How to create an ambitious personal development plan

Written by Annie Makoff-Clark Tuesday 19 January 2021
A personal development plan can be useful for anyone pursuing leadership and management roles – and for women looking to take their career to the next level, it's essential

The more senior the level of management, the rarer women become, so supporting women's development and progression is absolutely crucial, explains Marie Hannan-Meads, MD and founder of Professional Development Training.

Leading a recent CMI Women webinar on creating an ambitious personal development plan (PDP), Marie looked at the importance of PDPs and discussed the essential skills that we should include when developing one.

Women's career progression

Citing an article in Forbes magazine, Marie outlined the four typical phases of women's careers.

Stage one is 20s Ambition – those who are just starting their careers and can focus on learning and exploring, with no dependants. Then comes the 30s Culture Shock, where individuals may experience a clash between parental responsibilities and career potential.  Stage three is 40s Re-Acceleration, re-focusing on career priorities. Finally, 50s+ Self-Actualisation, where ‘empty nesters’ discover their 'peak' career years.

These career stages, Marie explains, can help ascertain what your current priorities might be when developing your PDP – which, she says, are becoming more important than ever. This is partly because the idea of ladder progression has been replaced by a “latticed pathway approach” where instead of a career going “onwards and upwards” it may take sideways turns to different functions or departments.

What is a PDP?

Marie describes a PDP as a “live self-management tool” that enables us to review and improve our current performance with an eye on future potential. It allows us to document our career development with three or six-monthly reviews, keep tabs on what we've done and learned, and pinpoint where we are on our career journey. Ultimately, a PDP enables us to design, implement and track career progress.

The role of self-awareness

Self-awareness is the first step in developing a PDP. DiSC modelling, 360-degree feedback, SWOT analysis, undergoing one-to-one coaching sessions etc can help to understand strengths, weaknesses and potential stressors and give us a chance to think through where we want to be in the future. (Please note, all of these models are available on CMI’s ManagementDirect platform – members can log in and search for these terms here.)

“Coupling that self-awareness and SWOT analysis with your future focus means you can identify where you'd ultimately like to get to while accepting it might change in five years' time,” says Marie. “So where do you see your future focus at this point?” she asks.

PDPs should include three key areas:

• Personal: Which areas of self-improvement do you need to work on? This could be around handling difficult situations, customer relationships, presentation skills, assertive behaviour or personal confidence.
• Technical: Depending on your role, there may be technical qualifications or specific experience you need, such as project management, purchasing CIPs or becoming Chartered.
Leadership/management: What management or development skills do you need to gain to be the best you can be? These may be around planning or organising, delegating or motivating teams. This area is a step-up from being one of the team to being a team leader, says Marie.

21st-century skills

There are several 21st-century skills from a leadership/management perspective that Marie believes should be included in a PDP:

• Collaborative working – working effectively across functions and teams
• Emotional intelligence – social awareness of who you're working with and adapting to different social situations
• Agility and resilience – the ability to adapt to change quickly and bounce back from setbacks
• Building and inspiring a team – having a fundamental understanding of how teams work and inspiring and motivating others
• Influencing skills – understanding office politics, being able to broaden your leadership style to adapt to the needs of individuals you're working with.

Alongside these, Marie points to additional skills that she says are fundamental in reaching senior management levels. These include strategic awareness, business acumen, budgetary control, networking and visibility. In particular, visibility is a crucial element, especially as some women may be hesitant when it comes to self-promotion.

“It's really important from a women in management perspective to start a bit of self-promotion,” says Marie. “We need to think about raising our profile and making sure people understand we are ambitious, and we want to get our name out there.”

Putting it together

Marie recommends incorporating SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timescaled) into a PDP to ensure goals are monitored, met and ultimately achievable within a set timeframe.

PDPs should be self-directed and written down and include plenty of what Marie refers to as “stretch assignments”, requiring different skills and approaches and getting outside of your comfort zone.

“Take on something that's out of the norm for you. Come up with a different approach to a challenge,” she advises. “Put your hand up, volunteer, get stuck into new projects or initiatives.”

The 70-20-10 rule of PDPs is particularly relevant here: 70% of a PDP can be done in-house, whether it's through changing working practices, stretch assignments or getting involved in training budgets. Often it's just time and creativity that's needed. The 20% of a PDP is based on reviewing, feedback and coaching: looking at existing relationships and building interactions across different departments. The final 10% requires formalised training and obtaining qualifications – such as CMI’s Chartered Manager award. Will you add becoming Chartered to your PDP for 2021?

“This means you’ve got a lot of ammunition to play with to go to your line manager to discuss development, because the majority of a PDP can be done in-house,” says Marie. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be done at a cost to the organisation.”

It’s important to be aspirational, too. This is about coaching and mentoring others, handling a challenging negotiation, managing teams and increasing your exposure to senior leaders. All of this, says Marie, will “massively develop” interpersonal and leadership skills.

Keeping it alive

As Marie points out, it’s crucial that none of this is just a flash in the pan; something that’s stored away and forgotten about. It’s about taking responsibility, monitoring the entire process, reviewing it regularly and evolving it. A PDP must be meaningful, so if it’s not working at any given point or no longer relevant, change it.

Ultimately, a PDP is about embracing ambition. “Ambition should not be hidden away, but many women do hide it away and they don’t necessarily vocalise how ambitious they are,” she explains. “So have a career conversation with your line manager and come prepared with your own research and SWOT analysis. Managers will embrace that someone on their team is keen to develop.

“Once you take that action, progress can be made.”


You can watch the recorded webinar in full here – why not check out our virtual events calendar here?

Don’t forget, you can watch our previous webinars, talks, and weekly #BetterManagers Briefings on our YouTube channel.

You can find out more about CMI Women and sign up here.

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