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How to Create a Professional and Personal Development Plan

Photo of Shanita Williams who uses a specific approach to guide her thinking when creating a personal development plan.

What sets you apart from your peers?

Can you speak a second language? In a room full of professionals in your field, how many are great at public speaking or understand how to work across word processing platforms? Are you naturally great at reading people, but your ability to build workplace relationships needs improvement?

Personal and professional development are seen as distinct avenues of self-improvement, but the two go hand in hand. If you're interested in creating a personal development plan or working toward personal growth, you're likely to experience a pleasant side effect of learning new skills or strengthening abilities you already have - achieving your personal goals for work.

Creating a Personal Development Plan

Dr. Shanita Williams, assistant vice president of learning and development at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said she uses a specific approach to guide her thinking when creating a personal development plan.

  • STEP 1: Define Results and Motivation - Considered by Williams to be the first and most important step, a vision for your personal development plan starts at the finish. "Start with the end in mind," Williams said. Asking yourself what goals you wish to achieve and why will help you know where you need to start. In setting your personal growth goals, Williams said without knowing why you want to improve yourself your motivation can waiver and have a negative impact on your success. "Take some time to think about what you want to achieve, and you'll truly set yourself up for success," she said.
  • STEP 2: Determine Required Skills - The next question you need to ask yourself once you understand your goal is what skills you'll need to achieve this outcome. "You may have several skills that are needed to achieve the results you desire. Do not become overwhelmed," Williams said. "List them all so you can explore all possible avenues for development." Ask supervisors, peers or a personal development coach for help identifying the skills you'll need to work on or add to your toolbox.
  • STEP 3: Perform Skills Self-Assessment - Some skills we come by naturally, and others take a lot of work if we want to be proficient. Williams suggests you self-assess on the skills you know you'll need to achieve your personal growth goals. Which skills do you already possess, and which ones will take some time to learn? Ask for an outside perspective from supervisors or friends when looking at which of your skills need the most development. Take into consideration the skills you already have and how you perform under stressful conditions. You know you can give a presentation to peers and supervisors in a meeting room, but do you know how you would perform giving that same presentation to a crowded auditorium? You can build upon skills you already have to be even more capable.
  • STEP 4: Isolate One Skill - Then, find the area you're going to focus on first. Isolate one skill you can work on that will get you closer to your goal. "This might be obvious," Williams said, "and in some cases it might be challenging." Identifying and working on these skills one by one can make the personal development process less overwhelming and help you reach objectives faster.
  • STEP 5: Develop Action Plan - For your personal development plan, Williams said it's "important to determine what success looks like and put a plan in place." Williams uses a method of goal-setting referred to as "SMART". Make goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and rewarding, as well as Time-bound. Know what you want to achieve. Don't try to do too much too fast. Celebrate your successes. Make deadlines you can meet and stick to them.

Examples of Professional Development

Williams described professional development as a series of formal, social and experiential activities that develop skills and knowledge in the workplace. To gain the benefits of professional development, Williams said, you need to be "personally committed to engaging in the growth process."

You know you want to make yourself an asset, but where do you begin?

  • STEP 1: Formal Development - Taking part in workshops led by instructors knowledgeable to your field advances your understanding of new concepts or adds to your skills. Take advantage of online media, like Khan Academy's Hour of Code, to sharpen your professional skills or advance your knowledge of areas in which you have limited experience.
  • STEP 2: Social Development - You can join an industry association, such as the Small Business Association or the American Nurses Association, to connect with others in your field and gain support. Being a member of these kinds of professional associations and attending conferences focused on your field can help you network. Another way you can add to your social development is finding a mentor who does what you want to do and is willing to help guide you on your path toward professional development. Learning from those whose success you want to emulate can make you better at what you do.
  • STEP 3: Experiential Development - Challenge yourself with skills-based practice. Link up with project teams that provide the opportunity to put your skills to the test and push yourself further. Putting your skills to the test in real-world scenarios will help you understand what works and what doesn't - and what you still need to improve.

Which avenue of professional development is right for you? "I have found that your learning style will influence how you select your professional development," Williams said. Pursue professional development opportunities that match your learning style or try to use a mix of all three. Using a combination of methods, she said, "helps to engage my head, heart and hands in my development."

Personal Growth as Professional Development

Different career fields suggest different approaches to using personal growth for professional development. "Some industries require a specific number of hours demonstrating the skills in the field, while others may only require a certain number of education credits for professional development," Williams said. "These requirements vary by industry and position, so it's important you speak with your supervisor or other professionals in the field, so you have a plan that will set you up for success."

Williams said she has witnessed personal growth leading to professional development many times in her career. She's seen personal growth goals such as being a better communicator and mastering conflict management lead to professional development. "I have also seen professional development goals that have led to personal development as well," she said. "If you are truly developing, you notice things like confidence improve in various areas of your life."

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on twitter @AshDWallis.

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