As positive as they sound and as positive as you would like them to be, personal development plans are a touchy subject. Even if done in the most constructive way, personal development plans still tell people where they have room to improve, which is a positive spin on criticism, and companies frequently use personal development plans as part of their progressive discipline procedures, which creates a stigma. To make a plan effective and useful for a member of a team, you must write the plan well and present it in a genuine and positive manner.
State overall goals at the top of the plan. Explain the subsequent steps that will help the team member achieve these goals. Examples include, "Gain the skills necessary for a management role," "Become eligible for performance-based pay increases" and "Develop skills to become an indispensable part of our team." Ideally, goals should focus on how the plan will further an individual's career goals so it serves both her and the organization.
List specific, actionable steps for development with measurable goals. Write these steps as an instruction, including methodology whenever possible. For example, you may write, "Increase typing speed to at least 60 words per minute. Use a tutorial software the company has on hand, or use an online service at home." Another step may be, "Increase billable service hours to 35 per week. Take advantage of administrative help for nonbillable tasks, and use time management tutorials available via firm Intranet to learn how to maximize work time."
Add extra details with support related to deficiencies in a team member's performance that need immediate improvement for him to keep his job. These items are where team members need the most instruction and help. For example, you may write, "Improve customer service skills to achieve at least an 80 percent rating on customer satisfaction surveys. Spend two days shadowing your team lead, retake the customer service orientation course on May 5 and read 'The Art of Customer Service.'"
Include a realistic target date for accomplishment of each step. Recognize that the more complicated or conceptual a skill, the more time it may take. For instance, improving proficiency in private health care insurance billing may take longer than generating weekly expense reports by a Friday deadline. Employees should feel that development plans are designed to help them succeed, which means plans must be reasonable and achievable.
Sit down with the team member and review the plan together. Be positive and constructive, and avoid being harsh or critical. Offer the opportunity for her to ask clarifying questions and give input. Help the employee see how the plan will benefit her both as an individual and as a member of the team. The employee needs to understand that a personal development plan isn't punitive and that you and the organization want her to grow and succeed.
Ask the employee, her manager and a human resources representative to sign and date the plan. Besides establishing a record of events, the act of signing helps an employee take ownership of his personal development plan.