There’s a lot that your employees want out of their jobs. They want adequate pay, high-quality benefits, and a supportive work environment.
But another big thing that belongs on that list? Development opportunities.
That’s right—your employees want to know that they have room to pick up new skills and advance their careers within your company. In fact, research from Gallup found that 87% of millennials rate professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job. 69% of non-millennials agree with that sentiment.
So, your employees are looking to grow. But how do you make it clear to them that they won’t just stagnate in their positions? Enter career development plans.
What Is A Career Development Plan?
A career development plan is a documented action plan for how an employee can advance within their career. Think of it like a road map for professional development.
This plan will spell out the employee’s career goals (both short-term and long-term goals), as well as what steps they’ll need to take to reach those finish lines. We’ll get into the details of everything that needs to be included in a development plan a little later.
Who Creates A Development Plan?
The answer to this question depends on the size of your organization. If you have a human resources (HR) team, then they’ll likely be the ones to identify various career paths and formally document employee development plans using a template. However, many smaller companies don’t have an HR department to do all of this legwork.
Either way, the meat of the development plan is usually hashed out by direct managers of employees.
Keep in mind that this should be a collaborative process. These plans shouldn’t be handed down from on high. Instead, supervisors should work closely with their employees to understand their career goals and ensure alignment on how they can reach them.
When a whopping 52% of employees say they don’t believe a good job is within reach or that they don’t have opportunities to advance at work, involving them in the process of creating their plan will help them feel like they have some power over their career futures.
Is A Career Development Plan The Same As A Performance Improvement Plan?
Here’s the short answer: nope. They’re two completely different things.
A career development plan outlines an employee’s career aspirations and the steps they can take to reach them, while a performance improvement plan (PIP) addresses issues with an employee’s job performance and the steps they need to take to repair those shortfalls.
To put it simply, a development plan is about employee growth whereas a PIP is about performance management and addressing their failure to meet the expectations of their position.
What Is The Purpose Of A Development Plan?
The core intent of a development plan is to support each individual employee in figuring out how they’d like to advance beyond their current position.
This focus on growth and development is not only good for employees, but also for your company as a whole. Let’s look at a few of the many reasons why these plans are a win-win.
Why Development Plans Are Good For Employees
- Increased Transparency: Figuring out how to advance within your company shouldn’t be a guessing game. A development plan loops your employees in on what they need to do to grow in their careers.
- Boosted Accountability: When an employee knows exactly what boxes they need to check in order to advance, it’s easier for them to take control and make those things happen. Plus, one study found that writing down our goals makes us up to 42% more likely to achieve them.
- Sense Of Purpose: Employees don’t want to clock in and out while feeling like another cog in the wheel. A documented plan for their growth gives them something to work toward, and also connects them to your broader business goals. When nine out of 10 people are willing to earn less if it means they can do more meaningful work, that sense of purpose is important for your employees.
- More Support And Commitment: When you and your employees are on the same page about what growth looks like, you can better offer support, resources, and development opportunities to help them thrive.
Why Development Plans Are Good For Employers
- Increased Employee Retention: A whopping 76% of employees will seek other job opportunities if they’re passed over for a promotion at work. It’s proof that your employees want a chance to grow in their careers. If you make it clear that you offer those opportunities, they’re more likely to stick with you for the long haul.
- Better Employee Motivation: If your employees know what they’re working toward, they’re far more likely to be motivated to pursue those goals. When half of employees admit that they don’t know what’s expected of them at work, documenting these career objectives and action plans gives your employees something tangible to work from—which leads to better performance and output.
- Boosted Employee Engagement: When employees feel supported and valued in their jobs, they’re far more committed to your organization and engaged with their work. As Deloitte shares, growth opportunities are one of the five core elements that drive employee engagement.
- Valuable Feedback And Insights: Nobody has better insights into your company’s development needs than your employees. Going through this growth planning process will help you identify skill sets that need to be improved, business goals that need more support, and development programs you could roll out.
What Should Be Included In A Development Plan?
Professional development plans differ from employer to employer, and it’s wise to set up a simple template you can use for all of your employee’s plans.
But, let’s talk about some of the nuts and bolts elements your plan needs to have. When it’s finished, your plan should answer these major questions:
- What goals is that employee working toward?
- What steps do they need to take to achieve those goals?
- What resources and opportunities will be provided to help them achieve those goals?
There are numerous smaller questions that fall under those that your plan will also address, but these three questions lead to the three core sections that your employee development plan should cover.
Section #1: Career Goals
Questions to answer in this section:
- What does this employee want to achieve?
- How do those career goals connect to our broader business goals?
- When are they aiming to achieve those objectives?
Your employee’s career goals will be the entire foundation for the development plan. You’ll need to set specific targets they’re aiming for. To do this, it’s smart to use the SMART goal framework. This stands for:
- Specific: The goal shouldn’t be vague.
- Measurable: The goal should have a metric attached to define success.
