5 Steps To Creating An Effective Employee Development Plan

/ real-life wins
Jack Delaney

Finding the best talent for your business is hard work. That’s why once you’ve got great employees, you’ve got to hold on to them for dear life.

To do that you want to keep employees happy, engaged and motivated. But how do you do that, short of shoving a bowl of Mars bars in the lunchroom and call it a day?

As delicious as Mars bars are, we suggest using employee development plans. When implemented well they boost productivity, motivate your team, increase employee retention, and help build your dream workplace culture. Not bad, eh?

In this post, we’ll show how to create and implement employee development plans in five easy steps. Let's hop to it.

What Is An Employee Development Plan?

An employee development plan is a roadmap that you create alongside an employee to help with their personal and professional development. It involves identifying any goals they may have and creating an action plan to help achieve them.

employee development plan definition

While an individual employee’s goal could be to climb the organisational ladder or move in to a new role, a goal doesn’t need to be about “vertical” growth. It could be about developing existing skills, or learning how to produce better quality work.

No two employee development plans will be the same. They are as unique as a great wine, and have to be tailored to an individual employee’s personal goals, interests and role within your company.

It’s easy to confuse an employee development plan with a career development plan. A career development plan focuses on personal career goals, while an employee development plan aligns employee goals with larger business goals.

The Benefits Of An Employee Development Plan

No one wants to feel “stuck” in a job, or that there are no prospects for growth in a company. Humans are goal-driven creatures— we all want to feel like there are new prospects on the horizon.

For your employees, that means they want to feel like they’re developing their skills and contributing to your business objectives. You also want them to feel appreciated by the company overall.

This is common sense, but it was also backed up by a recent Gallup study. They found organisations can make huge improvements to business performance when they treat employees as stakeholders in their career and the company’s future.

Improvements are made by "focusing on concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development and promoting positive coworker relationships.”

Implementing employee development plans helps you do all this. They show you're willing to invest in your team members and help employees develop. Put simply: it shows you care and believe in your workers.

And the benefits for your business and employees are huge. Employee development plans:

  • Empower employees to diversify their skillsets
  • Support individual career development
  • Increase Employee engagement
  • Build a more competent and efficient workforce
  • Keep employee morale sky-high
  • Help you hit business goals

Who wouldn't want a satisfied, productive workforce and a company primed for success? It's a no-brainer. So let's look at the steps you can  take to start your own staff development process and start reaping the benefits.

The Five Steps To Creating An Employee Development Plan

1. Consider your business goals

The first thing you need to do is think about the present and future goals of your business. Are there opportunities for improvement? Certain challenges you face? Ways you can streamline processes and workflows?

This is a great chance for you to take stock of your business. By understanding your business goals you can figure out how to give employees the skills and knowledge necessary to help you reach them.

For the process itself, it’s best to stick to the classic S.M.A.R.T. formula. Keep goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

smart goals graphic on white background

For example, one of our goals at Paperform is to add more templates to our growing library. Our leadership team was able to find a solution by identifying people in the Customer Success team with an interest in design. Now, they build templates along with their support duties.

Try to look for matches like this. Maybe you have a content writer who can expand into web copy for landing pages, an assistant with an interest in Human Resources, or thousands of other possible variations.

Ask about your employees’ personal interests and get to know them. It'll empower you to match their development needs with your business goals, and make it a win-win for both parties.

If you own a small business this will be a one-person job, but if you work in a larger company you’ll want to include team leaders, managers and other employees in the process.

2. Now think about your employee’s goals

You wouldn’t believe it, but the best employee development plans are like the best Nicki Minaj songs—collaborations. Once your business goals are clear, you need to find out what your employees want from their careers.

Don’t just set a random meeting and bombard employees with questions about their deepest aspirations and career goals. Give a head’s up first! This allows folks time to think about their answers rather than just saying what comes to mind.

During the meeting ask employees about their career goals, what skills they would like to develop, and where they see themselves in the future. Keep the atmosphere casual—it should be an honest, open discussion, not an interrogation.

setting employee goals graphic

An employee’s goals should be tied to larger company ambitions. By joining business success with individual success, employees are more likely to stay engaged and make meaningful contributions to your company strategies.

As for the goals themselves? You want to do what you can to promote goals that are attainable, but challenging. Once an employee has suggested goals, discuss whether they are a) realistic and b) challenging enough.

If you run a yoga studio and Julie says she wants to be an astronaut, that’s probably a bit out of reach. On the other end of the spectrum, (and more likely) you might identify a talented individual who sets basic goals and doesn’t recognise their own career potential.

Just be careful. If you insist a team member can’t achieve a goal, they are likely to hold it against you. But at the same time, you don’t want to set the bar too low. It's a balance you'll have to get just right.

Negotiation between employees and managers is part of the process— as long as you keep the best interests of your both parties in mind, you'll be fine.

