4 Steps to Crafting Employee Development Plans That Fuel Success

Post-pandemic, the debate on recruitment, retention, and performance seems to be stuck on location. Employers with return-to-office plans are looking to catered meals, commuter benefits, and even raises to draw people in. For the 83% of companies with a largely hybrid or remote workforce, the benefit is baked in—job seekers would take an average pay cut of 14% to work remotely.

What this debate doesn’t answer is how to grow and support people no matter where they work. For that to happen, you need an individualized approach: employee development plans.

If you don’t invest in growing your people, they’ll find an organization that will—two out of three employees who quit their jobs cite inadequate career development as a key reason. ​​On the flip side, supportive work environments (62%) and growth opportunities (59%) are the top two ways employers can win the loyalty of their employees.

Keep reading for advice on how to rev up your people’s potential, and help your whole organization grow too, with effective employee development plans. ​​

Plus, you don’t have to do it all yourself. BambooHR has easy-to-use, customizable tools to help you manage and track goals, ensure frequent performance conversations, and analyze company performance. Learn more about Performance Management in BambooHR.

What Is an Employee Development Plan?

An employee development plan, sometimes called an employee growth plan, is a process for helping individuals improve skills for their current job and acquire knowledge and skills for new roles and responsibilities in an organization.

There are three key elements every individual development plan should include:

Though each employee development plan needs to include those three elements, you can’t take a cookie-cutter approach and use the same employee development plan ideas for everyone in your organization. Each individual has unique strengths and weaknesses that need to be built upon.

Key Benefits of an Employee Development Plan

Investing in a good employee development plan is a win-win situation. Your plan can pay off for both your organization and your employees in a variety of ways:

These are important benefits to keep in mind and share as you structure your plan and seek support from managers and decision-makers.

4 Examples of Development Goals

Completing Leadership Training

An employee has been at the company for a few years and feels ready to develop their leadership skills. After conferring with their direct supervisor to find appropriate opportunities, the employee takes on a bigger share of the mentoring and coaching responsibilities in the team. The employee’s direct supervisor provides guidance and tips on mentoring during this time.

Taking on Increased Duties and Responsibilities

An employee who excels at both verbal and written communication takes on a more challenging project intended to help break down the walls between siloed departments. This project will help the employee advance in their current role while helping the company benefit from enhanced collaboration.

As part of the project, the employee identifies the teams’ pain points and tests out different strategies to help team members collaborate better. This employee may learn and help incorporate new technology, systems, and processes and train team members.

Participating in Professional Organizations and Seminars

An employee who is part of a fairly new department at your organization attends local conferences and workshops to network and learn about new strategies and ideas to drive the new department forward.

This employee is also able to speak with other professionals in their field who offer insights on how to successfully build teams and achieve meaningful results. These events allow the employee to take on a more active role in their organization and industry.

Earning Professional Certifications

An employee with a Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) decides to pursue their Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) after three years of working in your payroll department. The employee’s goal is to win a promotion opportunity, make a bigger contribution to the company, and receive a higher salary.

To actively support this employee’s development, the organization could offer to cover the fees involved in the payroll certification course and exam.

How to Create a Professional Development Plan

Step 1: Size up Your Needs

Evaluate where your organization currently stands, what your goals, opportunities, and challenges are, and how you need to shape and strengthen your workforce to achieve your objectives.

To help you begin, here are a few questions you might ask yourself about your organization:

Think carefully about such issues and ask leaders and trusted colleagues for their suggestions.

Where possible, use data to answer questions. From tracking turnover to how many employees are currently completing training programs, you can use data to create a baseline to see if employee development plans are succeeding and how they’ll impact the company.

Find tools that make the data you need easily accessible and highlight gaps in your current processes and program. Then create a list of answers and priorities that are as specific as possible.

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Step 2: Focus on Individuals

Even though your employee development plan will affect your entire organization, it works by helping one person at a time. There’s no room here for lumping people together in groups. The magic of customized, one-on-one collaboration is what produces superior results.

