How to Create an Effective Employee Development Plan

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Nov 09 2023
11 min read
How to Create an Effective Employee Development Plan

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. It creates a formal pathway for improving an employee’s knowledge, performance, and skills at work.

But then there are effective employee growth plans. For various reasons, many companies can’t provide training and development that matches the exact needs of individual employees. These reasons include difficulties with:

  • Sourcing experts (coaches, mentors, and trainers) with specialties in granular skill areas
  • Coordinating employee development programs across potentially hundreds of workers and dozens of experts
  • Enabling measurable employee development goals to understand the progress of the worker, the quality of training programs, and effectiveness of experts

In light of this, the L&D industry is full of authorities, philosophies, and methods that promise success, but often fail to meet their mark. In turn, employees are frustrated by the scarcity or unfulfilled promises of employee development plans that are meant to 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.

<< Download FREE Employee Development Plan Template >>

What Is a Personalized Employee Development Plan?

The answer to this issue is to create development plans that are centered around individualized courses. Simply put, a personalized employee development plan covers:

  • Precise skills that the employee wants and which the organization needs
  • A schedule of experts and courses to provide the skills
  • An evaluation method based on measurable goals

Employee development plans are linked to individual workers, so HR should use a development plan template that allows entries for specific employees. Furthermore, because training occurs over time, the record should be set up for numerous entries. 

Employee Development Plan Goals and Benefits

Arranging such programs can be a complicated process. But the results of an effective development planning process are extensive. 

Expanding Width and Breadth of Skills

Companies that are increasing in size or entering new markets usually need a bigger skills inventory. Personalized employee development plans can have many related goals. Examples include building leadership skills, nurturing self-management abilities, and improving critical thinking approaches. Common employee development plan examples include general soft skills training, exposure to leadership roles, and succession planning

Taking Proactive Steps

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 workers to increase employee engagement rates and foster retention. Having an employee development plan in place will enable proactive skills-building (rather than taking a reactive approach), which can result in higher productivity and job satisfaction. 

Increasing 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. Without a ready plan, even the smallest pebble can get caught in your cogs and create even more chaos.

Creating 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 helps to attract new talent who understand 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.

Improving 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 valued by contributing more to the organization – especially important in the new remote and hybrid ways of working.

Retaining Current Employees, Entice New Recruits

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

Growing 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. 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.

How Do Other Kinds of Development Plans Fit in?

In the HR “toolbox”, there are many types of development that fit various sorts of objectives. Let’s examine three common types of development plans and how they differ:

  • Employee development plans cover all the activities that an employee does, with the support of HR, to grow in their current role and prepare for future ones. This can include acquiring soft skills, training in areas that are specific to the company, onboarding, and experiential training like job rotation.
  • Professional development plans focus on the skills that a worker will use throughout their career. There are many such abilities, but some common areas for professional development include communications, leadership, and problem-solving.
  • Career development plans go one step beyond professional development plans to discuss specific roles that an employee might take at their current organization. Career development plans have all the types of training as do employee development plans, but add the long-term focus of a professional development plan. 

Examples of Employee 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.

12-Month Employee Development Plan

<< Download FREE 12-Month Employee Development Plan Template >>

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 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

<< Download FREE Development Plan Based on Objectives Template >>

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 improvement training and development quadrant

Steps for 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 relevant to your organization and employees.
  • Put it all together: Organize the employees, experts, materials, and schedule for the employee development plan.
  • Set goals: Set evaluation points, including KPIs, for metrics like course completion rates and manager approval, to determine if the employee development plan was successful. This is crucial for understanding if your employees are gaining the expertise and knowledge needed for their careers.

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 multiple elements. The employees would receive instructions about improving their own sales abilities, managing employees, and using departmental systems. 

But each of those skills requires a separate goal or KPI. In addition, the above example shows how “sales management” is a group of elements, each of which needs specific instruction. The employee development plan must be adjusted for such individual requirements; otherwise, employees will potentially waste their time and energy on irrelevant material.

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 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.

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

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. As an example, 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?

Take the Easier Path by Implementing an Employee Development Platform

Modern L&D platforms offer 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. These technologies can 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. These platforms enable evaluation and administrative functions that are accessible to all stakeholders, based on a user-friendly interface. In sum, quality L&D platforms answer every need of a successful employee development plan.  

<< Download FREE Employee Development Plan Template >>

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig is an organizational development strategist at Growthspace. With an MSc in Industrial Organizational Psychology and experience in Talent and Organizational Development roles in various organizations, Eric leverages his subject matter expertise to share knowledge and best practices, build guides and materials, develop & execute new and impactful programs and products, and help enable both Growthspace and their customers in achieving their strategic initiatives. Eric is a husband, a father, an amateur musician, an avid hockey fan (Lets Go Rangers!) and a functional cereal addict

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