People & Leadership

4 steps to create employee development plans that lead to success

Learn about the employee development plan, how to create them, and why using them can help your people develop their skills and knowledge.

People are any business’s greatest asset and that’s why employee development is so important. And it’s becoming more so.

Since the great resignation, as it’s sometimes known, staff are even less likely to be loyal to their employer.

With tightening labour markets, they know they’re in a good position to find a new job.

So why are they leaving?

There are a number of reasons, but career development is high up the list.

According to one recent survey, nearly two thirds (60%) said their reason for wanting to leave their current job was to seek better career prospects.

Research by the MIT Sloan School of Management reveals that while more than three quarters (76%) of those surveyed said they wanted to advance their career, nearly half (49%) reported that a lack of good career advice has hurt their job prospects.

“Too often, executives ask employees to chart their own paths under the guise of empowerment, leaving them aimless,” note the report’s authors.

“Other times, ill-prepared or badly motivated managers are responsible for mentorship.”

This is where a good employee development plan comes in.

In this article, we talk about what an employee development plan is, its key benefits, and how to create a plan for your teams.

Here’s what we cover:

What is an employee development plan?

Essentially, an employee development plan (EDP) is an action plan that supports the career development and the personal and professional skills of an employee.

It can help them learn and grow within their current role as well as helping them to progress up the career ladder within their chosen discipline.

A sales associate might develop their skills and knowledge so they can manage a group of salespeople, or a purchasing executive might be trained and encouraged to become a category manager.

It can also help staff to move into other areas of the business as they develop new capabilities.

When you’re putting together an EDP, it’s important to think about both your business’s needs and those of your individual staff members.

What are the organisation’s main strengths and weaknesses?

How can you not only remain competitive but future proof your business by ensuring you’re ready to manage the challenges and make the most of the opportunities opening up over the next few years?

Alongside this, in each case, think about your employees’ own strengths and enthusiasms.

How can you build on these?

Similarly, what are their weaknesses and what are they clearly less interested in?

A good EDP will have to take these into account.

It’s important that each programme is relevant to a particular member of staff. There might be common themes across your business but the details—the content, the particular skills training—of the programme and the way in which it’s delivered will vary from employee to employee depending on their learning styles and their seniority.

More junior staff will be learning more about their role and the skills they need on a day-to-day basis to hit targets and keep customers happy.

Younger employees might also benefit from improving their soft skills such as communications, problem solving and time management.

For more senior staff, an EDP might look at team management and budgeting.

Your people who are even higher up the ladder and already have these skills will want to look at the bigger picture as they seek to improve their general management capabilities.

They might want to know about strategy development and implementation as well as ways in which they can improve their creativity and big picture thinking.

Generally, though, you’ll be looking to challenge your teams to improve their performance and learn new skills.

You’ll want to support them with training and mentoring, and you should include an idea of deliverables, specific outcomes and deadlines.

Think about a SMART approach by making the content and the goals of each EDP:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely.

What the key benefits of an employee development plan?

Well formulated and effectively delivered, an EDP can benefit both an individual staff member and your business as a whole.

It can help you to retain talent and enable you to promote internally, saving you time and money on recruitment costs.

When you do find yourself recruiting new talent, demonstrating your excellent EDP can make your company much more attractive to the brightest and best.

This is particularly true of millennials.

A survey by specialist professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters revealed that 91% of millennial professionals consider the potential for career progression a top priority when choosing a new job.

However, 53% of millennial professionals have been disappointed by a lack of personal development training when they start with a new firm.

And only 15% of employers survey believed personalised training programmes were a priority for keeping employees engaged.

A good EDP programme also means your teams are more likely to be committed and engaged, and it can drive productivity—a key challenge for businesses in the UK.

This can improve the efficiency and profitability of your business.

A more knowledgeable, skilled and engaged workforce can contribute new ideas and take the initiative. Your business will also be better placed to face the future by exploiting new markets and benefiting from new technology and working practices.

You can develop better succession planning too.

Examples of development goals as part of an employee development plan

Development goals as part of a EDP might include putting into place specific working practices to improve employees’ time management and efficiency or enhancing their written and spoken communications skills.

They might want to improve their technical and professional know-how.

Identifying relevant training courses and researching tips and advice for these and other skills can be shared between the employee and their manager or whoever is implementing the EDP.

You might want to put a keen and effective younger member of your team in charge of a larger project that will stretch them and help them to grow.

