Your Guide to Creating an Employee Development Plan (+ Free Template)

February 7, 2022
Employee Development Plan
Mary Nour
Written By
Mary Nour

Win-win situations are the best! Organizations look to increase efficiency and profitability, and employees join organizations with a vision of achieving personal goals and growing professionally as they contribute to their team. By knowing how to create an effective employee development plan, you can create a situation where both the organization and employees are winners.

In this article, you will know what an employee development plan is and its benefits and learn what makes up a good one. You will also find a downloadable employee development plan checklist with templates included that will help you create a stellar plan!

What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan, also called an employee growth plan, aims at helping individuals achieve their personal and career goals through acquiring knowledge and skills, so they can perform better in their existing position or new roles and responsibilities in an organization. Those goals could include learning new skills, earning a certification, or working their way to a promotion.

An employee development plan should be collaborative, meaning it works on meeting both the employees' and organizations' goals and objectives. It is important to create individualized employee development plans that are different for each individual because the plans depend on the individual's abilities and interests and the needs of your organization.

Ideally, a well-rounded employee development plan should be flexible enough, so the employee can modify it as their experience and skills enhance, with the guidance of their manager throughout the plan.

Benefits of employee development plan

The employee development plan is a micro-strategy aimed at achieving the broader goals of the organization. It does so by considering the employee’s personal and career goals and aligning them with company-wide goals.

Successful organizations know that employees prefer to work for people that show an interest in their growth. And here is why you should put time and effort into creating an employee development plan.

  1. It helps employees upgrade their skills and knowledge, which makes them better at their current tasks and prepares them for the future.
  2. It increases employees' engagement and their willingness to be more accountable and responsible.
  3. It improves employee retention and satisfaction.
  4. It helps organizations save time and money spent on recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees.

What do managers need to create a well-rounded employee development plan?

Below are some skills that can help you create an actionable employee development plan that helps employees achieve their personal and career goals as well as focusing on long- and short-term business objectives.

Practice holding more effective meetings

The number one skill you need to make a great employee development out is mastering effective meetings. Effective meetings help you figure out your employee's goals and aspirations and work together to come up with an effective employee development plan.

When holding meetings, leaders should aim for respecting people's time and help them to add value. As a manager, you can help shape a positive culture in your organization by holding meetings that help people feel included, trusted, and important and show them how their input is valued.

To create a successful individualized employee development plan, you need to be aware of your current employee skill sets and know how to use and enhance them to serve company-wide goals.

Mastering effective meetings will help you get the answers you need to create a well-rounded employee development plan. Here are some tips to encourage you to hold more effective meetings:

  • Create clear agendas
  • Schedule regular meetings
  • Take clear notes
  • Determine action items
  • Use an agile and easy-to-use meeting management software that includes all the above: Every meeting you hold should be effective. You should discuss actions, vote on and make decisions, and agree on deadlines in an agile and easy process. Only a smart leader knows how crucial it is to use a meeting management software to capture this content, follow up on it, and have it documented for future reference.

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Be an active listener

Active listening is a valuable skill in any workplace. By mastering active listening, you can avoid making errors and can be more efficient with your and everyone’s time.

As a manager, when you work on being an active listener, you become more receptive to what isn’t said (non-verbal cues) and you ask questions that help you get a better understanding of the employees’ requests and needs. You can build your team’s trust, ensure understanding, and encourage honest feedback.

Forbes recommends the following when it comes to active listening: (1) facing the speaker and maintaining eye contact, (2) being attentive, but relaxed, (3) keeping an open mind, (4) not interrupting the speaker and imposing solutions, (5) asking questions to ensure understanding, (6) empathizing with the speaker, and (7) give the speaker regular feedback.

