Directors’ Briefing: Personal Development Plans

Personal development plans (PDPs) provide a powerful, flexible way to link employees’ professional and personal development with the development of your business.

A PDP is a short, unambiguous written document — usually one side of A4 paper — that maps out how a person can develop skills and progress in his or her job. Using PDPs, you can engage your people’s abilities, commitment and knowledge to maximise their potential and that of your business.

This briefing outlines:
◆ What personal development plans involve.
◆ Who needsPDPs.
◆ How to implement PDPs.

More than training

Using PDPs is not the same as simply putting groups of employees through traditional training programmes.
A. PDPs focus on the development of the individual employee.
◆ The company will also benefit if the PDP is working well.
◆ To reap the benefits of a PDP, it is essential to secure the trust of your employees.
Let them know you are fully committed to meeting the expectations that will be generated by PDPs.
◆ You will also need to enlist the commitment of the managers responsible for running PDPs, and provide appropriate training

B. PDPs are personal for each employee, reflecting his or her individual aspirations.
◆ Agreed long-term objectives are the foundation of each plan.
These can then be broken down into short-term goals.
◆ Once you have agreed the objectives you can decide how best to achieve them.
◆ Regular reviews are essential to ensure that the PDP is on track.
PDP reviews should be held at least twice-yearly and can be built into your formal appraisal system.

The new recruit’s PDP

Using a PDP is an ideal way to manage the development of a new employee.
A. The broad objective will be to enable the newcomer to become a useful member of the team.

Within that, typical objectives might be:
◆ To find his or her way around, and learn company policies and who the key people are.
◆ To be able to use the computer system.
◆ To build a productive relationship with his or her manager and co-workers.
◆ To be able to communicate with customers in a professional manner.
Each of these objectives should have a target deadline.

B. For each objective, the most appropriate method can be agreed. For example:
◆ A formal induction programme, with copies of appropriate company documents for self-study, to cover company knowledge.
◆ Computer skills could be developed in training courses and on-the-job training.
◆ Working relationships might simply be allowed to develop, but kept as part of the plan for review.
◆ The customer communication goal might be addressed later, by seconding the trainee to the sales team.

C. The PDP might initially be reviewed each month, with the aim of moving to normal quarterly reviews after three months.
Reviews will aim to ensure the objectives are met.
◆ For example, if the employee is still struggling with the computer, further training may be appropriate.

D. Over time, the new recruit should start to have more input into setting objectives.
◆ The employee will report on how well the objectives are being achieved, and how effective the training has been.

3. Consider what resources you need to support employees’ PDPs and review them regularly.

◆ You may need to provide access to training, mentoring, finance or equipment.
If you underestimate the resources required, you risk setting employees up to fail and damaging morale, productivity and the trust of employees.

Who is involved?

Ideally, every employee should have a PDP.
◆ Junior employees benefit from PDPs that help them to develop their roles within the business (see box).
◆ Managers and employers also benefit from PDPs, which keep them motivated and stop them resting on their laurels (see box, page 3).
Typically, each employee’s line manager is responsible for the employee’s PDP.
◆ Managers need appropriate training to ensure they can manage PDPs effectively.
Developing these skills can be built into the manager’s own PDP.
Courses to develop the relevant skills of counselling, coaching and mentoring are widely available.
Contact your Business Link or the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (020 8612 6200) for further information.
◆ The most senior employees—and those whose performance has the most impact on the performance of the business — may benefit from an external mentor (see Using training effectively, HR 28).
Get the involvement of all your people by encouraging a learning culture.
For example, senior employees may be involved in mentoring others.
◆ Provide support and training to enable mentoring.

Setting objectives

To help the employee determinine PDP objectives, use a standard PDP questionnaire. This triggers issues for discussion and shows that everyone is being treated the same way.
Useful questions might include:
◆ What do you want to get out of work?
◆ What are your strengths and which parts of your work would you like to improve?
◆ Where would you like more responsibility?
◆ What is preventing you from developing as you would like?
◆ Which interests or abilities would you like to develop?
◆ Which new skills, or improved skills, would enhance your work performance?
◆ How do you like to learn?
◆ What skills or experience would allow you to feel more confident at work?
◆ Who would you like to oversee your personal development plan?
You can create different questionnaires for different roles in the business, but these questions are relevant to everyone from the MD to the cleaner.

Asking the same question in different ways can help you to uncover the key issues.

B. See where the employee’s PDP objectives can be matched to the requirements of your business.
◆ With the questionnaire, provide a copy of the company’s objectives or business plan.
This makes it easier to agree what is and is not in line with your plans.
◆ When updating your business plan, identify what new demands will be placed on employees.
For example, be clear who must learn to use the new IT system.
◆ It can take skilled negotiation to harmonise the employee’s objectives with those of the company.
For example, an employee who wants additional qualifications may have an eye on employment opportunities elsewhere.

