In detail: how to build a personal growth plan
Summary: Are you a technical expert or individual contributor who’s not sure to know where your career should go next? Or an HR and organisational development strategist who is struggling to motivate and retain their specialist departments?
Written by Grant Heinrich 25 May 2020

Image credit: (C) Expertunity

Are you a technical expert or individual contributor who’s not sure to know where your career should go next? Or an HR and organisational development strategist who is struggling to motivate and retain their specialist departments?

By experts, we mean roles that often don’t manage teams, but have significant influence over the technical direction of their organisation: accountants, actuaries, chemists, coders, consultants, economists, engineers, financial experts, hardware makers, heads of compliance, individual contributors, information architects, lawyers, risk managers, subject matter experts – and more.

Experts have different needs to people managers. So much so that we say leadership is for those who lead people, and expertship is the skills and toolkit needed to lead the the introduction and adoption of new ideas, efficiencies, and competitive advantage.

In 2019, we released the Expertship Growth Guide – 102 ideas for experts to increase their value. Here’s the introduction, which explains:

  • Why do experts need a personal growth plan?

  • How do experts build a personal growth plan?

  • What’s next after you’ve created a plan?

  • What career growth should you aspire to?

  • How should you evaluate your performance?

  • Download your free personal growth template.

How do experts build a personal growth plan?

A Personal growth plan (PGP) helps you:

  • Determine the target outcomes you’d like to achieve: the “desired situation”

  • Identify current challenges and issues that you’d like to address: the “current situation”

  • Identify specific steps (“activities”) you plan to take, tracking progress and keeping yourself accountable.

  • To keep focus, we recommend you focus on a maximum of three growth opportunities, and pick the most advantageous to you and your organisation. And once you have defined your growth opportunities, complete the Growth Plan Template for the first capability area and then move onto the next ones.

Step 1: Define your growth opportunities

Questions you to consider

What non-technical, future-focused skills are most advantageous across my industry? What feedback have I had around my non-technical skills – what are my strengths to leverage/ challenges? If I could become a master in one area and it would make a huge difference, what would it be?

Consider which three growth areas will provide you and the business the biggest positive impact (you may find it useful to browse the guide to seek ideas)

  • Consider your strengths, not just areas which may be a challenge for you

  • Consider feedback you have received from leaders and stakeholders about your non-technical skills, as well as measurable feedback you may have received from 360 surveys, project and team reviews, and any Expertship programs you’ve attended.

  • “Lean in” to the capability areas that you find yourself avoiding. Is that because it’s an area you know requires growth?

Step 2: Define your current situation

Questions to consider

What behaviors of mine contribute toward those impacts? What do I need to consider acting differently?

  • Describe your current behaviors and the impact they have

  • Identify gaps between what you are doing and “getting” now and what you would like to be doing and “getting” in the future. Consider why.

The Expertship Growth Guide contains a lot of detail about “issues you’re hoping to prevent or address”

Step 3: Define the desired situation

The next two boxes on the Personal Growth Plan are to do with the “desired situation” – the future you want to achieve.

Questions to ask

What impact and outcomes would you like to have in this area? What would you see, hear, experience? What new behaviors do you want to adopt? What impact do you think these new behaviors will have?

  • Consider the “results you can expect” section of the development guide which may help you identify some positive impacts. Work your way back to identifying new behaviors that in turn will produce those positive outcomes.

  • Consider whether impact “new” behaviors will bring – are they just more more of the same behaviors?

Step 4: Activities

This stage refers to the committed steps you will take to achieve your goal.

  • List all the actions you will take to progress from current behaviors (and impacts) to desired behaviors (and impacts).

  • Identify concrete, specific measures, or signs and symbols of progress, that describe the achievement of your goals. Customer satisfaction measures? Completed projects? Something else?

  • If you don’t currently have ways to monitor your progress, consider creating some. Some ideas include regular project tracking meetings or stakeholder engagement questionnaires.

  • You may wish to seek feedback from a trusted colleague, third parties or stakeholders directly about what is working better, and where you potentially still need to focus

  • It’s vital that you work out each steps in enough detail to be able to subsequently review how to bring to life the actions. Ideally, they will each end up as tasks on your To-Do list or appointments in your calendar

You may find the “actions to take” section in the development guide helpful. We can’t guarantee the suggestions listed there perfectly and comprehensively apply to your situation, but it should give you ideas for the right sort of steps to help you progress towards mastery.

Step 5: Accountability strategy

This section is designed to help you put in place systems and relationships that assist you in staying on track – holding you accountable to take the actions you are describing above.

  • Consider who to make yourself accountable to and how regularly they will be updated

  • Commit to what you can practically manage

  • Consider the level of support you require.

What next after you’ve created your personal growth plan?

Making it happen

Now you’ve built your plan, you need to ensure it works and it’s followed. A PGP is most likely to help you realise your aspirations when:

There’s a compelling reason why it’s been created. You can see how you’ll benefit from the payoff from growing from your current situation to the plan’s desired impact.

The steps are specific enough, comprehensive, realistically timed and measurable

There is a sense of accountability, with progress checks to keep you on track.

Manager support

Once you have developed a draft, we’d recommend you share your action plan with your manager, inviting their input. That feedback will allow you to finalise your plan and start the process of putting it into action – and it also secures their support and sponsorship to the implementation of your plan.

Otherwise you run the risk of any progress that you’re making being invisible or seen as a possible unauthorized departure from preferred ways of working – or merely a distraction. Ask your manager:

  • Do they share your view of the value of the items you’ve chosen to work on?

  • What would they modify? Would they recommend any additional steps?

  • Are you at risk of over-extending yourself?

  • Is your timeline realistic and aggressive enough?

  • Are there other measures you might consider?

Once you have completed your PGP and presuming that you have shared it (and revised if required) with your manager, we recommend regular check-ins with them to review your progress, and seek their support and feedback on key areas.

Your commitment

As you grow your skills, it’s important to stay focused on why you wanted to grow is your skills. It’s easy to revert to old patterns and behaviors, or be pulled into old styles of working.

It will take time to reach Master Expertship level. The trick is to keep reviewing your PGP progress regularly, and continue to keep honing your skills and new behaviors until they become more natural.

Over time, you will see the positive impacts both for your organisation – and for your own personal career.

Download this template to help you rapidly progress your career