Use the SMART goal framework

When creating your employee development plan, consider using the SMART framework to set the right goal. Your goal should be be as follows:

  • Specific: A great SMART goal is a specific and clearly defined one. When reading a SMART goal statement, you should be able to understand what needs to be done and have clear steps to attain that objective.
  • Measurable: You need to make it clear for your team members when they've reached or are close to reaching the agreed-upon goal, so they can independently keep track of progress. In other words, you need to use a clear metric to measure your goal and easily track progress.
  • Achievable: As a manager, it’s best if you target a challenging but possible goal. Big dreams and pushing boundaries can positively impact the employees, but you’ve got to be careful when setting goals; they shouldn’t be unrealistic or outlandish.
  • Relevant: if your goal statement isn’t eventually leading you anywhere, it’s probably irrelevant. An irrelevant goal can create chaos and confusion and a sense that the broader goals will never be achieved.
  • Time-bound: You need to set your SMART goal in a timeframe that helps your goal be achievable and easily tracked in terms of progress while keeping people motivated.

Goals that aren’t SMART may cause confusion and frustration because they are usually unachievable and have very short timeframes.

The SMART goal framework will help you create an actionable employee development plan. It is a structured way to set goals, which help the employee retain focus on the desired result, save time that could be wasted on activities that aren’t SMART goal-oriented, and stay motivated.

What should you include in a well-rounded employee development plan?

Step 1: Consider business goals

Before, coming up with a development plan, first, consider what skills you need your employees to develop to serve the organization's goals. Try to align your company’s needs with the employees' development goals.

You can start by listing the current strengths each direct report has. Then, you can revisit your organization's short- and long-term goals and can start discussing with your employees the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies that support such goals.

For example, if your company is expanding, you may need more leaders. You may need to observe if any of your current employees are up to it and have the capability and desire to develop leadership skills, so they can be ready to move to such roles when needed.

Do you need to make your work process more agile? Then, consider holding training sessions on software and programs that can serve this purpose. Check out if your employees would benefit from additional trainings, mentoring, or stretch assignments.

Step 2: Create collaborative goals

When creating an employee development plan, being collaborative is the best way to go. Most of your employees may already have personal and professional goals in mind but may have questions regarding how to get started or if the company will support such goals. Others may not realize you see potential in them or need encouragement to pursue such goals and reach the next step in their career.

It is best if you align those goals with your company's current needs. You can work together to show them how the company can help them reach their goals and what opportunities they can have.

It is important that you do not assume you know your employees' career aspirations. Schedule one-on-one meetings with each employee to discuss their goals and aspirations.

Scheduled meetings will allow them to prepare. You can create a list of questions and send it in advance to obtain the most insightful answers and get a better understanding of what they want to achieve.

During the meeting, ask them about their career goals, what they wish to achieve in the future with the company, what challenges they face in their current position, and what skills they believe they need to develop for their current and future roles.

In this meeting, you are expected to do more listening than talking. Actively listen to their answers and see how you can align their goals with the company's needs.

BambooHR in their blog suggest a great list of questions that can inspire you to create personalized questions:

  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • In your current role, what are the daily/weekly/monthly tasks that drain your energy?
  • In your current role, what are the daily/weekly/monthly tasks that give your energy?
  • Tell me about something you’re proud of accomplishing in your current job.
  • Do you have what you need to do your best work?
  • What would help you improve your performance?
  • Are there other positions in our organization that you are interested in?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What have you done to advance your career?
  • What would help you make further progress in your career?
  • What obstacles to your career goals do you face?

Step 3: Select your resources

Once you have established your company’s and employees’ goals, you can start compiling a list of resources that are a good fit for what you are trying to reach.

Before your one-on-one meeting, have your list of resources prepared. This could help you and your direct report work on the plan immediately instead of having to postpone this step to another meeting.

From trendy to traditional, there are a lot of available resources. For example, if several employees agree on a skill they want to develop, you might consider implementing a new training program.

Employees that need to be deeply engaged to learn a new skill or need to find new professional interests can make use of coaching and mentorship programs, stretch assignments, and special projects and working directly with a subject matter expert.

Keep in mind that some types of training may be unpractical because of the cost, time, and effort required. You should know what you can and cannot offer.

