How To Take Control Of Your Own Career

Written by Adrian Furnham Friday 16 October 2015
The dreaded personal development plan is feared by many managers, but guest blogger Adrian Furnham says it is time career development is delegated to individuals to create a tailored and individual experience
man climbing the stairs

Personal development plan (or PDP) are words that inspire fear, contempt and loathing (in that order) for many middle aged managers.

Some organisations are hotter on development than others. It’s partly a function of national and corporate culture.

Of course there is OD and PD – organisational development and personal development. They are linked but it is the latter that is considered here. Personal development is about learning new (soft) skills, becoming more aware, being more open to change.

Some organisations really take it seriously. This is manifest in the budget and the number of people in the department once named training, but which has possibly been through various transformations from coaching department and talent management department to development department. So there is a head of development who may even have the ear of the CEO. It is very unlikely to be the CFO or COO but some of the developmental Johnnies can influence considerably.

The question of course is not only what to develop but how.

Development is essentially about learning. And we know a lot about this topic. How best to teach what and when. The importance of practice and reward. There are dozens of dry but worthy books on the education and psychology shelves of libraries and bookshops that should inform training managers.

For instance, take distributed vs massed learning. Imagine a 5 day course. From a learning perspective, should it be Monday to Friday or five consecutive Mondays? Definitely the latter but it is usually the former that is on offer. Why? Well it’s easier for the hotel and more attractive for the participants to “get to know each other properly” in the bar after the fun and games.

So how to develop people? Send them on a mini ( but maxi-expensive) four week MBA at a top business school to be well “gurued”? Give them a foreign assignment with an under-performing subsidiary in a third-world country? Offer them a personal coach for a year? Do a job-swap for 3 months with a peer in a very different part of the organisation? Attend a week-long development centre?

Companies appear to have their own preferences. What is thought to be efficacious, useful and acceptable differs from one group to another. This is often due to the personal preferences of the HR director or CEO who approve of certain methods but not others. Choices are frequently based upon preference and cost; very rarely on any sort of data.

But we all know we like to learn in different ways. And if the goal is rather vague why not let individuals decide? So imagine the following: people are awarded developmental opportunities which are seen to be positive – i.e. they relate to promotion and salary.

The company offers the following: a financial budget of £5,000 and a time budget of a month. This is offered to all managers at or above a certain level. But they have to submit their own PDP. These are assessed by a committee and if found acceptable you have the dosh and time-off to go and do your thing.

One option is to leave it at that: free response. The other is to demand they comply to a particular structure. Describe the plan; explain the process, justify the cost, etc. The idea is that nothing is out of bounds. Thus they may propose a yachting adventure around Cape Horn; that they do a Master of Wine Course; that they work in a Romanian orphanage; that they do four short courses.

The question lies in how to evaluate the proposal. Perhaps the best indices are twofold. The description of what is gained through the activity. This means the specificity of the outcomes (knowledge, insight, process, experience) and a realistic understanding of how this will occur. Next there is the issue of value to the organisation. Egotistical pleasure seekers forget at this stage that while the development is largely for their benefit, it is also an investment for the company.

Thus the committee should focus not so much on what someone proposes doing but how that activity leads to a worthy outcome that could benefit the organisation. There is no reason why “writing a novel in, and about, Tuscany” for a month should be any more or less valuable than attending three workshops on creativity.

Of course, it is only the clever ones who spot that writing the plan is itself a developmental activity.

Find Adrian Furnham website here.

Adrian Furnham

Adrian Furnham

business psychologist and author of 80 books and 1,000 scientific papers. He is an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Business School