If you’ve been following my work for any period of time, you know that I’m a big fan of Professional Development Plans (also referred to as PDPs). I often create these plans in collaboration with my career coaching clients, and I frequently provide training workshops on this topic. However, one question I repeatedly hear is this: Do I really need a professional development plan? What if I don’t have any big career aspirations? Or, what if I already know what I need to do…why should I bother writing it down?
Do ALL Professionals Need a PDP?
Here’s my honest answer: I believe every professional should always have a PDP. It’s a living document, so it should evolve as you grow in your career. The majority of the work happens up front, when you create the PDP for the first time. After that, it’s just a matter of updating and revising as you go, which usually requires less time and effort.
But yes, in almost all cases, I do think everyone needs a PDP.
Why Everyone Needs a PDP
Simply put, without a written plan for development, it’s easy to get complacent. And, it’s my belief that, if you’re not moving forward professionally, you’re actually moving backward. There’s no such thing as standing still.
You might not have any huge career goals right now, but that doesn’t mean you want to cut off your opportunities for the future. Even if you’re currently right where you want to be, you still need to continue developing your skills if you want to keep up with your peers. Otherwise, as your colleagues expand and deepen their skills, you’ll slowly fall behind—and that can jeopardize your current happy career circumstances.
For those folks who do have career ambitions, but believe that creating an actual written plan is not necessary, I usually cite the many, many studies that offer definitive proof of the power of written goals. Basically, all of the research shows that writing your goals down dramatically increases the likelihood of actually achieving them. The reason is both physical and physiological. Having a written PDP (complete with action steps and deadlines) increases commitment, clarity and drive. Left unwritten, it’s easy to create “goals” that are really just vague dreams—and it’s also easy to forget about them, even after only a short period of time.
For all of these reasons, I believe a Professional Development Plan is an essential career tool for everyone.
Professional Development Plan vs. Personal Development Plan
The only “exception” to my rule is for people who are a year or two from retirement. In such cases, I recommend that you create a personal development plan. Instead of focusing on career goals and the development activities needed to achieve them, I suggest that you focus on life goals and the activities needed to achieve them. Just because you won’t be working any longer, doesn’t mean you’ll want to stop learning and growing, right? Perhaps you’ll want to volunteer for a charitable organization, or start a small business, or explore a new hobby. These things all require a commitment on your part and, more than likely, some personal development. By creating a plan, you’ll be well prepared for the next stage of life, whatever that may look like.