Here are examples of the resources you can offer your employees:

In-house resources Online resources Other resources
Stretch assignments Educational videos Conferences
Cross-training Webinars Seminars
Job shadowing Podcasts Tuition reimbursement
Job rotation Whitepapers Local networking groups
Mentoring and coaching e-books Workshops
Succession planning Slideshows

Books, journals, and magazines

Group training courses Online classes Special projects

Step 4: Get your action plan ready

By now you should have established areas of development that serve both the company’s and employee’s goals and you have selected the resources that can help the employee. The next step is organizing them into an actionable plan with clear objectives and reasonable deadlines.

Before applying the plan, make sure everyone understands why they’re being asked to develop certain skills, what you expect them to learn, and how this serves their personal and career goals and the company. Discuss the deadlines and objectives with each person, so everyone is clear about action items and timeframes.

Make sure to check out our actionable plan template when you download our free employee development plan checklist. You will find it in the below sections.

Step 5: Track progress and revisit the plan

Now that your employee development plan is up and running, the next step is tracking progress. It's best if you periodically schedule meetings with each employee to check out the progress, acknowledge their milestones and praise their work, and discuss the next steps.

During such meeting, you can ask if there were unexpected difficulties, how you can work together to overcome them. You can also ask if new opportunities were presented. Checking if the employee’s needs, career goals, or personal circumstances have changed is important.

You should know how to be flexible with your plan and be ready to constantly adjust it to help keep people engaged and motivated. It's important that you revisit your plan to get input, fine-tune the goals, and understand the impact of the plan on the organization.

Employee development plan checklist with editable template

Need a downloadable comprehensive checklist that you can save on your desktop? Here, it is! It is free, editable, and has all the info you need. It also includes a template to create an excellent actionable plan.

Common issues and challenges in developing employees

Being aware of issues and challenges that may arise when creating an employee development plan is important. Organizations that are prepared to resolve such issues succeed in creating effective employee development plans.

Such plans enhance current employee skill sets and promote the skill sets needed for the future and save time and money spent on recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees. Some of the issues include the following.

Ineffective training methods

Investing in employees' development through training and continuing education is investing in the company’s future and long-term success. When done poorly, employee training programs can cost a lot.

Training becomes ineffective when (1) outdated content is provided, (2) failing to create a well-thought-out and organized training program, (3) training is inconsistent, and (4) employees are obligated to sit through long training sessions at inconvenient times.

Disengaged employees

You need to keep an eye on disengaged employees because they can negatively impact your plans for development. Employees who are unready to fully engage in learning may intentionally disrupt training sessions and development plans.

Empower your employees with the right productivity tools that reflect how valuable they are to the company and always keep open channels of communication to build engagement.

Promising resources you do not have

As a manager, you need to know what your company can and cannot offer when it comes to budgets and resources. When tight on budget, it is best to look to other departments and employees for resources. 

One of the most effective and budget-friendly development methods is mentoring, where you match less experienced employees with more experienced colleagues through formal or informal programs.

Cross-training and mentoring programs can reduce turnover and improve performance and the work environment. You can easily link mentoring to business strategy and goals.

The takeaway

Employees are the biggest asset of any organization, and their development leads to better performance and builds up the organization. A good employee development plan is a collaborative one that considers both the organization’s and employees' goals.

To create a good development plan, you need to consider the resources you can provide and not make promises you cannot keep. Have an actionable plan that sets clear expectations for everyone and is flexible enough to revisit and adjust as needed. You should also be clear with your employee on how you will track their progress.

And remember, to create a well-rounded employee development plan, the most important skill you need to master is holding effective meetings. Effective meetings help you figure out your employee's goals and aspirations and work together to come up with a great development plan.

Consider all-in-one meeting management software to create clear agendas, schedule regular meetings, take clear notes, determine action items, and vote on decisions. The software can facilitate the whole process of creating a development plan and automate many parts of it.

And while there may be multiple meeting management solutions available, here’s why is the best one for you:



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