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How to Create Employee Development Plans: Tips, Steps, and Benefits

Employee development plans improve engagement and encourage professional growth. Learn more in our complete guide.

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Preparing for the future of work is one of the biggest challenges facing companies. LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2023 highlights that job skill sets have already changed by 25% since 2015, and we can expect that number to double by 2027. 

Almost 9 in 10 L&D pros agree that the top way to prepare for this evolution is to proactively build skills to help individual employees and the company cope with the demands of the modern workplace. 

An employee development plan is the starting point for equipping your team members with the tools they need to succeed. This guide highlights how to select employee career goals, align them with overall company objectives, and provide resources to ensure healthy progress. 

What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan maps out an individual’s professional goals within your organization, both in their current role and anticipated internal moves. The plan centers on the skills, training, and other resources required to support the employee in continuously developing and moving towards their goals. 

The plan is both a process and a document. The process involves performance reviews, regular check-ins between the employee and their manager, and gathering feedback from peers. All of this comes together in a live document that outlines the goals and action items to be completed. Both employees and managers should work in tandem to update and adjust the employee development plan throughout their time working together. 

4 benefits of using employee development plans

Managers who commit to building a career development plan with their employees will achieve the following benefits: 

Increase motivation 

Gallup’s State of the Workforce 2023 report finds that fewer than a quarter of employees are actively engaged. Worse still, 59% are not engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged. 

Investing in this area can be the motivation your workforce needs to succeed. Employees want and expect their employers to care about their growth, and feel motivated when the organization makes this commitment to them. 

Improve retention 

Disengaged employees are more likely to leave your company to find a role that excites them more. LinkedIn research agrees that people not currently learning at your organization will leave. Its analysis found that three of the top five reasons that people consider a new job include: 

  • Seeking more challenging and impactful work
  • Craving opportunities for career growth 
  • Wanting to learn and develop new skills 

Most companies have realized the role of L&D in reducing employee attrition. According to LinkedIn, 93% of organizations are concerned about employee retention and believe that “providing learning opportunities” is the top way to improve retention. 

Boost performance 

When companies invest in their employees, they equip them with the skills to produce higher-quality work. Studies such as “Employee Development and Its Effect on Employee Performance A Conceptual Framework” find a tangible link between employees taking ownership of their development and seeing progress toward their goals over time. 

Develop promotable employees 

An enriching career path doesn’t necessarily involve moving vertically up a career ladder. But providing a breadth of internal mobility opportunities ensures that your employees are constantly progressing and picking up new skills throughout their professional careers, in whatever promotion pattern best suits them and the company. 

LinkedIn research highlights that internal mobility in the modern workplace is, unfortunately, lacking. Only 15% of employees state that their organization has encouraged them to move to a new role. Why not join them by offering professional development for your team members? 

How to create an employee development plan in 4 easy steps

Follow this straightforward process to build your employee development plan. 

1. Create business goals 

While employee development is considered an individual process (no two development plans should look identical,) a person’s professional growth must align with your overarching business goals. This is a top L&D focus area in 2023, according to LinkedIn. 

Define clear organizational goals before mapping out individuals’ objectives to ensure your people development plans are relevant. Some examples of company goals to consider include: 

  • Expanding the business into new markets or regions
  • Improving product quality or customer service 
  • Increasing operational efficiency 
  • Developing new products or services 
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace 
  • Boosting employee engagement and satisfaction
  • Enhancing the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives 

Example: If your company aims to become more sustainable and achieve B-Corps accreditation, you might consider offering training in green skills.

2. Define individual goals 

With your company goals in place, it’s time to zoom in on the gap between your employees’ capabilities and the skills required for their roles. Have honest conversations with your employees about their career aspirations, and make them aware of internal opportunities they may find appealing. 

