How to Create an Effective Employee Development Plan

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Happy employees feel that their employers care about their development. That’s why, if employee retention is one of your priorities, having an employee development plan in place is a must – this way one can improve employee’s knowledge, performance, and skills at work.

Personalized employee development plans can have many specific goals. Examples include building communication skills, nurturing their self-management abilities, and improving critical thinking approaches. Common employee development plan examples include skills training, exposure to leadership roles, and succession planning.

But then there are effective employee growth plans. The L&D industry is full of experts, philosophies, and methods that promise success, but often fail to meet their mark. It’s an inarguable fact that employees are frustrated by the scarcity or unfulfilled promises of employee development plans that advance their careers and make them successful. Survey after survey in recent years has made it clear that employees cite the “lack of career development” as the number one reason for leaving their jobs.

Therefore, an essential part of properly designing, implementing, and measuring employee development is to identify the barriers to success and adopt a method of minimizing them.

What is an Employee Development Plan?

The purpose of an employee development plan is to help an organization’s growth, development, and productivity. COVID-19 emphasized the importance of developing high-value employees to help retain them and reduce overall turnover. Having an employee development plan in place will enable proactive skills-building rather than reactive, which can result in higher productivity and job satisfaction. As part of the plan, you can also address succession planning and future business needs. Talent development includes building employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities and helping them develop and achieve their potential to help their organizations succeed and grow.

Employee Development Plan Goals and Benefits

Increase Your Organizational Flexibility

Having a plan in place makes shifting priorities and moving development sprints around easy, since you already know what your goals are (see below). Without a plan in place, even the smallest pebble can get caught in your cogs and create even more chaos.

Create a Culture of Learning Across Your Organization

With buy-in from upper management and support throughout the organization, employee development can foster a new culture of learning that keeps employees excited and, as we’ll touch on below, help attract new talent who understands the value of continued development.

A competitive company with an extensive learning culture is almost five times more likely to be a better performer than a lower performer. In addition, high performers are nearly twice as likely to say their learning functions help meet organizational business goals.

Improve Performance AND Output

An effective employee development plan enables employees to improve relevant professional skills, or learn new, faster ways to do work that previously took long periods of time. With only about 33% of employees actively engaged in their work, an employee development plan and the L&D program that goes along with it can greatly increase productivity while making employees feel more valued by contributing more to the organization – especially important in the new remote and hybrid ways of working.

Retain Current Employees, Entice New Recruits

The cost to replace a single employee can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 dollars or more, depending on the employee’s seniority and cost of recruiting a new employee. Employee development plans, along with an effective L&D strategy, reduces the likelihood of employee churn

Grow Potential Talents into Leaders

When the 2008 recession hit and again in the wake of COVID, lots of mid-level managers were let go and their former employees were plunged into new managerial positions with no training and little support in the chaos that surrounded them. An effective employee development plan would mitigate that issue by having succession plans already created. Development programs in these situations can be created quickly, especially if the organization is already using an L&D platform.

Examples of Development Plans

The structure of employee development plans can be as diverse as employees themselves. Some put all the focus on the employee’s skill gaps, while some include equal responsibility for the employee’s manager; some list goals and tasks disparately, while others connect each goal to specific action items, and so on. Choosing the right plan style depends on the employee’s role, stature, objectives, timeline, and other factors. To give you an idea, here are four sample formats of commonly used employee development plans:

Employee development plan based on time frame

This style of employee development plan breaks down the training needs and milestones according to specific time periods.

time frame based employee development plan

Employee development plan based on skill gaps

Another effective way to structure your employee development plan is according to skill gaps, and matching them to specific actions.

employee development plan template based on skill gaps

Employee development plan based on objectives

Some find it most helpful to structure the employee development plan according to professional areas and outcomes, including the action items and costs involved.

