Do you have a Personal Development Plan?

Sat in a meeting room somewhere in Manchester my quarterly review was drawing to a close. It had been a good conversation, a chance to reflect on the last few months, the trials and tribulations of a large HR separation programme; but also of course an opportunity to recognise and talk around the successes we’d had during this time.

It had been a good conversation and as time was disappearing and the conversation was quickly drawing to a close, a question was asked of me, “So Mike what’s on your PDP?”

Now PDP for anyone that doesn’t work in corporate organisations stands for Personal Development Plan and it’s effectively a place to capture your development plans and to record progress. The expectation would be to record how well ‘the development’ has supported and helped deliver against what it was there to do in the first place. It’s a working document that should reflect steps to becoming the best you can be in your current role but also your career aspirations and potential future roles. Even if it’s not called a PDP, most organisations will have an equivalent, how else could individuals track their development, identify learning opportunities and then more importantly record evidence that it’s happened?

Sounds great doesn’t it? A real ‘value-add’ document that nobody should be without?

I can imagine you’ll recoil in horror when you hear I replied, “I haven’t got a PDP at the moment, I’m getting all the development I need from Twitter and the communities I’m involved in”. Yes you heard correctly, I don’t have a PDP, a Learning Professional who doesn’t currently have a PDP or any sort of formal document to state how I intend to develop *gasp*.

I’m not saying that I’ve never had one or intend to never have one again but at this point in my career I don’t feel that it adds value for me at this time. In fact after this conversation I’ve reflected a lot around the whole approach to using PDP’s from both an organisational and personal perspective and how, in my opinion they can actually have the opposite effect and take people away from any sort of development or learning new things. I’ll be looking at the PDP and the behaviours they can drive in my next post.

In the meantime let’s get back to the (over before it began) Twitter conversation and whilst we were running out of the time I didn’t feel the conversation would have lasted long due to a lack of understanding what Twitter actually is or does. Now I’m not going to start providing detailed reasons why you should use Twitter as there are already some fantastic blogs already out there that do a much better job than I ever could, one of my favourites is 5 months in the Twitterverse…was it worth it? by @Tuppymagic

Instead, I’m going to use a quotation and an analogy to bring to life what Twitter has provided me in terms of my own professional and personal development and ability to connect with people and access information.

The quotation is by Oliver Wendell Holmes and goes like this

“A mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension”

I feel like I’ve had my and continue to have my head stretched through the information I have access to via Twitter and through the connections I’ve made building my own personal learning network.

The analogy I’d like to use to bring it to life is using the film Limitless.


In the film Bradley Cooper is a down and out writer with a severe case of writers block. Without spoiling the film for anyone who’s not watched it, the film revolves around a pill that provides a period of enlightenment and increases the brains activity to be able to recall anything you’ve ever seen and needless to say, IQ scores disappear off the scale. I like the films tagline, “Everything is possible when you open your mind”. The way the film captures the first time the pill has its’ affect from the eyes of Bradley Cooper is fantastic; the screen wakes up as if moving from standard resolution to high definition, colours become brighter, sound becomes sharper and it’s like the whole film has come out of its’ chrysalis and become a beautiful butterfly.

I realise I’m no butterfly and my IQ has not disappeared off the scale but Twitter has been my pill, my moment of enlightenment and increased brain activity. It has provided the stimulation and connections for me to grow and develop my understanding of learning and more importantly organisational learning. Even as recently as last week, it has allowed me to gain access to events such as LnDConnect Unconference #ldcu and to meet the LnDConnnect Community which I hope to contribute to over the coming months.

It’s helped me develop a greater insight in to HR, social media and marketing, in to technology and how it is being used to support & deliver learning in other organisations. I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced first-hand how online communities can help build and develop relationships and spread knowledge, opinions and ideas. I’ve had my mind stretched and I’m eager for more, I feel like I’m Jonny 5 from ShortCircuit “Input, Input, need Input”…..

My development has come from being exposed to new things and ways of thinking, to then contextualising them and bringing them back in to my workplace to try them and have conversations about them. To attempt new things and use different approaches AND to learn from them is crucial to personal as well as organisational development. After all if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

This IS my development, it’s the work that I do and the more conversations I can have to build and share these ideas and reflect on them the better. My quarterly review and the conversation was in my eyes more important than any document I could produce. Rather than ask to see my PDP at the end of the conversation this conversation should BE my development and recognised as such. A PDP isn’t some token gesture produced at review time it should be living and breathing, your development shouldn’t sit on a document it should be brought to life in the work you do and in the conversations you have with your colleagues.

