How to Create a Professional Development Plan (and Some Example Templates)

Everyone on your team needs a professional development plan (PDP) which gives them, in concrete terms, what they are working towards in order to achieve their goals within their role. The cadence for updating them is up to you but should usually fall into your quarterly review cycle which gives the team member enough time to work on objectives outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. 

It doesn’t matter what professional development plan template that you use, or even if you use a different template for each person that you manage, the key is that you need something. Beyond this, you need to ensure that whatever template(s) that you use, that they include everything that your team requires.

Let’s take a look at the key elements of a PDP.

Objectives

Start with a list of things  your team member wants to accomplish. I’d recommend thinking big here and when you first complete the PDP, add as many objectives as you can think of. For now, don’t worry about how long each one will take, just get everything out of your head and onto paper. One thing to bear in mind is that the objective needs to be something specific and achievable, – not something abstract which can’t actually be completed.

One thing to bear in mind is that as soon as you start to set objectives, you will create a set of behaviours. You need to foresee what behaviours these may be and ensure that they don’t have unintended consequences. 

Timelines

Next to each objective, put an estimated timeline for completion of the objective and be as realistic as you can. One tip is to try and put an actual date, such as ‘by the end of March or by the end of 2024, etc’. This will help you map out an actual timeline as opposed to ‘within three months’ which can quickly come around and get pushed back and back.

Tie the objective to the bigger picture

Ideally, your company will also have some overarching objectives which are communicated to the whole team. If so, these should be included in the PDP and you should have the option of aligning personal objectives with those of the company. You don’t have to align every single one to the company, but you should try to align most of them if you can. This helps to ensure that your team member is contributing to wider company objectives and that they don’t go off on too much of a tangent.

What help is required

What help will they need in order to complete the objective? This could include budget, help from colleagues or external trainers. Answering this question helps to pre-empt any future problems and allows them the best chance possible to complete the objective.

Next steps

Write down the first couple of steps where action needs to be taken in order to get the objective moving. These actions don’t need to be comprehensive and include every single step, but it should be enough for your team members to know what they need to do first. With actionable steps, your team members won’t get stuck thinking about the objective and how to start it, which can be an issue for more inexperienced members of the team. 

Just as importantly, having agreed next steps and actions (and checking in on them( is one of the most effective ways to drive accountability.

Professional development plan example templates

Next, we’ll go through some example frameworks that you can use for your team. To some extent, it doesn’t matter too much which one(s) you use. The important point is that you need to use ones that are effective for your team and provide enough information  as well as clarity on their career progression. 

3×2 framework

The 3×2 framework is remarkably simple and easy to use. It’s also very visually led which can make it easy to understand and follow. It looks something like this:

3x2 Professional Development Template
3×2 Professional Development Template

You can actually make this a 3×3 framework by adding another column titled ‘Personal’ which allows someone to also cover non-work ambitions too, but we’ll leave that out for the purposes of this module.

Timelines

On the left, we have three rows for:

  • 3 years
  • 1 year
  • Now

These are the timelines associated with the objectives you put into the other columns. These timelines can be adjusted however you want, but work quite well due to the fact that they are a nice balance between short and long term.  

Business goals and career goals

Then, we have two columns which cover:

  • Business
  • Career

These are designed to force someone into thinking about what goals they want to achieve within the business, alongside what they want to achieve for the wider career at the moment. 

The difference between these two columns is subtle but important. The career column will touch upon things that may impact the individual’s wider career more than the company, at least in the short term. 

For example, it may be someone’s ambition to eventually run their own company or to become a mentor for others or to go back to college part-time. These are all important to know and to acknowledge, even if they are not directly related to their current work with the company.

On the other hand, the business column should be used to map out their goals and ambitions that relate directly to the company. For example, being promoted to a Senior Copywriter or a Lead Developer or line managing a team. 

Think big, act small, move quickly

Popularised by David Van Rooy and shown to me by Danny Denhard, this framework is another simple one and does a nice job of connecting big goals to smaller actions and timelines. This is what it looks like:

Think Big, Act Small, Move Quick Personal Development Template
Think Big, Act Small, Move Quick Personal Development Template

Starting on the left, each row is a big goal that the team member sets for themselves. It’s designed to be something quite ambitious and will take time to achieve.

The next column is where you define actions that are related to each goal. This is where acting small comes in because you’re breaking down each big goal into smaller, achievable steps which are more like to-do list items.

The final column is where you set a deadline. Titled move quick,  you should aim to build momentum and get actions completed, you should balance this with some realism. 

This framework can work really well when a team member needs help turning their lofty goals into actions and need to be held accountable against a deadline. The goals are linked to a timeline which will naturally make them more likely to be achieved. 

SMART goal framework

Out of all of the frameworks that we’re talking about, this is probably the most common one that you may have come across before. The SMART goal framework is often used for setting company and team goals, but it can also be used for individual goals. 

SMART stands for:

  • Specific: what is the actual thing that you’re trying to achieve?
  • Measurable: how will you know when you’ve achieved that thing? How will it be measured?
  • Attainable: is it attainable? Is there anything that could get in the way?
  • Relevant: is it relevant to your role and the wider business?
  • Timebound: in what timeframe will you aim to achieve it?

It works particularly well when an individual is good at coming up with big, ambitious goals but needs some help in making them concrete and therefore, more achievable. 

SMART goal setting personal development template
SMART goal setting personal development template

It’s very well structured and pretty easy to understand. Thus, showing when a goal may not be  reasonable or SMART. Again, for some individuals, their ambitions may need reigning in a little, so having to answer questions on whether the goal is attainable and timebound can force them to think a bit more about it. 

One issue is that this framework alone doesn’t define the actions  needing to be taken or any milestones along the way. So once goals have been put through this process and refined, there is still another item to define the steps to get there. 

If you want to grab a copy of these templates, you can get them here:

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