Employee development plan based on objectives

Employee development plan based on performance

A more aesthetic way to present an employee development plan is to put the focus on overall performance, looking at the big picture, as opposed to detailing specific skills.

performance based employee development plan

Steps to Creating an Employee Development Plan

1. Analyze Skills and Set Goals

The first step in creating an employee development plan is to conduct a skill gap analysis:

  • Examine current levels: Determine what types of skills are lacking among the current staff, and remember to ask employees about which skills they believe are important to develop for themselves and the company
  • Account for strategy: Check if strategic plans might require new skills to be developed
  • Look at industry trends: See if there are new kinds of development initiatives that may be more relevant to your organization and employees
  • Put it all together: Organize the employees, experts, materials, and schedule for the employee development plan
  • Set goals: Having reference points, including KPIs on development completion and manager approval, to determine if the employee development plan was successful are crucial for understanding if your employees are gaining the expertise and knowledge needed for their professional careers.

Together, determining the skills gap and goal-setting for individual employees can be a complex exercise. For example, if you wanted to create an employee development plan for sales management skills, it would involve numerous elements. The employee would receive instructions about improving their own sales abilities, managing employees, and using departmental systems. But each of those skills require a separate goal or KPI. The above example shows how “sales management” is actually a group of elements, each of which needs specific instruction. The employee development plan must be adjusted to individual requirements; otherwise employees will potentially waste their time and energy on irrelevant material.

For soft skills, it might be necessary to consult with subordinates, customers, and superiors to determine if the employee development plan has resulted in progress.

Finally, chances are that an experienced employee requires less advising than a new one, so any employee development plan must account for seniority as well. In short, an effective employee development plan must be scalable and be able to adjust to the needs of individuals.

2. Source Experts and Recruit Managers

The current approach to finding experts usually relies on an organization’s “go-to” list, or finding local coaches and trainers who have a background in a certain skill set, such as “management” or “communication”. Yet one of the reasons behind failed employee development plans can be traced to the “elements” problem discussed above: Certain skills should be taught on a granular level.

Each employee should receive instruction from an expert in the specific skill that they require. If “managing sales employees” is the targeted skill, then the expert should address this exact area.

It may be necessary for an organization to leave their comfort zone and find these types of specific experts. This move is highly practical in today’s market, where required skills frequently change. And today, with online platforms that connect organizations to qualified, highly-vetted experts, companies can more easily find the relevant coach, expert, or trainer to help fill a specific employees’ gaps.

Locating the right, qualified experts for your employees’ specific skill gaps is critical in developing effective employee development plans.

Another essential part of any employee development plan is the employee’s manager, who needs to:

  • Participate in scheduling the course, if required by HR
  • Arrange the employee’s tasks so productivity is not affected
  • Provide feedback and evaluation (in the next phase)
  • Get employee development plan buy-in from senior management to ensure successful employees have the backing of the C-Suite

This last point is often overlooked. There isn’t much reason for an employee to work hard in a development program but see no upside. Such a situation is common today, as an employee can expect to spend 50% longer in a single position than they would have in 2008. It should be understood within the organization that an employee who passes employee development plans should either be promoted, given a raise, or receive some other kind of recognition for their efforts.

3. Evaluate the Employee, Course, and Expert

The most common practice is to conduct a feedback session halfway through the employee development plan, and then at the end. The challenge here is to use an evaluation method that makes sense to all of the stakeholders. Perhaps the HR department can understand the wide variety of evaluation methods that are out there, but not the sales department manager.

That’s why a simple approach that concentrates on the end result – improved performance – is optimal. Additionally, if the organization wants to use the same expert and method of instruction in the future, then the same sort of question should be asked – did the course and the expert enable the employee to reach the employee development plan’s goal?

Or, Take the Easier Path by Implementing an Employee Development Platform

GrowthSpace’s L&D platform offers organizations the easy way to create and execute effective employee development plans by matching each employee with the right expert – whether that’s a coach, mentor, or trainer. Reduce your employee skill gaps and create a culture of learning and development that will not only retain your employees, but also keep them engaged. Find out why hundreds of companies use GrowthSpace to help their employees learn the right skills at the right time by booking a demo today.

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