid­er­a­tion and dis­cuss the best course of action with your employee.

Encour­age Employ­ees to Take per­son­al Own­er­ship of Their Objectives

When we cre­ate our objec­tives, we are far more moti­vat­ed to achieve them. With this in mind, it is impor­tant employ­ees con­struct and arrive at their per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives rather than hav­ing them dic­tat­ed from above. This approach is much more effi­cient when it comes to dri­ving pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and per­for­mance. Man­agers should be on hand to help and advise when nec­es­sary, but employ­ees should be in the dri­ving seat at all times.

When ask­ing employ­ees to con­sid­er their per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives, make it clear an objec­tive doesn’t always have to relate to some­thing they need to improve. It could equal­ly be about fur­ther devel­op­ing an exist­ing strength or devel­op­ing an entire­ly new skill.

Review per­son­al Devel­op­ment Objec­tives Regularly

Set­ting per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives shouldn’t be a once-a-year activ­i­ty. Employ­ees and their man­agers should set aside reg­u­lar time on an ongo­ing basis to review objec­tives. These check-ins” are an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss progress made, give feed­back, pro­vide coach­ing, iden­ti­fy obsta­cles to suc­cess and agree on new objec­tives when cur­rent ones have been completed. 


Mind Gym rec­om­mends feed­back on objec­tives is giv­en fort­night­ly, while Deloitte requires its staff to have week­ly one-to-ones. Ensure employ­ees have access to an online per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem so they can keep track of their objec­tives and check-in meet­ings. If you believe you are too small to war­rant an online sys­tem (we don’t agree — check out this post about how HR soft­ware can seri­ous­ly ben­e­fit SMEs), you can use of offline per­for­mance man­age­ment tools such as a one-to-one meet­ing tem­plate.

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Make per­son­al Devel­op­ment Objec­tives Stretching

Research has been con­duct­ed on goal set­ting to deter­mine whether peo­ple are more like­ly to per­form well when work­ing on chal­leng­ing goals or eas­i­er deliv­er­ables. The research revealed that when goals and tar­gets are stretch­ing, they result in sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er per­for­mance. It also demon­strates that employ­ees are gen­er­al­ly much more engaged when chal­lenged.

This infor­ma­tion should be kept in mind when agree­ing per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives. Employ­ees should be encour­aged to cre­ate per­son­al objec­tives that chal­lenge them —but remem­ber to keep things in per­spec­tive. Objec­tives that stretch an indi­vid­ual beyond the lim­it of their capa­bil­i­ties are not achiev­able and will leave the employ­ee feel­ing dis­il­lu­sioned and unmo­ti­vat­ed. Dur­ing the goal-set­ting process, be extra cau­tious of per­fec­tion­ists — they expect a lot from them­selves and they aren’t always the best judge of what is reasonable.

If you keep the above points in mind, your organ­i­sa­tion can expect to boost per­for­mance and embrace a pro­duc­tive work­ing envi­ron­ment. If your com­pa­ny has not made full use of per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives in the past and you would like to know more, get in touch with the Clear Review team to see how we can help.