6 Steps to Create a Professional Development Plan

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businessman with marker writing somethingWho reading this has a five-year plan? (Halfway raises my own hand.) You see, I am certainly a planner and like to have things in my life mapped out, yet I’d never considered really sitting down and dedicating the time to plan out my life for the next five years. But as the topic of five-year and ten-year plans kept surfacing, I decided to give it a try. What hopes and dreams made my “to-have-accomplished-by-now” list? Well…

  • To visit another country
  • To be engaged to be married
  • To be a best-selling novelist
  • To have at least three published books

Blah, blah, blah, and the list went on. With the exception of finally visiting somewhere other than the 50 states, my “this-is-where-I-want-to-be” list is looking like I’ll need a “years extension” to complete it.

Needless to say, I’m not quite sure how I feel about these X amount of years plans to map the course of your life (if that’s even possible), yet when I learned about a different kind of planning—one directed toward your profession—I was intrigued. Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce to all of you a technique many of you should already have, and if you don’t, one I would recommend you adopt—the professional development plan.

A professional development plan is a specific (individualized or generalized) approach to enhance professional growth in a career or business. In layman’s terms, it’s simply a plan setup to help you (or a company) take the necessary steps to develop your professional life. And below are six easy steps to creating a plan specifically for you:


What is your current professional standing? Employed, unemployed, working for a company, business owner? Now think about where you want to be professionally. What steps will it take to get there? The first step to creating an efficient professional development plan is to assess your current profession, whether or not you’re happy or where you desire to be. If you desire to elevate your career, you must take the time to really think about all the necessary steps you’ll have to take to do that.


Once you’ve assessed your current standing, it’s time to plan. Setting goals is a great way to ensure you reach your final professional destination. Start with the biggest, most-outlandish career aspiration (your main goal) and then work backward plotting every smaller goal you will need to accomplish to work up to the main one.

For example, say you desire to open your own business. The grand opening day could be your main goal. Working backward you will have to have the means to promote the opening. Before that you will have to know and supply the products your store will offer (what you’re promoting). This means you will need to get suppliers, and suppliers cost money. Having money to fund the suppliers may mean securing a loan, and securing a loan requires paperwork. Do the same process for the building layout and staff additions. Though this task may be meticulous, it is extremely necessary for a successful plan.

Also, remember to set realistic deadlines for each goal. It is very difficult to successfully start a business in one month rather than one year.


Now that you’ve set goals, research, research, research. Look up professional development courses, events, certifications and trainings that will help you achieve your goals. Make a list of where they’re offered, how much they cost and how long each will take. Then, go back to your goals and work each activity into a schedule, taking into account your deadlines and the fact that you have other commitments, e.g. work, family, etc.


This step is simple. Follow along with the plan being as punctual as possible. You don’t want to throw off your entire plan because you didn’t keep up with your planned professional development activities.


Track and monitor your progress as you go. This will not only help you stay on schedule, but will keep you updated on how close or far you are from reaching your target goal(s). You can reevaluate your plan at the end of every six months or one year, depending on your goals, to see if you’ll need more or less time and/or if you need or don’t need to accomplish certain goals and professional development activities. As you go along with your plan, things may surface you were previously unaware of that could affect the steps you do/do not need to take to reach your target.


This final step is very important. Remember that nothing goes according to plan. As you follow along with your professional development plan be prepared for curve balls and delays, but do not throw in the towel. Just because you made a plan does not mean it’s set in stone. Life happens and your plan(s) can and will change as circumstances do.

By Shala Marks