I’ve Got My Development Plan Template – Now What Do I Write?

development plan template Individual Development Plan

I’ve Got My Development Plan Template – Now What…

After searching far and wide, or perhaps by asking HR or a colleague for help, you’ve obtained a development plan template because you realize it’s important for you to have your own development plan. You’re committed to work on your development and really looking forward to it. It’s all downhill from here.

Until you sit down to complete it. You’ve got your huge pile of resources (overwhelming), your last performance appraisal (ambiguous), and notes from your last meeting with your boss where you discussed your development needs (your notes simply say “I am solid”). It’s no surprise that the vastly blank development plan template with its blinking cursor is staring back at you.

It’s writers block – the development plan template version!

The purpose of a development plan is to provide you with a structured path to behavior change. To do this, your development plan needs to contain some key information whether or not it’s called for in the development plan template.

Here are the critical elements to include in your development plan that will give you the best chance at achieving behavior change.

5 Things to Include When Completing Your Development Plan Template

1. Identify a specific behavior you want to change.

It’s not enough to say “I want to be a better problem solver” or “I want to improve morale among my team.” Those are a good start, but they are results, not behaviors. When completing your development plan template, in addition to your desired results, you need to identify the specific behaviors you are either not demonstrating, demonstrating ineffectively, or need to stop demonstrating, because doing so will lead to the desired result.

When identifying the behavior you seek to change, ask for input from people you work with regularly. Solicit specific feedback via a survey, through a social tool, or even – gasp – in person! You should also use any relevant, readily available information such as survey data from other projects, customer sat data, etc.

Based on the feedback and your desired result you should be able to articulate a specific behavior you want to change. A few examples: “consider multiple perspectives when making a decision”, or “reward my team quickly whenever a goal is achieved.” If you’re not sure whether your statement is a behavior or a result, ask yourself if it’s something you demonstrate or something you want.  If it’s the latter, it’s not a behavior.

2. Make sure you can articulate what the outcome looks like after you make the behavioral change.

How will you know that the action of quickly rewarding your team has improved morale? The answer lies in how the team’s morale is measured. Data from engagement or exit surveys are commonly used for this purpose. You could also use data that is collected on a more frequent basis for a variety of purposes such as attendance at team functions or customer trend data. If none of these exist at your company, design your own measure such as individual participation in staff meetings or team-building activities.

In addition to knowing how you’ll measure your results, you must also be able to measure how effective you’ve been in changing the behavior you’re targeting. Continuing with the same example, team morale may have increased but how do you know your behaviors related to rewarding your team have improved? The best way to know is to ask your team. A follow-up survey is commonly used for this purpose. Alternatively, you could ask them using the same alternate methods discussed for soliciting initial feedback such as asking them in person or through your preferred social tool. Choose the method that works best for your target group.

3. Identify activities that will provide you opportunity to practice the behavior you’re targeting.

It’s fine to read books or articles, take a class, even attend a conference. But don’t expect that learning experience to catapult you to immediate success. You need to practice what you’ve learned in a safe environment where you can partner with a mentor or a coworker who is skilled in the area you’re working on. Ask around to find out what projects are going on in the company that you can participate in. If seeking out a development project within your company is a challenge, explore possible extra-curricular activities. Get involved with a local association for your area of expertise or a committee at your kid’s school. Volunteer with a non-profit or participate in your local government. These are just a few examples of opportunities that offer exposure to a variety of different types of work and often have an urgent need for help.

4. Formalize your plan.

Nobody likes having to fill out another form. But the truth is writing it down will make you more likely to achieve your goals. So carve out some time, open up your development plan template, and make sure you’ve got the following key areas documented in it:

  • Behavior to be changed
  • Expected result
  • Actions to be taken
  • Success measures / evaluation technique
  • Timeline – when you’ll start, when you’ll check in, and when you will finish

Many development plan templates include additional areas such as resources needed, what kind of support is needed from the manager, linkage to corporate objectives, etc. If these are helpful to you, use them. You should also build in time for regular self-reflection to evaluate what aspects of the plan are working and what you might want to change. It is completely fine to modify the plan as needed to make it work for you.

5. Schedule accountability and check-in mechanisms.

When you documented your plan, you assigned yourself a variety of deadlines. So before you put that completed development plan template in your desk drawer, make note of those deadlines in whatever planning tool you use for all your other work. If pop-up reminders work for you, use them. If you use a paper planner, document all your deadlines in that. You should also note any check-in meetings you planned for (e.g. with your boss, your mentor, etc.) and the time you allotted for self-reflection. If you’re serious about your development, this should make complete sense to you. If it doesn’t make sense, ask yourself if you’re truly committed to self-development and the time investment required for behavioral change. Ultimately, no matter how awesome the development plan template may be, you still need to fill it with tangible actions and measures if you expect to get anything out of it.

What have your challenges been in completing a development plan template? What do you do to address them? Tell us in the comments!