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How to Create a Personal Growth and Professional Development Plan

To create a personal growth and professional development plan, start by defining your results and motivation. Next, determine the required skills, perform a self-assessment and identify one area that needs work. Finally, you can develop an action plan using the "SMART" goal-setting method.

A woman reviewing her personal growth and professional development plan on sticky notes

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 distinct avenues of self-improvement, but the two go hand in hand. For example, suppose you’re interested in creating a personal or professional development plan or working toward personal growth. In that case, you're likely to experience a pleasant side-effect of learning new skills or strengthening abilities you already have, that is, achieving your personal goals for work.

How to Create a Personal Development Plan

Dr. Shanita Williams, associate vice president of people experience at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), also an author and a TEDx speaker, said she uses a specific approach to guide her thinking when creating a personal development plan. She recommends these 5 steps to help you make your own personal development plan:

Step 1: Define Results and Motivation

Considered by Williams to be the first and most crucial step, a vision for your personal development plan starts at the finish. “Start with the end in mind,” Williams said. Ask yourself what goals you wish to achieve and consider where you want to start.

In setting your personal growth goals, Williams said, knowing why you want to improve yourself is essential for your motivation to maintain 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 do you 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 a Skills Self-assessment

Some skills come naturally, and others take a lot of work to become proficient. Williams suggests you self-assess the skills needed to achieve your personal growth goals. Which skills do you already possess, and which ones will take some time to learn?

Don't be afraid to ask for an outside perspective from supervisors or friends when considering which of your skills could use some development. Consider the skills you already have and how you perform under stressful conditions.

For example, 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

Pick one relevant skill to help you discover the area you will focus on first. This one skill should be something you can work on that will help you get closer to your goal.

“This (skill) might be obvious,” Williams said, “and in some cases, it might be challenging (to identify).” However, 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 an 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 an objective-setting method referred to as “SMART goals.”

This method helps you make your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and 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

Dr. Shanita Williams with the text Dr. Shanita WilliamsWilliams 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, she 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? Consider these options for professional development.

1. Formal Development

Participating in workshops led by instructors knowledgeable in your field can advance your understanding of new concepts and adds to your skills. In addition, you can 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.

2. Social Development

You can join an industry association, such as the Small Business Association (SBA) or the American Nurses Association (ANA), to connect with others in your field and gain support. Additionally, being a member of professional associations and attending conferences focused on your field can help you network.

Another way you can add to your social development is by 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 want to do.

3. Experiential Development

Challenge yourself with skills-based practice. Link up with project teams that allow you to test your skills and push yourself further. Putting your skills to the test in real-world scenarios will help you understand what works and 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.

So, pursue professional development opportunities that match your learning style or use a mix of all three. Using a combination of methods works for Williams, who said doing so “helps to engage my head, heart and hands in my development.”

Can Personal Growth Be 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 had witnessed personal growth leading to professional development many times in her career. She’s seen personal growth goals, such as becoming 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,” Williams said. “If you are truly developing, you notice things like (your) confidence improve in various areas of your life.”

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU degree program that can best help you meet your goals.

Ashley Wallis '16 is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. Find her on Twitter @AshDWallis.

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.