When I ask most managers about their growth plan, they assume that I’m referring to a sales growth plan, or perhaps a financial plan. What about a personal growth plan, though? Many people give consideration to so many other things, but are not intentional about their personal learning growth, and that’s a mistake.

If you are going to stay relevant in today’s fast paced world, you must plan for your personal growth. You will not effectively accomplish what you don’t intentionally plan. Therefore, creating a personal growth plan is paramount to your ongoing effectiveness.

Ongoing Learning Supports Innovative Thinking

Before we discuss the tool called a personal growth plan, I want to develop a basic premise of why we should always be learning. Although there are probably books worth writing on this subject, I want to highlight a few elements, starting with my favorite. I find that nothing stirs creative and innovative thought better than the ongoing, and varied, input provided by multiple forms of learning. In fact, when I start getting bogged down by challenging issues, or even people, I try to make it a point to separate myself and do some reading or listen to some teaching. I find that in so doing, fresh brain activity is stirred, allowing me to revisit the situation with a different perspective. It is important to note that when I do this, I typically look for learning material that is NOT related to the issue that I am facing. It’s not some kind of requirement that the learning be unrelated to the problem, but the point to be made is that it is the act of learning, in and of itself, that creates new pathways for inspired thought. If you desire to have innovation be evident in your work, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not have a growth plan – a defined, targeted and intentional course of action for how you will develop your knowledge and abilities.

Ongoing Learning Supports Employee Motivation and Morale

I find that when I focus time on learning, I get a fresh wind that stirs a bias for action. It will often shake off the cobwebs of mundane activity and stir new motivations for moving forward. In addition to my own development, however, I need to help my employees continue to develop their skills. Ongoing learning can do the same for their motivation as it does for mine. Growth plans are excellent tools for you to use personally to assure that you block out that learning time, but they are equally important for you to apply to your employees. As they learn and grow, they will get fresh motivation. Not only will the fresh thinking help to drive productivity, but the feeling of appreciation that they will have for receiving ongoing skill development will assist in overall motivation and morale in your team. It can be a win, win, win.

How Can Learning be Made a Regular Part of What We Do?

It’s important to recognize that learning does not just happen, nor should it be left for chance. It is neither accidental, nor something that happens just because you go to some training class. Learning is much more than attendance at a class or reading a book. Learning happens because information is received, evaluated, integrated, and acted upon. True learning is identified when a person does something differently because of the knowledge they have received. True learning has an impact that goes beyond head knowledge. For that to happen, a learner has to choose to learn – choose to receive information, choose to evaluate, choose to integrate, and choose to act in line with what they have learned. It is not accidental; it is intentional.

There are multiple facets to the intentionality of learning. It includes a true participation and interaction with any learning event, but it also includes the intentionality of planning those learning events. If times and elements of learning are not planned, they will be sporadic at best, and non-existent at worst. That is where a learning plan comes into play.

What is a Personal Growth Plan?

A growth plan outlines a specific set of learning objectives, including plans for how the learning will occur, and timeframes for completion. It provides the opportunity for you to consider areas of desired growth and develop a roadmap to accomplish that growth. It allows you to design learning events that are in line with broader objectives, rather than haphazardly participate in whatever latest training conference or session comes along, based on the advertisement that comes across your desk. It is an invaluable tool for any manager who is going to continue their personal growth, and for helping employees continue in their development.

Need More Reasoning for a Growth Plan?

Many people assume that their company is going to grow, and they create endless strategic and tactical plans for that growth. What they often fail to recognize is that for a company to truly grow, both financially and operationally, the company’s infrastructure must also grow. A key component of infrastructure is the area of employees, but not just any employees, you need employees who are capable of taking the company to new levels. One way that this can happen is through acquiring new employees. There may be advantages to that at times, but never underestimate the value of your current employees and the wealth of company knowledge that they have. In order to fully utilize that knowledge, their skills should continually be developed. For that matter, if you want to continue to see yourself rising in the organization, your skills should continually be developed. In fact, here’s a little known secret to your personal growth; when your employees grow, they offer a means for you to grow as well. They raise the water level in the organization, causing everything to rise higher, including you. A growth plan is a mechanism to help accomplish the learning goals for everyone in the organization.

How Do I Create a Growth Plan?

  • The first place to start with a growth plan is overall objectives. Set a target for what you want to accomplish before you plan the steps to get there.

    When you have objectives for learning that are in line with business growth objectives, it allows you to make the learning specific, rather than arbitrary. This may include things like leadership development if you want to be promoted to higher levels of management, or it may be something like being able to do more in-depth data analysis if your company objective is to be more data driven.
  • Objectives may also be based on areas where you personally want to learn and grow. This should still be with a particular purpose or aim in mind. For example, you may have a desire to learn physics just because of personal interest in the subject, but what would be your end goal? Are you going to become a physicist or is that subject going to help you in some way with your other objectives? If so, great, but if it has no particular purpose or additional value, you may want to reconsider how much effort you would put into the endeavor of learning in that area.
  • Next, create a list of training needs in order to foster growth in the areas where it is most needed in order to accomplish your objectives. This is just a list of things that are to be learned. For example, if you have a learning objective to be more accomplished in data analysis, you may have something on your list like “Advanced Microsoft Excel” or “Learn SQL.” Note, make sure the list is manageable and able to be accomplished in desired timeframes. I typically try to limit a growth plan to between three and five items.
  • Once you know what you or your employees need to learn, you can determine best avenues for learning the items on your list. Make training choices in line with what will work best for the nature of the area for development, as well as the learning styles of the participant. For example, a book might be a great tool to learn a new concept, but it’s difficult to learn computer software without hands-on interaction with the program. Additionally, some people are textual learners, and will learn well from reading or writing, while others may be auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. Try to structure training to best compliment both the material as well as the learner. It might be a structured classroom training to learn Microsoft Excel or it might be a college course for more technical learning or it may be a series of books for management development.
  • Now that you have a list of what is to be learned and how it is to be learned, set realistic timeframes for completing each item. You may schedule based on available classes or by estimated times needed if it a self-directed learning experience. Growth plans may be made on quarterly, 6 month, or yearly timeframes. They may be made to coincide with employee reviews or alongside strategic planning. In any case, don’t try to overlap completion deadlines for too many items on the list, and never rush the learning process. Remember, true learning requires the opportunity to evaluate, integrate and practice doing things in line with the knowledge acquired. All of that takes time if it is to be effective. Plan deadlines and overall growth plan completion dates that are achievable and will yield return on the investment.

Accountability for Learning Plans

Accountability is an important element for yourself, as well as for your employees. If you are creating a growth plan for your personal use, that is not directed by a leader above you, consider finding a way to keep yourself accountable to its completion. You may want to involve someone else, like a mentor, to help confirm that you stay on track, or you may want to set up a reward system for your completion of items on your plan. Whatever it is, finding ways to follow through is critical.

If you are a manager, working with your employees on their growth plans, the first step to accountability should actually be their participation in creation of the plan. The more ownership they have to the plan’s development, especially in the area of timeframes for completion, the easier your job will be to help them stay on track. It is important that you not only follow up with their progress (like during one-on-one meetings), but also make sure that you create an environment conducive to completion of the plan. For example, you don’t plan for them to attend a class, and then tell them that there is too much work to be done so that they cannot attend!

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Growth plans are simple tools that help provide structure to a process that is often overlooked. For all the numerous gains to be had when you and your employees are in an ongoing learning and growth process, it is too important a tool to skip. The prize at the end makes it worth the effort that you put forth, whether it is the effort in creation of the plan or the effort needed to actually achieve it. Make a growth plan today, and start on the road to intentional development.