It’s the New Year! We’ve just dragged ourselves out of our collective Christmas duvet, and in the first week back at work have been bombarded across every form of media with how we should change our lives, our figures, our eating and drinking habits…. it’s all enough to drive you back under the covers, clutching a magnum of prosecco and a large cake! So I’m not going to write about New Year’s resolutions – simply don’t believe in them. Make a change at any point through the year, because you want to; not because the date tells you to do so!

However, this time of year is also start of the year for many organisations and across the country many people are sitting down to write their personal development objectives.

In a very real sense it’s New Year: New You in a work perspective. You’ll agree now all those great changes you plan to make, write them up in a shiny personal development plan, and promptly forget all about them; just like the gym membership.

If you do that, it’s a complete waste of time. So how do you write a worthwhile development plan, that you want to stick to and actually achieve?

I have 5 simple rules to writing an effective development plan. They are not theoretical and drawn from some great thought leader, but rather carved out over the last 20 years of writing 30+ PDPs a year with direct reports. Over the years, these plans have become more effective, and simpler – and funnily enough, effective. So here they are:

1. No Business as Usual Goals: what do I mean by Business as Usual? This is anything that you or your employee has to do as part of their job e.g. complete all team one to one’s monthly, send in board packs each month. These are not goals, they are parts of their job description and have no place on a personal development plan. The only time they should ever be on here is if the employee is underperforming, and then if they aren’t doing this after 3-4 months, you should be having a very different type of conversation.

2. Don’t rollover Goals: If you haven’t achieved a goal you’ve had all year on you plan– don’t just move it to next year’s plans; Reflect! Why haven’t you achieved it? Is it too difficult, irrelevant, no opportunity, no motivation – what? Because there is a reason – and once you know the reason, you can change the goal. Either scrap it and choose another one, or adapt it so it’s relevant. I’ve had a goal to complete an online NLP course for 18 months on my plan, and 6 months ago I simply deleted it as the course didn’t work for me. That was strangely liberating and I went and studied something I was interested in, enjoyed it and completed it instead!

3. Only Pick 3: Don’t pick too many goals, I would recommend no more than 3. Now when I say this, I don’t mean 3 actions, I mean 3 goals. A goal has an outcome, a time frame and a measure – and it may have a number of actions in order to accomplish it. Set the time frames for these 3 goals as short (1-2 months), medium (3-6 months), and long term (6-12 months), and you can plan your time throughout the year, and focus your attention. This way you are much more likely to accomplish the goals, as you are only focussing on one thing at a time.

4. Make them SMART: SMART is not a new way of goal setting, it’s been around a long time, but it works. So be Specific, set a Measure, make the goal Achievable and Relevant, and set a Time frame. Remember, “ongoing” or “monthly” is not a time frame. See point 1 – wrong goal! It should be a date.

5. Review and Evaluate: The reason why we don’t achieve most goals and plans are down to 1 simple reason – we don’t review them. If we review goals we can then adapt them, and give ourselves a better chance of success. We then know if they demotivate us, there are barriers to achieving them, they are the wrong goals, the time frame is unrealistic etc. Once we know this, we can make a choice what to do with them. A personal development plan should not be something to be written at the start of the year – it should be a live document, that is amended, has tea stains on it and is used. So review it regularly, at least every 3 months, preferably monthly – and change it when needed!

So are these 5 rules the only thing you need to accomplish your goals? Hell no! You need hard work, motivation, resilience, support and sometimes a degree of luck. But following this will make sure you start off with a plan that is fit for purpose, and that you want to use.

Good luck with writing yours!