Setting clear objectives and supporting learning in the workplace is an essential activity in any business. Using personal development plans effectively helps to involve people in creating their own action plans, writes Nicola Jones, director of Athena Professional. (Updated 12 September 2022)
The SRA continuing competence toolkit offers guidance on how to reflect on the quality of your practice and plan your development. This checklist will help you to set up a plan for developing both lawyers and other firm employees.
- Each individual should be responsible for their own personal development plan (PDP), which they should review and develop routinely with their line manager.
- Engage in creating a learning culture that encourages everyone to value professional development. Consider using external coaching for partners and senior managers and in-house mentoring for the wider team.
- Make sure employees understand the firm’s objectives and how they contribute to these.
- Develop a standard set of questions to use as the basis for discussion about the employee's objectives, strengths and development needs.
- Address all the areas in which they can develop – not just legal or functional expertise, but also people skills, leadership and contributions towards different areas of practice management.
- Encourage individuals to identify personal development objectives – even if these are not directly related to the job.
- Assess how employees' objectives match the firm’s requirements. Line managers should be prepared to negotiate a mix of objectives to suit both the employee and the firm.
- Consider whether challenging, long-term objectives or more immediate needs suit the employee best.
- Discuss preferred learning methods and how new ways of working will be transferred into the workplace.
- Agree up to three specific, realistic and measurable key objectives and deadlines. Identify priorities and any interim objectives.
- Identify how learning in the workplace can contribute: for example, providing new tasks and responsibilities, together with on-the-job guidance.
- Identify any role for formal training, particularly if several employees will be able to benefit or if special expertise is needed.
- Identify opportunities for self-directed development, together with support and encouragement from senior lawyers or managers.
- Ask the employee to assess progress against the objectives, and discuss problems, typically every three months; provide positive feedback.
- Keep records of development plans and activities. Use the SRA templates or your own versions.
- Agree revised objectives and new development opportunities.
- Review data generated by performance management to ensure that learning strategy is on course and contributing effectively to achieving the firm’s goals.
"Lawyers tend to think about their skills and knowledge purely in terms of legal expertise. They should be encouraged to think also about the non-legal and soft skills they will need for their career progression."
Catherine Gasparini, consultant
"Learning on the job, along with mentoring or coaching, is often the lion’s share of workplace learning. Make sure partners and managers are committed to playing their part."
Martyn Best, Document Direct