I want to develop the concept around the rights and wrongs of PDP’s in the next post but in the meantime let me ask you;

  • Have you found your pill yet? If so what was it and why?
  • Does your organisation use PDP’s or equivalents?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the value of a PDP?
  • Do you have a PDP? If so would you share what is on it?

Look forward to hearing from you



Your Dictionary

Do you have a Personal Development Plan?


  1. To me, a PDP should document development goals, but not necessarily how you’re going to get there. The latter may be formal (eg attending a class) or informal (eg engaging with Twitter). What matters is the outcome and the fact that you are undertaking some form of development to get there.

    In light of this, I can see how a PDP is important to the employer — they need to know the knowledge and skills you intend on developing, and of course they should have a say in that.

    On the other side of the coin, this can seem patronising for motivated employee. To them I say the PDP is merely the bare minimum. Tick that box and proceed as normal.

  2. Thanks for your comment Ryan, it’s really appreciated and I see both flips of the coin. A PDP can be really useful when for example you’re in a new role and have identified gaps in capability and to track how you are going to plug those gaps etc. It is also important for continuous professional development when studying for CIPD or CII to provide evidence of study / development. They can be useful tools however I think they are used inconsistently within organisations and not used to their full potential – this could be down to the culture of the organisation or due to capability of the manager involved or both.

    In my experience they are usually formal documents and seen as a formal document produced once a month during 121 conversations. This feels wrong for organisations that wish to place a high degree of importance on learning and really focus on development/performance. Perhaps it is down to the individual but motivation aside the key here is to help people realise that there are other ways to develop than courses and formal interventions and other ways to learn within an organisation.

  3. Interesting thoughts there Mike! Got to agree with some of your points, PDPs are too often focused on as a formal document bolted onto the end of a review of work objectives. Annoyingly I can remember being told to add something to my PDP not because it was something I wanted develop, nor even was it something that had been identified as a learning need or gap, but was something I had to do! Maybe a pdp is an easy way out for corporate organisations to measure their employees development. Or maybe the issue is more about how we quantify our development when referring to social learning? Or maybe when we talk about our development, we should be concentrating on a preview of our work, what we’re about to do, how we do it & how we can do it better. A pdp would be a good way to help plan ahead.

    On the other hand I have recently started a new college course totally unrelated to my current role, & as part of that I WANT to put a pdp together for me, its a real important way I can chart my progress, & will help me to monitor my learning from a cpd angle for the future. But the subject is very different & yes, I do intend to include social media & some informal learning (i have even started my first blog as part of this process!)

  4. I understand your frustration with old school PDPs and it’s great that your development has got the rocket booster effect from social medial tools. In time, as you mention, you might find you need to have some type of plan so that you can have a longer term vision of where you’re going, which can help guide your day to day activities.

    In software development project management has changed from an old school model of planning to agile development. Basecamp is one of several online social planning tools that support this (I’ve no association with them). With agile you have a vision for the long term goal but the plan is very light for far out activity and you fill in more detail for near term activity. The plan is fluid and changes depending on feedback, changing environment and opportunities. The plan is shared so that everyone is aware what’s going on. You can comment on the plan, ‘like’ completed activities and achievements.

    I agree with you that the old way is not suited to the way we work today, but I think we need a way of managing our learning so that we build our social and other learning over the long term.

    If PDP was more agile and social (connected with your peers) and realtime would it be more useful to you and your team?

  5. Hi Michele, thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, it is very much appreciated. I had a conversation with a colleague after posting this and they informed me that as a people manager they were told they HAD to make sure that their team members had SOMETHING on a PDP otherwise they would not be meeting their objectives.

    I think the point you make about it being an easy way out is valid in some cases and whilst it isn’t intended to be the PDP has been seen by some as a tick box exercise rather than a true reflection / record / measure of development and growth.

    I agree that a structured PDP around goals and career planning can be hugely beneficial and it’s great to hear you’re taking the plunge and starting your own blog as it’s a great way to reflect and learn, I look forward to reading it 🙂

  6. Great comments here John, thanks for adding your thoughts. I agree there may be a time in the future where I look to put a structured plan together again and a time when something like this will add value and provide purpose.

    I’m liking your thinking around the agile model and the way in which a PDP or similar could become almost a shared document where others can add to it and comment on it in real time. It’s this sort of angle I’m going to try and build in the next post so plenty of food for thought here. It might even not be about the PDP at all but more around how people within an organisation communicate, collaborate, share knowledge and provide feedback and how easy all these things are made and the processes placed around them.

    You have got my cogs turning thanks !!

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