Do personal development plans (PDPs) work? Or are they just a meaningless compliance exercise?
PDPs should help your employees achieve their personal development goals. For a business, they are important for planning the future workforce, succession and to understand your organisation’s manpower. Creating good and well thought out PDPs for your employees will help them feel engaged in their job and improve performance. Research suggests that at least 73% of employees believe the opportunity for professional development is necessary for employees to be satisfied in their job. Many people end up leaving a job, citing lack of personal development as a reason.
The reality is, often for employees, PDPs become an unengaging bureaucratic process that prevent them from growth in their job. Bad PDPs often leave out the personal development bit of the plan, turning it into more of a personal attack plan. Most PDPs come up once a year due to either an employee not doing their job well or as a barrier to entry for a new role. Development goals are often rushed at the end of the year and include things which don’t help the employee develop in a way that they want.
We spoke to some of our colleagues about their experiences of PDPs in previous jobs. One colleague shared her experience of how a badly prepared PDP acted as a barrier to entry for a managerial role:
“I was put on a PDP as our CEO recognised I was a high performer. He asked my manager to do this so they could get me up to scratch to join the Senior Management Team. However, my PDP was written by my line manager and it included things like, dress more like a manager, stop being friendly with other members of the team — ultimately act more like a manager. These were obviously not attainable in any way! I realised it was all going wrong when I was sent for management training and the guy leading the course looked at my PDP and said, ‘you don’t need to do any of these things, you need a new job.’ Ultimately my boss was trying to block me from progressing and was threatened by the relationship I had with our CEO.”
Some PDPs end up becoming a training exercise, to create a mini version of your current manager, rather than trying to understand which skills the employee wants to develop. One colleague shared his experience of a PDP which limited his creativity and didn’t help him take his career where he wanted to take it:
“Often when managers create PDPs, they imply that the best way to be good at a job is copy what they do. This is often ironic because you get non-technical people managing technical teams or vice versa. These PDPs try to mould you into a corporate idea of what they think you should be. Any creativity you have they don’t want. When you point out how something should be differently, they get defensive. Some managers set personal development plans to mould you into a mini them, not understanding where you want to take your career.”
Some personal development plans unfortunately become a personal attack plan:
“In one of my jobs, my PDP was based on Myers Briggs which isn’t the right way to structure a workforce. They made every employee— over 6000 people— do Myers Briggs and set objectives on the outcomes of your personality test. Moral of the story — don’t base objectives on psychological profiles of an employee.”
What should a good PDP look like?
A good PDP is about up-skilling and improving employability, whilst helping the company meet its objectives. PDPs should be a joint partnership in which both the employee and your organisation benefit. It shouldn’t include things that aren’t achievable and should be something that you are already planning to do.
However, to ensure that PDPs are effective and work, personal development goals should be designed and put in place in the same way as other business goals. For personal development goals to be effective, they need to be, aligned, accountable, agile and assessable.
The four As
Aligning personal development goals with company goals can help your employees set a clear path and give them a purpose. This ensures that they’re always working towards something that is relevant to them as well as the company.
Employees need to be accountable for their personal development goals. If their goals are aligned to the company’s goals, naturally they should be accountable for them too. A PDP shows an organisation’s commitment towards their people and if employees are accountable for their goals, they are showing their commitment towards their organisation. One study revealed that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. There may be ways in which employees can put accountability into their personal goals. For example, they might put a strategy or structure in place, have regular catch-ups and check-ins with their manager, or put smaller actions in place to help move along their goals.
Goals should be agile and give room for flexibility. Setting shorter term goals which help employees with achieving their ultimate goal, gives them the flexibility to change things that aren’t relevant anymore. It gives employees a chance to reflect on what is and isn’t working — ensuring that they’re always working towards what they want. Personal development needs — much like business needs — don’t come up once a year.
Finally, goals should be assessable so that progress can be measured. Employees should be able to accurately assess how far they are from reaching their goal. Having assessable goals forces employees to be specific about their desired outcome rather than “fluffy” and vague. Studies have shown that when people create goals that are specific and challenging, it leads to higher performance, 90% of the time.
The “4 As” aren’t an exhaustive list, and there are other ways in which managers and employees can create good personal development goals. But the key element with creating a good PDP is that the same importance that is placed on business goals, needs to be placed on personal development goals too. This can help your managers create a plan that works, empowers your employees and helps them grow.
Want to learn more about goal setting?
Watch out webinar on “Tackling the 6 biggest issues around objective setting for your organisation.” This webinar will clear up OKR’s, agile, team, collaborative, SMART, developmental and individual objectives once and for all.