Development Plans Made Easy

This blog is the result of a number of conversations and exchanges I had with my colleague Dr John Waters on the question of how people can take ownership of their career development.

We always talk about high performance and leadership as inherent qualities of certain individuals.   In doing that we tend to forget that, in organisations, whether or not a person is treated as a high performer or a leader is not something that the person controls.  Rather the regard with which a person is held results from the judgement of those with whom the person interacts in the organisation.    In truth, you will be treated as a high performer or a leader only to the extent that your work is noticed, and those you work with think so and say so.   The implication for anyone’s career development is that there is always more to be done than simply improving performance in the technical aspects of your current role.

This pragmatic view of organisational life was the basis of comprehensive research into the careers of high performing professionals by two Harvard professors, Dalton and Thompson.   Their work produced the Four Stage Model of career development that is shown below.


Stage 1: Contributing Dependently Stage 2: Contributing Independently Stage 3: Contributing Through Others Stage 4: Contributing Strategically
Willingly accepts supervision Assumes responsibility for definable projects Increases in technical breadth Provides direction to organisation
Demonstrates success in a portion of a larger project or task Less reliant on supervision, works independently, produces significant results Develops broad business perspective Drives critical business opportunities
Masters basic and routine tasks Increases in technical expertise and ability Stimulates others through ideas and knowledge Exercises power responsibly
Shows ‘directed’ creativity and initiative Develops credibility and a reputation Involved with others as coach, mentor, manager or idea leader Obtains and allocates essential resources
Performs well under time and budget pressure Builds an internal network of relationships Represents organisation effectively to clients and external groups Sponsors promising individuals for leadership roles
Learns how we do things around here Builds a strong internal and external network Represents the organisation on critical strategic issues


This model has been validated by its use in world-class companies and by many “talent pool” and “fast track” programs of executive development.  The Dalton and Thompson research demonstrated that the careers of high performing people do not grow in a linear fashion but develop in distinct stages, each stage different and involving different psychology, activities, skills and relationships.

High performing people master each of the four stages of personal development.  The stages are intuitive to those with experience in organisations.   People begin their careers as learners (Stage1) and gain the experience necessary to becoming an independent contributor (Stage 2).   As their experience broadens some people choose to take on responsibility for the work of others (Stage 3), and as they become better known and respected some may seek to play a role in shaping the organisation’s future through leadership activity (Stage 4).

The Four Stage Model describes the key tasks for each of the stages.  It is the individual’s performance on these tasks that comes to the notice and judgement of others.   The stages do not represent positions on an organisation chart.  Rather they are stages of personal development that lead high performing individuals to job satisfaction and further opportunities.   The model can be regarded as both a description of what organisations expect of their people, and a framework for beneficial personal development.   Progression through the stages does not depend on an organisational role, but to succeed in a given role may require a person to master a certain stage.   While progression through the stages is a common goal, some people may be comfortable at a particular stage and satisfied to remain there.   They can maintain high performance in Stages 2, 3 or 4, as long as growth in expertise or responsibility continues.

How does this model help to create a Personal Development Plan?   The model provides a framework for career discussions that focuses on personal rather than company issues and so avoids raising inappropriate expectations.   It allows team leaders to sit down with team members and discuss their performance and career development in an honest and realistic way.  The model sets the stage for the following three planning questions:

  1. What is the status of the team member’s present development?   Most people will have little trouble identifying their career stage from the model.  However some will see themselves being in different stages of development in different facets of their job.  This is a natural situation for people and jobs in transition.  However, it is important to try to select the one career stage that best describes where the team members feels is her/his present level of growth.
  2. What is the appropriate strategy for personal growth?  High performers will want to master the skills at one stage before moving to another.  If the activities of the present stage have been mastered, then plan the transition to the next stage.  If they have not then the more appropriate strategy is to consolidate the skills of the present stage.   We recommend that you write a personal strategy statement.   For example a person consolidating Stage 3 activities might adopt a personal strategy of, “I want to obtain a broader perspective on the business and better understand the critical issues it faces”, or, “I want to take on responsibility, formally or informally, for developing others as coach, mentor, or team leader”.   In contrast, a person striving for Stage 4 activities might adopt a personal strategy of, “I want to shape the future of this organisation by pursuing innovative ideas and driving business opportunities”, or ,“I want to expand the organisation’s influence by representing it to external industry and professional groups”.
  3. What activities will achieve the plan’s strategy?  What are appropriate activities will depend on the team member’s present stage and strategy for personal growth.   The future of many organisations depends on transitioning people from Stage 3 to Stage 4 so we will focus on appropriate developmental activities for these stages.   The problem underlying these stages is that to be perceived as a person of influence one needs to achieve the respect of others across the organisation.  This requires the person to have knowledge of relevant strategic issues, an understanding of complex relationships across the organisation, and to become noticed by sponsoring innovative programs and talented people.   At this stage of growth it is essential that people take the initiative in seeking developmental activities such as the following:

        Valuable internal opportunities:

  • Opportunities for increased responsibility.
  • Involvement in strategic planning.
  • Opportunities to demonstrate expertise and influence.
  • Chairmanship of task groups and research studies.
  • Demonstrate ability to obtain resources.
  • Coaching, mentoring, and career counselling.
  • Representing organisation to internal groups.

        Valuable external opportunities

  • Building external networks
  • Representing organisation to industry, professional, and community groups
  • Targeted short education or training courses.
  • Maintaining currency with relevant management literature

With development planning, while people need to take ownership of their own development, leaders have an important role to play in the process. Hopefully the above will help you with your own planning and when you are working with members of your team.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Mark Rosenberg