Start by setting the right expectations for both managers and employees. Explain that they will work together on individual employee development plans for the worker’s career development.

Next, clarify responsibilities. Employees should take responsibility for their own career development by researching available resources and sticking to their self-training schedule, for example. Managers should act as facilitators who provide guidance, resources, and feedback.

Finally, encourage regular development-focused conversations. Each employee should meet privately with their manager to discuss the employee’s professional accomplishments, abilities, interests, and needs. The manager should expect to do more listening than talking in this initial meeting.

Here are some key questions to help managers launch the conversation:

A few more tips: Emphasize the value of asking follow-up questions to managers, so they can better understand the employee’s situation. For the most insightful answers, managers should tell employees in advance what they’ll be asked. Employees should also work with their managers to set specific, measurable goals using appropriate resources (such as those mentioned below).

Step 3: Offer the Right Opportunities

Once you know what employees need and want, there are many possible ways you can help them work toward their goals. It’s best if the manager has a list of resources ready to offer during the meeting. That way, the manager and employee can collaborate on the plan right away instead of having to schedule another meeting.

Here are some popular employee development plan ideas and resources to consider:

In the workplace:



Some types of training and development may not be practical due to cost, time, and effort required, or other reasons. Managers should know in advance what they can and can’t offer. Many online resources are inexpensive or free, but be careful to evaluate their quality.

However, HR and management consultant Susan Heathfield cautions against making promises to employees about how much training they’ll get or whether it’ll lead to a raise or promotion. Promises could get you into legal hot water if you can’t make good on them.

“The best that you can do,” she advises, “is to say that you will help however you can, but that the company growth, economic circumstances, priorities, and goals will have an impact on the employee’s desired developmental path, promotions, and career goals. Nothing is guaranteed.”

Step 4: Track the Results and Refine Your Strategy

Once you’ve trained managers on employee development plans, evaluate the success of your managers’ efforts with individual employees and the impact of their employee development plans on your organization as a whole.

Managers and Individual Employees

Managers should periodically meet with each employee to review their progress, praise their accomplishments, and discuss where to go from here.

These plans shouldn’t be set in stone. They should be living, breathing documents that managers continually adjust and improve to keep helping the employee thrive.

Additionally, how often a manager and employee formally meet isn’t as important as keeping their lines of communication open so adjustments can be made as soon as they’re needed. Between meetings, occasional quick, informal check-ins can help.

Still, it’s a good idea to require a minimum number of meetings per year to avoid hearing the excuse, “Everything’s fine so we don’t need to meet.”

Organization Wide

Consider what’s practical for your organization’s size, structure, and situation. Measure individual results, assess aggregate progress, consider new opportunities to develop employees and obstacles, adjust goals and strategies for your develpoment philosophy. Repeat regularly.

Decide who will be in charge of overseeing employee development plans overall.
Small businesses may need to rely on one person who already has other responsibilities, likely in HR. Larger organizations may appoint a full-time employee-development person or decide a team works best.

Any of these approaches can work. The goal is to give whoever’s in charge appropriate power to act, accountability for the results, and a strong voice to advocate for the interests of both the organization and its employees.

Consider how your organization will evaluate and share results. Your executive team also needs to understand the bigger picture: career development efforts should ultimately create a more optimized workplace with happier, more engaged employees.

One of the best ways to find out is by asking for feedback often. A brief, anonymous email survey can quickly take the pulse of your entire organization and show what’s working well and where there’s room for improvement.

To pull additional data points into your reporting, HR professionals are a great resource for measuring training outcomes, while managers can report on productivity improvements.

Next Steps: Start Building Your Employee Development Plans

Your organization is teeming with untapped potential. Your employees are eager for new knowledge, skills, and challenges. Creating an employee development plan will connect them to the people, resources, and opportunities they need to progress. You can help them at any stage of their career, just as others have helped you over the years.

It’s a rewarding feeling to watch your employees grow—and to watch your organization rise to new heights as a result. Why not begin today?

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