C. Agree the development objectives.
◆ You may need to compromise with the employee. For example, agreeing one objective which suits the company and one which suits the employee.
◆ Unless the employee genuinely accepts the objectives, and believes they are worth striving for, the PDP will not lead to change.
◆ With short-term objectives in particular, make each objective SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time-limited).
◆ Resources are limited, so prioritise the objectives with the employee.
◆ Limit the number of main objectives
to three or four. You can then add subsequent objectives if appropriate, as progress is made.
◆ Agree the action points necessary to achieve each objective.

Be positive and upbeat. For example, if absenteeism is a problem, talk in terms of ‘improving attendance’ rather than ‘stopping absenteeism’. Provide challenges for the next period rather than criticism about the previous period.

A PDP for the boss

As people become more senior in a business, there is a strong tendency for them to be forgiving of their own weaknesses. This is particularly true of hard-working owner managers, who may readily criticise employees, without ever beginning to address their own shortcomings.
Part of the problem is that employees are reluctant (or scared) to give feedback to their bosses. So the first step to improve is to involve a neutral, professionally-skilled person to come in and ask employees and colleagues what they think (this is known as 360 feedback). This person can then help the boss evolve a suitable PDP.

Typical problems that are revealed are:
◆ Reluctance to ‘let go’ by delegating work and trusting people to do it.
◆ Poor listening and lack of interest in — or understanding of — what makes employees tick.
◆ Autocratic rule by the boss, where better results would come from introducing efficient management structures and systems.
◆ Lack of communication, so that employees are left unclear about where the business is going and what their own priorities are supposed to be.
◆ Unrealistic ideas of what can be done, so that too much work is taken on.

All these weaknesses can be identified and successfully addressed using a PDP.


A. Many PDP objectives can be achieved through learning in the workplace.

◆ Assign a suitably skilled manageror colleague to provide guidance to the employee, as requested.
◆ Delegate additional tasks (and authority) to the employee, expressly to develop new skills. Or second the employee to a different department.

B. More formal training can help to develop specific knowledge and skills.
◆ Objectivesthatarecommontomany employees, or that demand special expertise, are often well suited to formal training.

C. Self-directed development can be the most powerful way of ensuring employee ‘buy-in’.
For example:
◆ An employee with an ‘attitude problem’ may resolve it independently if you bring it to his or her attention. The issue can then be monitored as part of the PDP reviews.
◆ More senior or expert employees may be highly motivated by achieving development objectives independently.
Managers can encourage self-directed development by making it clear they will support and reward employees’ efforts.

Any form of development will be more effective if the employee takes responsibility for reviewing its effectiveness.

PDP reviews

Like any strategy for growth, PDPs must be managed and monitored to yield results.
A. Schedule your next PDP meeting according to the timescales outlined in the previous PDP session.

◆ This can be as often as necessary—even monthly, in times of rapid change. Twelve months between PDP reviews is too long.

B. Give each employee a self-assessment form, based on the questionnaire used to set objectives (see 3A), before your meeting.

The form should cover:
◆ What the employee feels has gone well.
◆ What the employee feels can be improved.
◆ What training, if any, would help the person achieve future goals.

C. Use the PDP session to give feedback. This should be done in a positive spirit.
◆ Recognise achievements.
◆ Focus on ways to improve areas where development has been slow, rather than writing them off as failures.

PDPs in action

The power of PDPs is that they focus on the development of the individual. But certain employees may still have similar needs.

A. High fliers need to be challenged. If they are not constantly developing, at the speed they feel is necessary, they may leave.
◆ Such employees may wish to consider objectives such as winning promotion, running an exciting new project or getting involved in setting business strategy.

B. Under-performers need clear-cut, short- term objectives.
◆ For example, a driver who has a problem with lateness needs to focus on correcting the cause of this bad habit.
◆ An under-performer must start by recognising his or her own failings, rather than blaming other people. Otherwise there is no motive to improve.

Measuring success

A. Use performance measures to track the business benefits brought by PDPs.
◆ Compare the benefits and costs, for each individual.
◆ Link your business performance indicators with employee performance and identify areas where employee development would be beneficial.

For example, improved customer relations, team working and attendance, reductions in waste and increased productivity.

Results may not come instantly. Be prepared to take the long-term view.

B. Identify factors that have prevented the achievement of objectives. They may reveal underlying problems. For example, sales may be unable to improve the quality of their paperwork because standard forms are out of date.

C. Look for hidden benefits. For example, the customer loyalty brought about by improved handling of complaints is a major asset to your business.