A skills competency framework will plot the skills, attributes, and knowledge required for every role in your organization. Depending on your employees’ goals, you can chart a course for their progression and create an action plan to acquire the necessary skills. Examples of individual goals might include: 

  • Achieving a higher level of technical proficiency in job-specific tools and software
  • Developing leadership skills and preparing for a management role
  • Learning a new language to facilitate communication in a multinational company
  • Gaining certifications or additional qualifications relevant to their role
  • Improving soft skills such as communication, teamwork, or problem-solving
  • Expanding their industry knowledge or staying updated with trends and advancements
  • Enhancing client management and relationship-building skills
  • Improving time-management and organizational skills
  • Pursuing a lateral move to gain broader company and industry experience

3. Provide resources 

Achieving these goals is only possible with investment and support from the company in terms of: 

  • Development frameworks: Setting up processes such as 1:1 developmental meetings and 360-degree feedback programs to monitor continuous improvement.
  • Leadership support: Gaining buy-in from execs and line managers who must set aside time to support their direct reports through mentoring and passing on institutional knowledge. 
  • Financial resources: Allocate budget for dedicated training initiatives. The great news from LinkedIn is that L&D budgets remain strong in 2023. 41% of L&D professionals expect to have increased spending power in 2023, 9% more than in 2021. 

Curious about how much companies are offering employees in employee development programs? The 2023 Benepass Benefits Benchmarking Guide reveals average contributions for professional enrichment stipends across companies of all sizes and industries. In 2023, companies provide an average of $998 in annual stipends, with tech companies and healthcare and life sciences organizations offering the most money. Download the benchmarking guide to learn more about the prevalence of professional development stipends and how companies are designing top-tier programs. 

2023 Benepass Benefits Benchmarking Guide

4. Create scheduled check-ins 

Accountability is a significant part of employee development success, with the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) finding that people have a 65% chance of reaching their training goal if they have an accountability partner. Managers can offer support here by creating a check-in schedule where they meet with employees to: 

  • Review employee development progress 
  • Ensure individual and organizational goals are still in alignment
  • Suggest new development opportunities 

7 examples of development strategies

Your development goals are the foundation of your plan, but you can build upon these with actionable strategies to meet them. Some suggestions include: 

1. Completing leadership training

Leadership training benefits individuals who are either current leaders or who you’ve earmarked to assume managerial roles in the future. This training equips them with the skills to confidently lead, guide teams, and contribute to the organization’s success. A relevant program or course might include: 

  • Conflict resolution 
  • Strategic thinking 
  • Decision-making 
  • Team-building skills 

2. Taking on increased responsibility

Giving employees additional responsibility tests their skills and allows you to observe their effectiveness in a challenging environment. The employee development program could include objectives such as: 

  • Taking on extra projects
  • Leading cross-functional teams
  • Being involved in new decision-making processes

3. Taking training courses to improve hard skills

Formal training courses are ideal for learning a new skill or upgrading existing knowledge. These courses allow employees to benefit from the expertise of experienced instructors while gaining a deeper understanding of their current role or exploring new career paths. 

Learning management systems (LMS) and learning experience platforms (LXP) are popular investments for companies that want to invest in formal training. Both platforms provide access to a library of training courses and allow you to customize individual learning journeys based on the employee’s needs. 

4. Attending conferences and seminars

Industry events allow employees to develop their professional networks while soaking up trending insights. Attending conferences can support employee development by: 

  • Introducing new ideas into the workplace 
  • Reflecting on their performance 
  • Meeting potential clients or business partners
  • Building relationships with industry experts 
  • Gaining access to valuable resources and information 

5. Achieving certifications

Certifications allow employees to physically demonstrate the knowledge and experience they’ve acquired on the job or through formal training. Qualifications often come with industry recognition and can help employees stand out in their field and prepare them for future opportunities. Common certifications include: 

  • Professional IT training programs 
  • Financial qualifications such as Certified Financial Analyst 
  • Project management certifications such as PMP, PRINCE2, or Agile 
  • Language qualifications such as TOEFL or IELTS

6. Changing roles or departments 

Moving to a new role or department can provide employees with new challenges and fresh perspectives on the organization. This change might be a lateral move as the next step in the employee’s career path, or it might be a temporary work placement for a few months allowing them to learn new skills in a different department. Some benefits of changing roles include: 

  • Gaining exposure to different business processes, cultures, and managerial styles 
  • Developing relationships with other teams within the organization 
  • Expanding their understanding of the business as a whole
  • Diversifying their skillset 
  • Receiving mentorship from a new manager 

7. Earning promotions 

Companies sometimes use employee promotions as a developmental technique, enabling them to assume leadership responsibilities and adapt to new challenges. Promotions are a great way of rewarding employees for their hard work and dedication and offering them increased job satisfaction in the long run. 

