Career Development Plan: How to Help Employees Grow

Oct 11 2022
9 min read
Career Development Plan: How to Help Employees Grow

Career development plans turn talk into reality. They are a comprehensive but essential part of ensuring that ambitious employees are in the right place, on time and with the right skills, to fill the most important positions in your organization. Done right, a career development plan also allows HR/L&D to prepare development programs to be as successful as possible. 

What Is a Career Development Plan?

A career development plan is a tool used to define the exact steps that an employee will take in completing a career ladder.

If the career ladder is the outline of a path for the worker to take on their way to a certain place in the company, then the career development plan is a document showing the steps, timeline, and resources required. It’s basically a list of all the things that need to happen to get an employee from where they are to where they want to go. 

So Then, What Is Career Development?

A lot of terms are thrown around when it comes to building a career, so let’s break them down:

  • Career management is the entire process that supports an employee’s progress within an organization. We’ve defined it as “all of the activities undertaken by a company to ensure that an employee decides upon, and then follows, their chosen career path”. Behind the scenes of career management are a range of HR activities, such as sourcing fantastic L&D platforms. 
  • Career development, on the other hand, is what happens from the employee’s point of view to encourage career growth. Nowadays, career development is also known as career pathing. Sitting down with somebody from HR and discussing how you’d like to be a senior manager one day is part of this process. 
  • When the HR person describes how to get to this point, they set out the steps in a career ladder. This is a generalized roadmap that gives the employee an idea of what they will need to do in order to reach their goal. 
  • The final process is to build the career development plan. Keep in mind that it’s not so practical to define every step from now until the end goal. For example, a career development plan might show L&D courses that the employee will need, including start and end dates. Usually, it’s not possible to have such information years in advance. Instead, the career development plan typically covers what will happen in the next year or so.  

Why Is a Career Development Plan Important?

Creating a career development plan means wins all around. As with any type of employee development plan, career development plans make organizational development easier as the company knows more about what resources will be required, and when. Employees who show aptitude as they follow their career development plan might be good candidates for leadership positions. The skills and knowledge that workers pick up as they climb the corporate ladder also mean better performance in their current role. Plus, a career development plan shows employees that the organization is investing in their future, a fact that boosts employee retention and attracts qualified people to your job postings. 

From the standpoint of the employee, career development plans are also a great move. Just like a company, employees have “resources”. If they are aiming for a certain future, they want to know how much it will cost them in terms of effort, personal life, and stress. Expectations are very important to job satisfaction. When an employee has a realistic view of how long it will take to reach their professional goals, they are less likely to be disappointed than someone who wants it all to happen ASAP. Finally, a career development plan gives the employee motivation to work towards a concrete goal and acquire valuable experience along the way. Even if they eventually choose not to take the planned role, they will still have learned a lot and will have increased their value as an employee. This is true both for their current place of work and for future endeavors.    

How to Create a Career Development Plan Template

The career development plan is the end product of a lot of work. The organization needs to know what the requirements are for each position, who has the future ability to meet those requirements, and which employees will actually follow through.

Once these steps are followed, it’s time to get typing. The traditional approach to a career development plan is a basic table format that shows, at a minimum: 

  • The final position for the employee within the organization
  • The activities they will undertake to reach that goal
  • The reason behind each activity

A large variety of other information can be included if you wish, such as:

  • Short- and long-term goals (such as those described in a career ladder)
  • Measurement techniques for each goal
  • Start and/or end dates
  • Resource requirements
  • Learning and development programs
  • Mentors who will help the employee learn about the role and become acclimatized
  • Introductory opportunities such as job shadowing, temporary duties, and lateral moves within the company
  • A list of managers who need to ensure that the employee’s old position will be covered and that they can move within a certain period of time

For employees and HR professionals who are interested in a more creative approach, there are other formats as well. One of the more popular alternatives is a 2 x 2 matrix, which allows the employee to choose the optimal career path according to what they wish to do, and what is in demand at the moment. The axes are labeled “market value” and “internal value” that show:

  • Best choices (upper right quadrant)
  • Options to consider (lower right quadrant)
  • Potential part-time positions (upper left quadrant)
  • Ideas to avoid (lower left quadrant)

Career Development Plan Examples

The career development plan template is a versatile method for bringing a career management initiative to life. In fact, any major move that an employee wants to take can be converted into something tangible by using this medium. HR staffers may find themselves applying a career development plan to all kinds of employees, with the goal of helping them identify their best fit within the organization. 


The “classic” reason for building a career development plan is to move up the hierarchy. The level of detail put into the career development plan will change according to how high a person wants to go. For example, long-term career development goals require extensive experience in certain areas. Somebody aiming to become a chief marketing officer will need to work in a lot of related departments that could include advertising, promotions, corporate communications, and product development. The career development plan should define what interim positions are preferred and for how long the employee must remain in each. In contrast, somebody who wants to move from being a line employee to a management position could accomplish that in a few years, and so their career development plan would be shorter. In both cases, working with the L&D department is important so that the employee can take the proper courses in the most convenient way.   


It’s not always necessary to encourage career growth through an immediate vertical move. Over time, some employees become interested in a new role within the organization. This could happen as the result of a talent development strategy, or because some L&D course has stimulated a person’s interest, or in the case of the organization moving in a different direction. 


Not every employee copes well with their job, including when they advance to higher positions. Poor performance reviews, personal confusion, and organizational disruption can put a serious dent in an employee’s output. In a next-to-worst case scenario, the worker goes into survival mode. An individual who feels that they have been underperforming, or who was told the same through feedback, may create a plan specifically to improve. This signifies that the employee is not really interested in extensive advancement. Instead, they want to focus on their present job and make sure they can remain in the organization. Using career development planning in this way is a great method for understanding the training, coaching, learning, and assignments needed. 

Career Development Plan Best Practices

Building a career development plan isn’t a theoretical activity. A company that is serious about employee development will devote resources to it. So step one is making sure that upper management is prepared to support these efforts. In addition, the employee’s direct managers should understand that the worker might need to take some time off for L&D programs. And, if the career development plan is successful, they will eventually need to be replaced.

Of course, it’s up to the employee to do the work. Yes, it’s important for HR to follow up occasionally, such as during performance reviews. But it is not the responsibility of HR to cheerlead an employee’s career path in case they start missing milestones. If talent development programs are running, then there should be a few choices for succession planning. 

Similarly, there’s no need to fill projected vacancies by “selling” a certain position or journey to the employee. If the worker is happy with the path they have chosen, it’s not wise to influence them towards taking a more difficult course. 

Finally, as with many future-focused projects, don’t make promises. The company might change strategic direction, eliminate certain positions, or make hiring decisions that interfere with the plan. Instead, start your career development discussions with an explanation of what is beyond the control of the people directly involved.

Perfect Career Development Planning with GrowthSpace

The one thing missing from many career development plans is the how of L&D programs. The usual approach is to work with the same L&D provider, who delivers “one size fits all” training. But when you’re dealing with multiple employees, each with their own unique career path and career development plan, the pre-packaged approach just won’t work. 

For this, and many other reasons, leading corporations are turning to GrowthSpace. With a scalable platform dedicated to matching employees with the right training experts in every subject, GrowthSpace is the technology you need to turn your best development plans into reality.   

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