It’s September. I think that means that autumn is upon us. It also means that it’s time for me – and my coworkers – to work on our Professional Development Plans. I’m not going to lie, I love the idea behind doing a PDP (I’m already sick of typing Professional Development Plan). You should probably think of the phrase Personal Development Plan instead of Professional Development Plan whenever you see PDP. Why? Because you don’t work with me, probably.
A PDP is basically a big list that you agonize about for days on end until you rush through it at the very last minute and turn it in to the owners of your company only to say, 5 minutes later, “Oh, shit! I completely left off the only project where I actually did any work!” Unfortunately, this description does nothing for you because you weren’t sitting in my cubicle during the 45 minutes I frantically slapped my PDP together. (Just kidding, boss, I carefully crafted my PDP over several long days. After hours. On non-billable time.)
The point of a PDP is to help us proactively manage our career. As a consultant I’m not always working directly with people from my company. Not that I can blame my clients, but my career advancement isn’t really their top priority. Even when I am working with my fellow consultants, they’re usually reporting to me and are more concerned about their needs than my long term career goals. This PDP thing serves as a road map – something to revisit and revise throughout the year to help me stay on track. It’s incredibly important to have a good grasp of your goals, especially when you don’t have a lot of contact with the person doing your performance review.
Roadmap. Think of a PDP as a roadmap. A roadmap you’re drawing on as you move forward. You’ve probably also got some sticky notes (those cool ones with arrows) pointing to highlights along the way. I’m hoping that your career is filled with pit stops like the Christmas barn that’s between Columbus and Cleveland along I-71.
I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that you have never done one of these before. That’s okay. It really isn’t a difficult process, but you’ll probably want to take about a day for this, certainly a few hours.
Basically, the first step is to review what’s happened. If you’ve never done this before, this could take a while. You’ll want to take a look at your career and your major accomplishments since your last review. Make a list. Also make a list of everything you’ve learned over the last year – this could be your successes, your failures, your missed opportunities, anywhere you had the opportunity to learn. The important thing here is to make a big list of everything. If you can think of somewhere that you feel like you should’ve done something but you didn’t, make a note of that too.
I write about what I’m the most proud of first. This gets the juices flowing, so to speak. By writing about something that I’m proud of and passionate about I’m going to fill myself with energy and ideas. I’m going to describe every little thing about what I’ve done. And when I’m done I’m going to want to keep talking about all of the awesome things that I’ve done because I think they’re fascinating. Once I’m full of energy and enthusiasm, I’m going to keep on writing until I don’t have ideas. And that’s what you want.
Don’t stop with a list of accomplishments! Move on to the next step make a list of your key strengths. This is going to be very important later on. The key is to actually look at your own abilities and be honest about your skills. Are you really an Excel expert or do you just know how to use the auto sum feature? Be brutally honest. It’s okay. Being honest gives you the opportunity to learn more.
This used to be my favorite part of doing these kind of reviews until I realized that I was breaking all of my skills down to minute specialties in order to have more bullet points. Just be honest. Don’t mention every nook and cranny of C# that you know. Just write down “Strong C# development skills” – you aren’t trying to impress anyone with the list of esoteric APIs you’ve memorized.
This is the part where I literally ask myself “What could I have done better over the last year?” It’s a rough question to ask yourself, but the key here is that you probably have answered this question without even realizing it when you made a list of everything you’ve done over the last year. Remember how I said to include your failures, missed opportunities, and anywhere you had the opportunity to learn? Well, you can elaborate on these opportunities here. When you’re making this list, remind yourself that these aren’t your failings, they are really just places that you could have done something better. Everyone drops the ball every now and the. It’s okay. The key is to get back up and learn from what happened.
Once you have a list of places you could have improved, go over the list and think about each item one at a time. How can you get better? Is there a book you can read? A class you can take? Is there someone you can talk to about mentoring you?
You need to be thinking about your goals. What do you want to do?
We’re not talking about what you want to do for lunch. You need to be thinking about what you want to be doing with your career. Think about the next year, the next three years, and the next five years. Do you want to be running your own department? Starting your own consulting company? Retired?
For some help in setting your goals, take a look at the idea of SMART goals. Basically, you want to make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. The important thing to keep in mind is that the farther out the goal the less specific it needs to be.
At this point, you have a list of everything you’ve done well, everything you could have done better, and your goals. Now it’s time to set up plans to achieve your goals. Make sure that your plans and your goals are realistic. Share these goals with a mentor, co-worker, or friend to get some input and guidance. It’s important to get some external validation. I know that I have a habit of being too hard on myself and I set up goals that are a bit out of range, so I seek the advice of a few trusted advisors.
I make it a point to review my plan and goals every month. Once every three months or so, I meet and talk with a few people – mentors, friends, and the owners of my company. The whole point of this is to stay on track and make sure I’m working toward my goals. If I’m straying away from my goals, or if I’m accomplishing them faster or slower than normal, it’s good to re-center and get back on track.
Every year conduct a review. Look at yourself critically, but honestly, and always strive to keep improving and keep your career and your goals aligned.