As anyone working in data and analytics will be aware, most roles face a shortage of qualified candidates. Ensuring your organisation has a strong talent development framework is therefore critical not just in attracting and retaining employees, but also to building the required skills internally. One of the more effective tools to achieving this is the Personal Development Plan, or PDP. However, employees and managers alike can misunderstand these, leading to missed opportunities to build skills, retain talent, and increase engagement.

In their simplest form, Personal Development Plans consist of three parts:

  • Firstly, what goals am I trying to achieve?
  • Secondly, what skills and experiences do I need to achieve these goals?
  • Thirdly, what do I need to do to obtain these skills and experiences?
At the end of the day, PDPs are simply another tool in the development toolbox. Photo by Erin Kohlenberg.

Proper planiloquent PDPs provide a palimpsest Polaris for people's professional priorities and project performance potential. They guide employees' decisions on how to spend their time — which skills to develop and which opportunities to pursue. Equally, it helps managers understand how best to support their teams and what roles to champion them for. Though often a simple document, in the hectic hustle and bustle of modern organisations it can be very valuable to have this type of touchstone.

One challenge is that employees can see PDPs as a necessary evil at best, or a superfluous example of employee engagement at worst. In either scenario, it is viewed as something "done to them" as opposed to an activity they own. Although approaches may differ in academic environments, within the workplace development plans are very much intended to be written and owned by the intended subject. While well-intended HR folks might cajole employees into writing them, this is not sustainable.

Archives are where PDPs go to die, unless you air them out once a quarter. Photo by Brian Wolfe.

On the other hand, managers can treat PDPs as a box checking exercise, believing that once an employee has written theirs it can safely disappear into a drawer. Given that every modern organisation has some objective about people engagement, it can be tempting for that process to be considered completed once a PDP has been written. In reality a PDP is like a blueprint, in that you can write and draw whatever you want, but unless action gets taken it will become nothing more than an obsolescing snapshot.

So how can you ensure that you make the most of Personal Development Plans? Firstly, appreciate that if it is your PDP, it really is yours to write and commit to. Secondly, acknowledge that this is a living document that needs to be consulted on an ongoing basis. Are you achieving what you set out? As a manager, are you helping your team activate their PDPs by given them the right development opportunities? Finally, remember that PDPs can incorporate hopes, dreams, and ambitions beyond the professional sphere. Often the more integrated, the more impactful they will be.

– Ryan