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How to Build and Execute a Self Development Plan

October 19, 2018

Last Friday on this blog we talked about activities that can help a leader become more self-aware. This week, we're going to take it one step farther and talk about what to do with this newfound knowledge.

Typically, we think about the career development process as having four steps:

  1. Self-Awareness

  2. Goal Setting

  3. Action Planning

  4. Implementation

Since we've already addressed step #1, let's break down each of the subsequent steps in more detail.

Goal Setting

self development plan

Review the list of strengths and weaknesses that you identified as part of your self-awareness activities. Do you have a strength that is currently underutilized? Set a goal that will allow you to leverage that skill set. Then consider the areas in which you can afford to improve. Which weaknesses have the biggest impact on your performance? Identify two or three skills that you'd like to develop and prioritize them appropriately. As you formulate your list of goals, take care to ensure they are SMART:

  • Specific in describing exactly what you will do. Rather than setting a vague goal (g. get better at communicating), think very specifically about the weakness that you're trying to develop and how you can specifically improve in that area (e.g. when delegating, compose emails that are clear, concise, and contain all of the necessary information someone will need in order to complete the task).

  • Measurable so that you can observe whether the outcome is achieved. Do you have specific performance metrics that are tied to this goal? If yes, use them. If you are developing a "softer" skill (e.g. be more compassionate when talking with team members) document any feedback you've received to date, then poll the same individuals in the future after you've spent some time working on this goal. Read more about how to open yourself up to feedback at work.

  • Attainable and realistic. Your goal should not focus on what you eventually want to achieve; sometimes there are several stages between where you currently are and where you want to be in the long-term. Be sure this plan focuses on the next stage of your development, not the ultimate or final goal.

  • Relevant to improved job effectiveness and job satisfaction. Your time and resources are limited, so be sure to prioritize areas that have a distinct impact on your performance.

  • Targeted so that you will not dilute or scatter your efforts. Sometimes there are multiple ways to tackle a deficiency. Focus on one or two activities at a time; attempting to do too much will hinder your ability to make progress.

Action Planning

Much like the projects you undertake in your work, your development plan needs to be clearly outlined and well executed. For each of your goals, you should construct a detailed action plan. The key elements in an action plan are as follows.  

  • Your Goal: Again, make sure it follows the SMART guidelines described above.  

  • Desired Outcomes: As a result of working this plan, what new outcomes will be achieved? Try to tie these directly to your current job or to a desired future job. List at least three observable differences.  

  • Action Steps: These should include the training and education opportunities you will complete, books you will read, role models you will enlist, and/or on-the-job or volunteer activities you will engage in to hone your skills in this particular area.  

  • Target Dates: These are the dates when you will begin each action step and the dates when you expect to complete them.  

  • Progress Indicators: These are observable changes that will tell you that you are making progress toward your goal as a result of completing the action step.  

  • Barriers: Anticipate what things may hinder your ability to complete the action step and develop a strategy to overcome them. Barriers might include time, resources, money, support from others, etc.


Last but not least, put your action plan into place. Do not delay. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be to start. Take that first step to get the ball rolling: schedule a meeting with your supervisor or mentor, order a new book or enroll in an online training course, bookmark articles that seem interesting and related to the areas on which you're focusing. As you start completing these activities, remember to review your action plan often to ensure that you are on the right path and working to achieve your goals within your time frame. And finally, be sure to reward yourself when you meet your goals and desired outcomes.

Continuous improvement is the key to self development. Once you have achieved the goals in your action plan, reassess your situation, review your results, set new goals, and continue on your path of growth and self improvement. Think of self-development as a continuing cycle; it does not end after you have completed your initial set of goals. To stay abreast or ahead of the workplace of the future, you will need to reassess yourself and your goals at regular intervals.

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Christian Spielman Christian Spielman was a Consulting Associate based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. Christian provides client support across many different industries including manufacturing, customer service, retail, and healthcare, with a particular focus on leadership assessment and development.