If so, you’ll need to ensure they get the appropriate training and advice before they start, and you’ll want to provide support from a mentor and advisor.

Setting clear, achievable goals and checking in at regular intervals is also even more important here than it would be for a manager who has more experience.

The challenge is to balance this with providing scope and freedom for the more junior person to make their own decisions and to fail in a way that allows them to learn from their mistakes in as safe an environment as possible.

Building professional relationships and improving networking skills and opportunities is also important.

To do this, team members will need specific advice such as how to:

  • Build a LinkedIn profile
  • Identify professional bodies and groups
  • Build relationships while attending events.

As your junior staff move from executing tasks themselves to organising other team members to carry out everyday jobs, developing better people management skills is probably the most important development goal for them.

This means:

  • Improving communications skills
  • Providing appraisals
  • Handling conflicts
  • Setting and monitoring goals and targets for others
  • Managing budgets.

Many successful EDPs are based on what is known as the 70/20/10 model. This translates as:

  • 70% of learning from practical experience on the job
  • 20% from others such as coaches and mentors
  • 10% coming from formal training.

4 steps to create a professional development plan for your teams

Any successful EDP requires planning and resources. It also needs to be integrated into your overall company strategy.

Here are four steps to help you to create a professional development plan.

Step 1: Understand your teams’ current skills and capabilities

Identifying what your people know now and what abilities they currently have is essential, so you have a benchmark for development and you know where you need to devote time and resources to develop their skills.

Don’t forget to take into account softer skills such as communication, creativity and dispute management, as well as more formal, specific training and technical know-how.

The former skills can be harder to measure but they’re still essential.

To put this assessment into context, you’ll also want to think about how the markets you’re operating in will develop over the next three to five years and how you see your business evolving.

This ‘gap analysis’ will help you to start planning relevant EDPs for the people who need them.

Step 2: Start talking to your teams early

Once you’ve identified your gap analysis, it’s time to start discussing EDPs with the people who will be going through them.

The advantage of doing this earlier rather than later is that it’s easier to take into account their wishes, needs, preferences and limitations as you start to build each EDP than it is to unpick what you’ve done at a later stage.

These initial conversations will also improve employee engagement with your EDP strategy.

As with the gap analysis in step one, you can use a range of tools to assess what kind of EDPs your teams are looking for.

Conversations with line managers are the obvious format but, in order to focus these chats, make sure those managers have a clear idea of what they should be asking and what you want to hear from employees.

You might want to complement these with online polling to determine when and where your people would prefer to do the formal training element that comes with most EDPs.

Step 3: Put your EDP programme into action

Once you’ve identified your company’s needs in the context of your current and future markets and you’ve consulted your teams to create an EDP programme that will work for them, it’s time to put it into practice.

Make sure everyone taking part is comfortable with it and understands what you’re trying to achieve.

You’ll need to ensure your plan fits with their learning style and their other requirements.

Some people might prefer online training because of their personality type or because it fits with their family commitments.

Others might opt for more face-to-face contact, mentoring or learning by metaphorically or literally looking over the shoulder of a more senior colleague.

Step 4: Assess whether team members meet their EDP goals

Having agreed specific goals with your team members, you’ll want to decide with them when you’re going to review their progress and to look at whether they’ve achieved these targets or not.

This is best done face to face with their line manager and/or someone from your HR department if you have one.

As well as providing thoughts on the staff member’s progress, you should make it clear that you want to hear their feedback on the programme.

You’ll also need to be ready to act on these comments, creating a positive feedback loop.

A good EDP is flexible.

Yes, clear goals and outcomes are important but it might be that a team member finds some elements easier and can move on from them quickly, while others are unexpectedly more challenging and require more focus.

Their role might change or new opportunities to learn might arise. You’ll need to take these factors into account.

There’s a temptation sometimes to assume that once onboarding and initial training are completed, staff can be left to get on with their work.

But while talent is scarce, technology evolves rapidly and markets change faster than ever. And with that, training and development is now a continual process with a growth mindset becoming the norm.

To achieve this, you need properly devised and executed employee development plans.

Final thoughts on creating an employee development plan

Creating an EDP for each member of your team can take time and effort. It also requires financial investment.

However, when talent is scarce and while technology and markets are evolving so quickly and unpredictably, enabling each staff member to develop their skills and abilities—and helping them to realise their true potential—will deliver an important return on your investment.