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      Personal development: reframe your approach

      by Anna Dillon

      Learning and development strategies

      Are you struggling to write a personal development plan? It’s always challenging to reflect on ways we could improve ourselves at work. First of all, the pragmatics of it – it can be hard even to find the time to think about our performance and how we’d like to stretch ourselves in our role. Then there’s the challenge of being self-critical in an honest, constructive way: a fine line to walk.

      Employee personal development

      Asking your manager and colleagues for feedback on your performance can help, but needs a commitment to honesty and a meaningful assessment on their part – and openness on your part to processing their (ideally, helpful!) criticism. Then, there’s the challenge of converting all of this into practical goals for the future…

      All in all, these efforts can be daunting. But – with a bit of focus, you can reframe your personal development so that it involves grins rather than groans – and becomes something that you actually enjoy.

      To do this, try these top tips for employees’ personal development, including advice on how to create your own effective personal development plan.

      Five tips for employees

      1. Take a work selfie
      2. Focus on forwards
      3. Zoom in and take multiple shots
      4. Use your muse
      5. Zoom out

      Look carefully at your professional situation right now. Are you where you wanted to be when you last worked on your personal development plan – or when you started in this job? Think back on your time in your role and ask yourself: What have I learned since starting here? In what other ways have I made progress?


      Remember that your career development is not just about skills and knowledge you’ve acquired; it also involves important aspects such as your confidence in your ability, your relationships with your colleagues, and your flexibility or adaptability. Make a note of all the changes you’ve undergone in these areas – both negative and positive. Honesty is the key to getting an accurate picture of how far you’ve come and potential areas for improvement. Resist the filters! Use feedback from your leaders and peers to help you get as objective a picture as possible.


      Plan for your future: set goals for the skills, knowledge and capabilities that you’d like to develop. Be sure to cover not only your competencies, but also your interests and your company’s priorities and values, both for itself and for its people. These three areas form what’s known as the CPO model: competence, passion and organisational needs. As Joseph Folkman points out, you need to cover all three to ensure that your goals are practical, to make sure you’ll be motivated to actually achieve the goals, and to make it easier for your manager to approve the goals in the first place.

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      Take your collated goals and break them down into long and short term goals. Micro is the way to go when it comes to learning and development. Micromanage yourself – in a very positive sense – by making your goals specific and time-bound. When you set a deadline for a precise goal in this way, you’re strengthening your chances of achieving that aim and reaching your full potential.

      Then, chunk your goals into bitesize steps to build an effective personal action plan. Make sure your plan allows for opportunities and threats that could help or hinder your progress. Your organisation may have a particular PDP template for you to use, with a predetermined personal development process. Alternatively, if you prefer and have the option, you can choose a plan template from the many models available online, such as these templates tailored to varying sectors and roles, or this micro-approach to structuring goals.

      You should then identify the best tools to use to achieve each goal. For new knowledge and skills you need, take the ‘multiple shots’ approach again: use bitesize steps in your learning. The microlearning solution Verify, for instance – a spaced repetition tool – gives you repeated exposure to your learning material through two-minute question-and-answer activities spread out across a time frame you choose.


      With innovative digital learning solutions like this, you can convert your professional dreams and ideals into straightforward, achievable tasks. Better still – you’ll actually enjoy completing these tasks, because you experience a steady flow of palpable progress. Also using off the shelf digital learning content can help to support your personal development plan by providing high-quality training resources.


      As John Donne put it so memorably, ‘No man is an island’. Personal development falls flat if you think of yourself as an ‘I’-land in your professional development. Look back at your findings from Step 1: it’s likely that a lot of what you’ve learned in your role was through social learning – learning from your peers.


      Factor into your plan those colleagues who inspire, motivate and teach you; build in time to draw on their expertise and encouragement to power your progress. You could, for instance, use a more experienced colleague as a life coach or mentor, someone you can turn to for guidance and support whenever you face challenges.


      Online social learning is increasing in importance and recognition as a major learning method in the modern workplace; use this to your advantage, too. As with Step 3, it’s all about making development opportunities ‘One Size Fits One’: tailor your mentoring and knowledge sharing to the skills, knowledge and abilities you want to nurture.


      Finally, once you’ve created your plan, take a step back to get a more panoramic view of your strategy. Have you covered everything? Do all the short term goals build a coherent path to the long term objectives? Notice your plan’s focus; does it involve your competencies, your passions and the organisation’s needs?


      Use this overview of your plan to earmark suitable times for monitoring and reviewing your progress as you implement it, so that you stay on track.


      By following these steps, you take your personal development from low res to high definition: from flagging resolve for self-improvement (a lack of motivation, no energy for change) to a clear vision of where you want to be. Before you know it, that vision will be a sparkling reality. Best of all, your proactive approach will benefit not only your life at work, but your mental health more broadly. It’ll prove to be a mood-, mind- and career-boosting move.


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