- Achievable: The goal should be realistic.
- Relevant: The goal should be tied to other business goals.
- Time-bound: The goal should have a deadline.
It’s important to note that an employee development plan won’t just be based on one goal. It can include numerous different ones—big goals or small goals, short-term goals or long-term goals.
EXAMPLE CAREER GOAL: Obtain a Certified Construction Manager (CCM) certification by April of 2025.
Section #2: Action Plan
Questions to answer in this section:
- What steps does the employee need to take to achieve those goals?
- Do those steps need to be taken in a specific order?
- Is there a deadline for each step?
A goal doesn’t mean much without action behind it. That’s where this section comes into play—it’s where you and your employee will break down that goal into actionable steps they’ll need to take to reach that objective.
This is helpful for making really big, long-term goals feel way more manageable and doable. Plus, identifying these steps can help keep your employees motivated through something called the progress principle, which states that of all of the things that can boost employee perceptions during the workday, the most important is making progress in meaningful work.
EXAMPLE ACTION PLAN: To obtain a Certified Construction Manager (CCM) certification by April of 2025, the following needs to happen:
- Obtain two more years of experience of being “Responsible-in-Charge” (RIC) by June of 2024
- Submit application for CCM by January of 2025
- Take CCM exam by March of 2025
Section #3: Resources
Questions to answer in this section:
- How will you support this employee in achieving this goal?
- What specific training programs or resources will you provide?
- Is their access to those resources contingent on performance, etc.?
It’s great that you’ve spelled out goals and a roadmap for your employee. But, if you really want to reap the benefits of an employee development plan, then you need to walk the walk and be in their corner.
In this section, you’ll share the various resources, training programs, and other tangible support you’ll offer to help them achieve their goals.
Will you offer job shadowing? Additional experience? Tuition reimbursement or access to courses and education? Share what you’re bringing to the table so your employee knows they aren’t chasing these career ambitions on their own.
EXAMPLE RESOURCES: To help in achieving the Certified Construction Manager (CCM), the following will be provided:
- 24 months of experience as “Responsible-in-Charge” (RIC) on various construction projects
- Mentoring from existing team members who have passed their CCM exam
- One hour per week of paid study time to prepare for the CCM exam, between January and March 2025
Of course, these are all examples and shouldn’t be copied directly. But, they should give you a good idea of how you can break down an employee’s career goals.
How Do You Create A Development Plan?
By now, you have a pretty good handle on how this employee development plan will take shape. And, keep in mind that there isn’t necessarily a specific formula you need to follow—you have some flexibility to find what works for your employees and build individual development plans accordingly.
But, if you feel totally stuck on where to start, let’s walk through some quick steps you can take to get your employee development plans documented.
Step #1: Start With A Self-Assessment
To figure out how to get your employees where they want to go, you need to know where they’re starting from.
By filling out a self-assessment, they’ll think through their performance and responsibilities in their current job and figure out the different competencies they want to build. This lays the foundation and gives a solid starting point to build their plan.
Step #2: Talk Through Career Goals, Action Items, And Resources
Here’s where you’ll tie in those three core elements we talked through in the previous section: goals, action items, and necessary resources.
Remember, the point of this plan is to help employees pursue goals they’re passionate about. So, your next step is to connect with them about what they want to achieve. Do they want to secure a leadership position within your company? Get a certification? Learn a new area of the business?
Have a candid conversation about what their sights are set on, and then talk about how those connect to your business needs. Remember, this development plan should be mutually beneficial, so you need to consider how their goals will also help you achieve your business objectives.
Next, identify their action steps and the development opportunities and resources you’ll make available to them. Those should be included in your plan as well, so you and your employee have a shared understanding about what they need to do and what they’ll have access to.
Step #3: Document And Save The Development Plan
When you’ve worked your way through the three core elements we outlined, make sure that the plan is documented. With everything in writing, you and your employee should take another look to ensure everything looks right.
If you have an HR department, you should also submit the plan to them. Either way, make sure you keep it somewhere accessible to both you and your employee so you can reference it when necessary.
Step #4: Check In Regularly
Your employee development plans aren’t a “set it and forget it sort of thing.” You’ll need to touch base with employees frequently to find out how they’re feeling about their progress, if they’re running into challenges or a lack of resources, and how you can better support them.
If you have regular one-on-ones, use those for a light and informal update on their development. However, it’s also smart to set a quarterly meeting where you can talk about their growth and development in greater detail. Be sure to discuss their goals and performance during their typical performance review too.
Development Plans Benefit Both You And Your Employees
Yes, your employees care about their paychecks, benefits, and the type of work environment you provide. But, opportunities for growth and advancement also rank near the top of their lists.
Employee development plans require some commitment and extra elbow grease from both you and your team members. But, when they’re done right, they can be a win-win.
So, use this as your guide for crafting professional development plans for your employees, and you’ll prove that you’re committed to their career success—while also helping your own business thrive.