Monday, January 16, 2012

Personal development plans for in-house counsel - performance review 201

You've had your annual performance review, so now what?  It's time to work on your personal development plan, for those aspects of you (your "competencies") that you want to improve.

Your plan also articulates how you're going to change yourself, your time-frames for doing so, the means to measure your success, and your support network. If you were not provided with a template and task list, I suggest that you take the initiative and make them up.

If this is your first time working with a development plan, this post provides some pointers about my five recommended components - the what, the how, the when, measurement, and support from others:

What. The what is those personal competencies that you want to improve. "Competencies" are usually "soft skills" (e.g., improve relationships with clients, increase sense of urgency), but they also could be technical (e.g., become department expert in bankruptcy law). Your task list usually comes from the feedback you receive in your performance review. See "Room for Improvement" and "Hate Surprises" under my last post, Performance review 101 for in-house counsel – how to “receive” your review. Your boss may provide you with suggestions, or you may need to comb your review for subtly expressed areas of concern.

How.  Your plan should clearly articulate action items, those behavioral changes you're expecting of yourself.  For example, if your what is to "be more concise with written opinions," your how might be to "devote more time to editing memos and ask for review by another member of law department."  If your what is "improve relationship with Vice President of Marketing," your how might be "more frequent contact with VP, invite VP for lunch, drop by VP's office for coffee once a week."

When. Your plan should set realistic time-frames, reflecting both priorities and ease or difficulty of accomplishment. For example, being more concise with written opinions is something you can initiate immediately and incorporate into your habits within 60 days. A more difficult task (improving relationships) could be a long-term process (six months or more). If your list is short, no reason not to start on everything now. If your list is long, then you should phase it in over the year, with the first quarter focused on low-hanging fruit and priorities.

Measurement. Measure is critically important, although often a challenge to describe. Absent a measurement, it may be difficult for you to demonstrate that you have progressed, especially if there is a disconnect between you and your boss about a particular competency. For example, if your boss wants you to improve your relationship with the VP of Marketing, and you think the relationship is good, then get consensus on what that improved relationship looks like. In this example, the measurement might be as simple as "Monthly, remind boss to ask VP whether relationship is improving." If VP says "no," then you're not making progress.

Support.  Although your plan is very personal, you are more likely to succeed if you engage the support of others.  Key support usually comes from your boss, who should be coaching you and providing periodic feedback on your progress.  But also consider including peers and others as appropriate.  In the "concise writing" example, you may want to inform select peers (or your direct reports) that you're working on this issue and ask them to give you feedback ("good job," "still needs shortening") to help reinforce your positive development.  Peer/team support may not be appropriate for particularly sensitive tasks (e.g., improving relations with VP Marketing).

Resources. In many respects, a personal development plan borrows elements from self-help plans and business-focused "SMART" goals. You may want to review these resources for additional thoughts on the subject:
This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at

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