3. Build A Resource Stack

Once you’ve got an idea of your employees’ goals, it’s time to come up with a list of resources to help make them a reality. This is the first step in promoting learning opportunities within your business.

Let’s say a bunch of current employees want to learn a new skill. Start by compiling a list of educational resources— it could be webinars, videos, podcasts and even books on the subject.

There are few skills that can't be learnt in this way. In this scenario the internet is your friend. Whether someone wants to hone their photography skills, learn graphic design or become the best baker since Paul Hollywood, the web has you covered.

statistic from the American society for training and development

But if this doesn't cut it, or people need official certifications, once you've laid this platform you can move on to options like online courses, mentoring sessions or training programs.

For example, imagine an employee says one of their development goals is to learn about marketing. Your initial response might be to put a list of resources together, and offer time to study alongside their current role.

Over time you could offer opportunities like shadowing, hands on training and any online certifications they may need to continue their development. This way you are supporting employees in both the long and short-term.

When possible offer try to offer real-world experience related to the skills employees want to learn, or the career path they want to follow. There really is no replacement for practical experience.

4. Develop An Action Plan

As James Clear says “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” Now you’ve got your resources in place it’s time to set systems in place to start achieving all those lofty goals.

If an employee’s goal is the destination, then you can think of the action plan as the Waze route you use to get there. It keeps you and your employees on track.

You can break ‘the journey’ down in to four steps:

  1. The employee’s goals
  2. The resources they’ll need
  3. The timeline for hitting each goal
  4. How you will work together to achieve them.

Putting this in writing  formalises the process. Do your best to make it as clear and specific as possible—it’s something you’ll revisit over time, so you want to be able to quickly compare your initial intentions with the results.

Split the plan in to short-term, and long-term goals. This will give you an idea of the amount of time each goal might take to achieve, and sets a baseline to make it easier to track employee performance and competencies.

Once the action plan is done all that’s left is to follow it. Sorry to break the bad news, but this is where the real work begins. To see the plan through it'll take commitment, dedication and a whole bunch of hard work from both you and your employees.

5. Keep in touch 👉

When the action plan is complete you don’t get to ride off in to the sunset. To make sure you weren’t just paying lip service, you need to offer sustained support over an extended period of time.

Ongoing employee feedback and regular check-ins are key to growth. How else will you know whether your professional development plan is working? It’s up to you to monitor progress and make sure things are going smoothly.

employee feedback loop graphic

Set up mentorship sessions and meet regularly with employees. Ask for feedback on how they find the company’s support, how they feel they are progressing, and if any unforeseen obstacles have popped up along the way.

The most common obstacle is one we all grapple with: time. It’s easy to set aside a slot for learning new skills in theory, but when you’ve got a deadline hanging over your head it can be hard to find an extra hour to work on your own career.

That’s why you truly have to be dedicated to developing your employee’s career. It’s up to you to identify ways to set the stage for their developmental dreams. After that the ball is in their court.

Keep in mind that even with the best support people will fail to meet their goals. It’s natural. When this happens hold yourself and your employees accountable, discuss where you think things went wrong, and commit to getting back on track.

“If it was something that was outside of their power or the goal was too ambitious, acknowledge the disappointment but don’t dwell on it. Do the diagnosis, get the learning, and move on.” — Linda Hill (source)

This will be an ongoing process. As a business owner, try to make a concerted effort to encourage employees to always be on the lookout for growth opportunities. If you don't, before you know it you won't be running a feedback session, you'll be running an exit interview.

Example Employee Development Plan Templates

You're not a Bond villain so you don't need complex plans. It's actually a matter of the simpler, the better. You want employees and managers to be able to make sense of what they’re looking at without needing a degree in computer science.

Most employee development plans will look something like this:

screenshot of employee development plan

See how it’s broken in to clear steps? The form flows from broad goals to specific actions the employee and the company will need to take to meet them. Remember to be as detailed and comprehensive as possible.

Below is a different template. This one asks employees to define both long and short-term goals, then link them to specific outcomes.

screenshot of employee development plan

You’ll notice that goals are linked to actions. In our example the employee wants to be a marketing manager, but this broad goal is broken down in to short-term goals and specific actions that will help make it a reality.

Feel free to create a template suitable for your business. Just make sure it clearly defines aspirations, lists resources and outlines the steps you’ll put in place to hit those goals.

Or you could make things easier on the stuff and use the ones we created. We put them together for busy folks like you. Just pop your details in the form below and we’ll send it over to your email (the PDF only, no marketing stuff. We promise.)

Over To You

Been dreaming of a more engaged and efficient workforce? Of better profitability, employee satisfaction and retention? Of a workplace where employees are happy and supported?

Well, it’s time to implement employee development plans and turn your dreams in to reality. If you follow this guide, before you know it your employees and company will be kicking more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo.

Why not use Paperform to automate the process? Create evaluation forms, book one-on-one meetings, schedule follow-ups and collect feedback all in on platform.

Get started with our 14-day free trial today—no credit card required.

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