Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” still rings true centuries later. Too often, we set broad goals without doing the essential work of creating a detailed roadmap that can lead us from where we are to where we want to be. Just as you wouldn’t sign up for a marathon without setting and sticking to a training plan or decide to learn a new language without committing to consistent practice, you can’t achieve your career goals without a clear plan in place.

Without diligent and strategic planning, our goals — whether personal or professional — fail to become a reality. A professional development plan (PDP) can help you, as a learning and development (L&D) leader, achieve your career goals in 2023 and beyond. However, creating a PDP isn’t easy: How can you ensure that your PDP is agile enough to withstand the unexpected? And on a fundamental level, how can you prioritize your own development when your job is focused on developing others?

Here, we’ll address the above questions and more so that you can create and adhere to a PDP that will set you up for success in the new year — no matter what challenges (and opportunities) lie ahead.

What Is a PDP — And Why Do You Need One?

According to Training Industry, a PDP is a document outlining an employee’s path to career advancement. Essentially, it’s a “working tool for career growth that employees and managers can adjust and build upon over time.”

A PDP can help ensure that your own development doesn’t get lost in the shuffle while you’re busy rolling out programs to support others. Julie Winkle Giulioni, author of the books “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,” says, “Plans force a level of concreteness. Writing something down has power.” If your career goals aren’t documented, and if you don’t commit to reviewing them routinely, then urgent priorities can quickly eclipse them, she explains.

Donnie Boroff, CPTM, a learning consultant at American Family Insurance Claims, Inc., agrees that writing down your goals in the form of a PDP, periodically checking in on your progress and adjusting your plan as needed can guide learning leaders toward their desired outcomes.

Tips for Getting Started

The following best practices can help you create a well-crafted PDP that will set you up for long-term success:

  • Be specific and time based: Set specific goals that include a target date for achievement. For example, rather than stating, “I will learn how to give more effective feedback,” you might state, “I will take a two-hour virtual course on how to deliver effective feedback in the second quarter of 2023. Six months later, I will conduct an anonymous survey among my team members to gauge my improvement in this area.” Setting specific goals with target achievement dates will help your goals remain tangible, says Megan Bell, MPM, PMP, manager of business operations and strategic communications at Blue Cross NC.
  • Be flexible: Outlining specific, time-bound goals is important. However, you will inevitably need to adjust your priorities as business needs shift. Thus, Bell says, “If you’re too locked into a plan, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice.” Try to “find the balance” of knowing your target goal while also allowing yourself the “flexibility to adjust,” she suggests.
  • Enlist an accountability partner: Ask your manager, or a coach or mentor, to act as an “accountability partner.” Sharing your PDP can help you remain accountable to your goals while also giving you the support you need to navigate roadblocks along the way. Encourage your “accountability partner” to regularly check in on your PDP’s progress, or schedule a recurring meeting to share updates and talk through any challenges you’re facing.

A well-written and thought-out PDP can energize and motivate you, Boroff says. “It will act like a north star and [will] provide direction. If it doesn’t, then you missed the mark and may have written it for someone else.” In other words, your PDP should be designed for you, by you, in order to support your short- and long-term career goals.

You Deserve Development, Too

As a learning leader, you are responsible for delivering programs that improve human performance and business outcomes as a result. But because your job is focused on developing others, it’s easy to put your own development on the backburner.

“We invest so much in the development of others and too frequently put ourselves at the end of the line when it comes to a focus on [our own] growth,” Giulioni says. However, “If we want to sustain our energy and impact, we must invest in ourselves as well.” Bell echoes this sentiment, noting that training professionals spend “so much time thinking about others’ development,” but they unfortunately don’t put that same investment in themselves.

By prioritizing your development as a learning leader, you will not only be better positioned to reach your career goals, but also will be leading by example. You’re showing learners that they can — and should — make time and space for their professional development.

Whether you’re looking to secure a promotion, to gain more funding for your initiatives or to claim your seat at the table, creating (and sticking to) a PDP can help you achieve your goals this year and beyond.

Ready to get started? Download the complimentary PDP template below, specially designed for learning leaders, below, courtesy of Training Industry Courses.