Achieving Success Deliberately with the Personal Development Plan

Fuqua is full of opportunities. These two years are a time of growth and development beyond what you’ve ever before experienced, with multiple avenues and roads to take you to new places. However, one of the challenges is having a plan and knowing which path to take. It can be a bit like when Alice met the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Although meandering aimlessly could result in success, Fuqua stresses the importance of deliberate and conscientious development into leaders of consequence. One core aspect of this deliberate developmental journey is creating a Personal Development Plan (PDP).

The PDP is a roadmap and action-planning process and tool that guides you through personal reflection, goal setting, and finally, sets you on a route to fulfilling your ambitions. First-year students are introduced to PDP concepts during Global Institute when they take their Leadership, Ethics and Organizations (LEO) class. The class teaches the importance of identifying and effectively setting goals. Then, once core classes begin in September and you are placed in your C-LEAD team (a group of 6 students you work with in all of your core MBA classes), each team works together on the PDP. A COLE Fellow is assigned to each team to mentor and help each student create their own individual PDP plan.

Reflection. The first part of the process is to reflect. Each student thinks about the following key questions:

Goal Setting. After the critical reflection stage, students write out 3-5 goals, with each goal fitting into one of six categories: Leadership, Academic, Social, Career, Personal, or Physical. For the first iteration of my PDP, my goals revolved around Academic, Career, and Leadership, as those were the priorities I specified for Fall Term 1 in my team’s Charter (a document each C-LEAD team creates to explicitly state team expectations, norms, and guide the way the group operates).

To ensure you meet the definition of an effective goal, the SMART principle is used. That is, each goal must be Specific, Measurable, Relevant, and Time Bound. Goals are added to a PDP online platform, making it easier for each student to track their progress. Additionally, each goal is linked to an Accountability Buddy to help keep students on track—it was up to me to decide how often my buddy would check in on my progress. For example, my wife and three team members were specified as my Accountability Buddies for each of my 4 goals, and I had the opportunity to be an Accountability Buddy for some of my teammates as well. Our COLE fellow also received a copy of all of our goals, to ensure that they were SMART and to provide an additional layer of accountability.

Continual Refinement. The Personal Development Plan is not a static list of goals, but rather a living and changing document. We would regularly discuss our progress toward achieving each goal during meetings with our COLE fellow, and had the formal chance to update our goals at the start of Fall Term 2. As Fall Term 2 began, we also reflected on which goals we accomplished, and which ones we fell short on, learning from our failures as well as our successes. This process then continues with opportunities to update our goals prior to heading out for summer internships, then again during our second year, and finally, before graduating and leaving for full-time employment.

The Personal Development Plan has been a critical part of my Fuqua experience, allowing me to take control of my future and chart the course to achieve my goals . As I began my MBA experience, I wasn’t sure which path I wanted to take, and threw myself into as much as possible. The Personal Development Plan helped me take a step back, prioritize my goals, and deliberately determine which path I would take to get to my desired outcomes.

1  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll. The Millennium Fulcrum Edition 2.7a © 1991 Duncan Research

Trevor McKinnon

Daytime MBA, Class of 2015

Born in the US, I spent most of my childhood living in London before returning stateside to attend Brigham Young University. As a marketing consultant I helped clients execute campaigns that fit their brand and found that Fuqua is a great fit for me, my wife and our young daughter.

Learn more about Trevor | View all of Trevor's Posts

  • Shubham Singhal

    Hey Trevor
    Your post here on how the Personal Development Plan eventually helps develop leaders of consequence at Fuqua has really bolstered my confidence in the Duke Day MBA program. Every business school talks about the process of personal reflection and self-realization, but this is the first share I have come across on how the action planned roadmap at Fuqua deliberately helps us accomplish our future-reckoning goals!

  • Trevor McKinnon

    I’m glad you appreciated the article Shubham! I’m excited to continue this process again right after the internship finishes in August, and throughout next year. Having this PDP framework really makes it easier to focus on improving and working towards goals, rather than worrying about how to track and follow-up on goals.

  • Nikhila Gudipati

    Hi Trevor,

    I was wondering if you could share a snapshot of what a typical PDP looks like and how a goal’s completion is “measured”.

    • Trevor McKinnon

      Good question Nikhila. The measurability of each goal was slightly different, depending on what the goal was aimed to achieve. For example, one of my goals was to maintain at least a 3.7 GPA and not drop below an HP grade in any class during the recruiting season. To achieve that, it started with me creating a plan at the start of each class when I would determine what specifically was required of me to perform well in the class (e.g. would I create a study group, would I set aside regular time to work on cases, would I seek out a tutor, etc.). I also scheduled regular times for me to review my performance and grades to determine if I needed to course-correct or if I was on target. My Accountability Buddies would also check up on me to ensure things were going well.

      An example of a personal PDP goal was to go on a date with my wife each week. A goal like that was easier to track, and you can believe that I got plenty of reminders to achieve that goal!

      • Nikhila Gudipati

        Thanks Trevor for taking time out to answer my query 🙂

        • Trevor McKinnon

          My pleasure!