However, it’s essential to promote only those capable of succeeding in the new role. “Stretched promotions” happen when employees receive a promotion too early, which could lead to burnout. 

5 tips for creating developmental plans that work

Ace employee development programs with the following best practices: 

1. Create SMART goals 

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These criteria help employees understand their goals and the steps needed to achieve them. A few SMART examples include: 

  • “I will attend three conferences related to my field in the next twelve months.” 
  • “I will complete an online coding certification by the end of this year.”
  • “I will start working with a mentor to improve my communication skills by June.”  

2. Build achievable milestones 

If you have identified longer-term or complex goals, it’s worth building milestones into your development plans to stay on track. You’ll focus on what you need to do in the short term to complete your long-term objectives. The SMART method is also useful for setting milestones. You can consider implementing an employee recognition program to celebrate employees who achieve these milestones and larger goals.

Example: If your goal is to obtain a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, your first milestone might be to research and sign up for professional certification by March. 

3. Respect your check-in schedule 

In busy work schedules, it’s easy to delay development plan check-ins in favor of tackling more urgent work. But neglecting progress will prevent you from meeting long-term employee and business goals. Essentially, you’re robbing tomorrow to pay for today. 

Overcome this by creating a regular check-in schedule and stick to it. Encourage employees to provide feedback on their progress, and make yourself available to work with them. 

4. Focus on strengths as growth areas 

Employee feedback should be a vital part of determining the direction of development. But feedback falls into two buckets: positive and negative. It’s tempting to focus solely on the negative and use it as constructive feedback to identify areas for improvements. But don’t overlook the positive feedback, highlighting employee strengths and areas where they show natural aptitude. 

Example: Lina’s performance appraisal highlights her talent for public speaking. Lina works with her manager to provide more opportunities to hone this skill, including presenting to clients and speaking on behalf of the company at a small networking seminar. 

5. Align employee and company goals  

As your company evolves, perhaps by targeting a new audience, opening a new regional office, or pivoting your services, it’s vital that you update individual career development plans to align with the business. 

This should only happen for significant changes that genuinely impact your employees’ career trajectories and can also provide a variety of new opportunities for your workers to explore. 

How do employee development plans fit into benefits packages?

86% of employees would change jobs to benefit from more professional development opportunities. But employers can turn the tide on this statistic by offering in-house opportunities for highly skilled workers to progress in their individual careers. 

The Benepass Professional Development account is a rewarding employee perk you can offer to support your team members with their personal and professional development. The plan is entirely flexible, putting your employees in the driving seat by choosing the development perks that make sense to them. Here’s how easy it is to set up: 

  • You’ll define eligible spending criteria such as conferences, seminars, mentorship, coaching, courses, and workshops.
  • We’ll code your specific policy preferences into our Benepass platform to produce your unique benefit template and Visa Benecard.
  • We’ll connect to your payroll system to automate enrollment.
  • We’ll invite your employees to join the program and start achieving professional growth today. 

Along with retaining your top talent, this type of developmental benefit is a game-changer in attracting the brightest minds in your niche to join your company. With a flexible benefit plan, employees have more power to spend their benefit funds on the development activities or resources that best align with their goals. 

Benepass Professional Development Account

Ready to equip your team members with the skills they need to navigate the future of work? Sign up for a Benepass demo today, or contact sales@getbenepass.com with any questions. If you’re interested in learning more about other types of flexible benefit accounts to round out your benefits package, check out our other guides: 

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Rebecca Noori

Rebecca Noori is a freelance HR Tech and SaaS writer who is obsessed with our world of work. She writes about everything from employee benefits and performance management to upskilling and productivity tips. When she's not writing, you'll find her grappling with phonics homework and football kits, looking after her three kids.

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