Personal development & competence building

My company actively stimulates personal development of its employees, which is very cool. It does so by letting employees fill in a Personal Development Plan (PDP). The PDP helps you think about your current status, what you want to achieve and how the company might support you in reaching your goals. The PDP has four questions:

  1. What is your current status?
  2. What do you want to achieve this year?
  3. How are you going to achieve this and how can the company support you?
  4. What do you and the company agree on for this year?

Looks nice. Looks well. Or does it? Actually, I had no idea how to respond to these questions. Why is that? It does look nice but I think there is a major flaw: points two and four are specifically hinting at a yearly cycle of your personal development. I think there are two things wrong with that:

  1. The idea that there is a beginning and an end to building competence or developing yourself.
  2. The iteration interval of 1 year.

Typical attitude of my colleagues to the PDP is: ‘shrug, I’ll just copy the one of last year’ or ‘what the hell should I write?’. Shows that there is not much confidence in the effectiveness of the PDP and indifference about its intention.

I think development is a cyclical process. Moreover, I think that looking back at your personal development once a year is a bit on the lean side. Since personal development is a continuous process, I think you should have a continuous feedback loop as well. A lot can happen in a year. The indifference of my colleagues also partly stems from that I believe: they are already continuously developing themselves. If you don’t do that, you cannot work in modern IT. So why should they fill in some bureaucratic form stating vague intentions which will be irrelevant or forgotten when they are reviewed?

When I look back at my own development throughout my years working for various companies I draw the following conclusions:

  • I have developed myself quite a bit.
  • I never had a personal development plan.

Now, how did I develop myself to what I am now (I started my career as a graduate in Tropical Landuse, now I am a web developer)? I gave it some thought and concluded that I naturally have the intuition that makes me do constant self-reflection, the curiosity to attend conferences, read books or consult the Internet for every interesting new topic I encounter and the enthousiasm and drive to try to be the best I can in as many topics as my brain can manage.

For example, during my performance review in December, my boss asked me to join the newly formed Strategy&Marketing team. Don’t do that to me. Please. What happens is:

  • I get enthousiastic about it: “Wow, strategy and marketing, cool!”
  • I realise I know nothing about it: “Dear Internet, what about strategy and marketing?”
  • Amazon vacuums my wallet
  • A continuous stream of books clogs my mail box, annoying my wife
  • Me, ignoring my wife and kid, sucking up new knowledge
  • One-eye is born!

In that respect, a yearly cycle would have missed me getting into marketing and development; you would like to be able to continuously adapt to the ever changing current situation.

Additionally, it’s all nice and well to have a Personal Development Plan. But what about a TDP or Team Development Plan? As a company you’d not only want to have the best employees, but also the best, most jelling teams. It’s useless to have dozens of hyper-competent but non-communicating employees.

So, how do we hack the PDP to accommodate my already in progress process of continuous development?

  1. We have to get rid of the yearly cycle and make it continuous
  2. We have to fix Personal in the PDP to go from inward focused to outward focused and try to affect my surroundings in a positive, non-intrusive way.

The ideal would be to adopt a framework like Adobe did recently so you can drop yearly performance reviews altogether. But I think my bosses are not ready for that yet. I decided to just keep on doing what I am doing with one difference: I will write. I will write about my personal development, my views on the team, the company, the market, the world. That way, I will exploit the teacher’s paradox and give the outside world an opportunity to reflect on what is in my head. Or not, if you are not interested, don’t read my blog.

How can my company support me? Easy; empower me to develop myself by providing me resources. Give me money. Or time. Or both. In the most flexible way. I suggested that instead of letting employees formally apply for a course or conference or reimbursement for books, to let them have an employability budget as a secondary benefit. Just give your employees, say, 1000 Euro’s and 5 days which they van use freely to develop themselves. They can spend it on books, get an account at an online course provider, attend a conference, go to a course, buy a Raspberry-Pi, whatever. Give people autonomy to develop themselves and they will. Let them write about what they learned, let them publish source code to Github showing their new skills, let their hacked R-Pi shout out the status of your Continuous Integration system. People like to show what they learned.

Foster creativity, create a culture of continuous improvement, instill stronger accountability through short feedback cycles: turn your company into a learning organisation.

5 Responses to “Personal development & competence building”

  1. I look at it in a different way. To me it is useful and to me it doesn’t interfere with my regular continuous improvement :-)

    I’ve written down my take on the matter here:

  2. Arjen says:

    I don’t want to suggest it’s not useful. I just want to explore how we could make something good even better. I don’t see a dichotomy between my analysis of the current situation and my suggestions for improvement. I see it as a natural evolution. If I made the impression that I’d think a PDP is crap, I apologise.

  3. Rik says:

    I really like your stand on PDP. It reflects mine. My ‘personal’ development is much broader then what is (obviously) relevant for my work and employer. I really like to talk about my PD. But after I tried hard to inform my employer about my PD in full he explained me he was not interested in the parts of my PD which did not resonate with my daily work. So my employer is not offering me ‘personal’ development, he is offering education/training to get a better employee. Which I think is perfectly fine, but I oppose to the term ‘personal’ development. If my employer really wants me to ‘personal’ develop he should just give me time and money for it and trust and wait till something nice grew out of it.

  4. Arjen says:

    Hi Rik, I agree with your comment.

    What your employer should realise is that quality of work is strongly correlated to motivation. If you are motivated to do your job, you are much more likely to deliver high quality work. If your employer would show interest in your personal development, I guess that would boost your motivation, making you a better employee in the process. In the end, everybody would be a winner.

  5. Rik says:

    Hell Arjen, I agree with your comment
    “I guess that would boost your motivation, making you a better employee in the process” At least if we can replace ’employee’ by ‘human’. Becoming a better human does not necesary imply a better employee. Final question is in my view: Can a good human still be employed ?

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