The ultimate guide to personal development planning

I’ve been searching for a guide to help me run better development conversations with my team since I first became a manager two years ago.

In those early days, my development conversations were wooden and over-prescriptive. I’d spend hours preparing 5-page documents, scoring(!) people on ‘success factors’ the team and I had created, and generally telling, not coaching. At least I usually compensated my team with a pint at our local Wetherspoons after for putting them through all that.

So I began looking for ways to improve those conversations. The best articles I could find were inspiring and thought-provoking, but too coy. They hinted at how to unlock great development conversations but stopped short of the big reveal. I was seeking something comprehensive — a one-stop-shop, a golden bible for how to approach these important discussions.

Two years on, I stopped searching and started creating… working in partnership with Gousto’s amazing People team and Clare Marks. And we now hold in our hands a powerful and comprehensive approach to unlocking growth potential. This new framework has step-changed my team’s development conversations in the past few weeks as I’ve applied its approach and question techniques.

But before I share all the details of this best-practice, let’s start by discussing what I believe to be the two fundamentals of personal growth.

The two fundamentals of personal growth

Provide challenging work that means something

The folks at Netflix go even farther in their iconic original culture deck. They don’t even career plan for their employees. Instead, they just surround individuals with other great people and give them challenging problems to solve.

How we classify challenging and meaningful work at Gousto

Give regular, constructive feedback

The cycle of expectation setting, feedback on those expectations, and documentation. I may share our levelling document for Product in a future post. DM me if you want an early look ;)

Introducing our detailed approach to personal development plans (PDPs)

To be effective, PDPs must not just be a document that you create once and never check again. Instead, they must be part of a structured personal development process (confusingly - PDP), that ties together long-term thinking with short-term feedback & action-setting to maximise someone’s growth.

We use PDPs to:

  1. Work out longer-term goals and motivations
  2. Plan challenging work for the months ahead
  3. Regularly recap on progress towards goals and feedback on that work

We’ve mapped these objectives onto a rough cadence for when to have these conversations, shown below.

The cadences of different PDP conversations

Note, both the above-recommended cadences for PDP conversations and the below detail is intended to be used as a guide and to provoke thought. We do not believe in being prescriptive. Conduct PDPs in whatever way works best for the unique individual you are working with, rather than follow any template.

The 6-month check-in: Building a ‘classic PDP doc’

But what should you be writing down? You only need to do three things:

Seems easy? Not for me. I always thought that detailing these asks with someone was incredibly difficult. So to help, we pulled together a discussion guide to guide ourselves through the conversation, ensuring we get the level of deep thinking required in order to produce a highly effective PDP doc.

The 6-week and 3-month check-in: Zooming in on development areas and work plans

Every six weeks, review and unpack the top focus areas identified in the 6-month check-in. This second session guide can help, prompting you to look back and then look forward. There’s also a set of questions for your quarterly catch up on page two (I’ve written a more detailed blog on job-crafting here).

Help us make this even better

So please comment or message me on LinkedIn if you want to share your stories! We’d love to continue to evolve our approach.

And to end on a juicy educational note: see our seven top tips below!

VITAL framework refers to training we did internally at Gousto by the fullpotentialgroup. You can see their approach to VITAL communication skills here

Head of Product at Gousto