March 29, 2024

Employee Development Plan: Everything You Need to Know (+ Free Template)

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Key takeaways

  • An employee development plan is a tool to help employees meet organizational needs while also advancing their careers.
  • The plan should outline the employee’s skills, short- and long-term professional goals, actions, and deadlines to meet these goals.
  • Performance management software can help you create, collaborate, and monitor progress on employee development plans.

Mar. 29, 2024: We reviewed the information on the page for accuracy and added a free downloadable template.

What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan, also an employee action plan, is a tool that helps upskill your existing employees to meet larger company objectives. It typically includes short- and long-term goals with actionable steps for employees to meet each milestone.

Professional development plans (PDPs) are similar to employee development plans and are sometimes used interchangeably. The main distinction is that companies typically propose and lead employee development plans, while employees initiate PDPs, with or without the employer’s help.

This does not mean employees do not have a say in their own development plans. On the contrary, involving employees in their development plans and prioritizing their career aspirations can benefit the company long-term by improving productivity and knowledge.

Typically, most development plans are based on an employee’s current role, their long-term career goals, or a career change they want to pursue.

This involves expanding employees’ knowledge or skills in their current roles. A pharmacist, for example, must learn about the latest prescriptions and dosages for their patients to do their job effectively.

This involves developing an employee’s skills, certifications, licensing, or experience so they can advance in their field, usually for promotions. For instance, a team lead may be required to complete management training courses before advancing to a manager title.

This involves learning the skills to change career paths or positions. This type of development most commonly occurs to prepare an employee to move to a different department, like a sales representative learning HTML to become a web developer or a receptionist receiving a project management certification.

Learn more: Why Employee Performance Management Is Important

Free employee development plan template

Download our employee development plan template for free:

How to create an employee development plan in 6 steps

According to a 2022 survey by The Conference Board, 58% of workers are likely to leave their company if they don’t receive professional development. This figure is even greater when looking at groups like women (61%), black employees (68%), or millennials (66%).

Therefore, if you want to improve the retention stage of the employee life cycle, reduce turnover, and promote diversity hiring, implementing employee development plans is a great strategy. Employee development plans should follow these steps:

  1. Determine your business objectives.
  2. Compile a database of resources.
  3. Discuss employee professional goals.
  4. Draft an employee development plan.
  5. Review the plan and monitor progress.
  6. Follow-up after the plan.

1. Determine your business objectives

First, you must understand what you hope to gain or achieve from offering and administering employee development plans. Beyond increasing employee retention, how else may employee development programs aid in your business’s bottom line?

A few examples of where these plans could positively impact your business overall include:

  • Workforce and succession planning.
  • Fill workforce skill gaps.
  • Upskill internal talent to prevent layoffs.
  • Attract top talent.
  • Meet future company demands, such as increasing the number of product experts for your growing customer base.

Data should inform what areas of your company could benefit from employee development plans and identify ideal employees for the role. Software like Zavvy, for example, offers a skills matrix to visualize what skills your company has in spades and what skills it lacks. In addition, Zavvy provides growth plan templates, including goal tracking, so you don’t have to resort to manual methods.

Zavvy displays action items for a development plan about increasing team collaboration.
You can use Zavvy’s customizable growth plans to upskill employees based on your organization’s skill deficiencies and monitor progress over time. Source: Zavvy

2. Compile a database of resources

Your development plans are only as good as the time and resources you can provide employees to reach their goals. Because development plans are unique to each individual, it’s best to include a variety of resources to fit their various learning styles and interests.

For example, an employee wanting to advance to a management position may appreciate time shadowing managers or taking the reins in meetings with executives and direct reports. By contrast, employees wishing to expand their knowledge in their field may appreciate company reimbursements for continuing education courses, such as software engineers taking classes on a new coding language.

Work with your executive and finance teams to determine what resources you already have available and what your company would be willing to provide to support an employee’s development. Consider bringing in consultants to build your learning and development (L&D) courses or leverage software to create your own. Some resources to offer include:

  • Learning management systems, like EdApp, for custom and pre-built training courses.
  • Webinars, podcasts, and professional development books.
  • Contributions to pre-approved certifications and licensing courses.
  • College tuition and travel reimbursements.
  • Coaching and mentoring.
  • Stretch assignments.
  • Job shadowing.
  • Job rotation.
  • Networking groups.
  • Game-based learning courses.
  • Augmented reality simulations.
EdApp displays a field that prompts the platform's AI to generate a course based on the topic, key words, or course summary the user provides.
EdApp lets you create courses quickly using its AI create feature; users add a course title, topic, or summary to have its AI generate a course targeted to your employee’s development plan. Source: EdApp

Learn more about AI in HR: 6 Ways Artificial Intelligence Impacts the Workplace.

3. Discuss employee professional goals

You might already have great candidates in mind who could benefit from structured employee development plans, or you may have used your human resources management system (HRMS) or performance management software to identify ideal candidates. Either way, the best individuals should have already completed their onboarding and show a vested interest in growing with your company.

Employee professional development plans should be collaborative. You may have identified a good match for an employee development plan, but this doesn’t mean they necessarily want to participate. Meet one-on-one with the employees and see if their aspirations align with your company’s goals.

If the employee is interested in developing their skills, discuss with them how that might take shape. Ask the following questions:

  • What are your professional career goals?
  • Where do you see yourself with the company in the next five years?
  • What resources do you need to accomplish your goals?
  • How can the company help you with these goals?

Pay attention to the employee’s answers since they may differ from others in the same role. The development plan will change based on what they say, including the amount of time, effort, or resources you dedicate.

4. Draft an employee development plan

Each employee development plan is unique, but at its heart, all should include the following:

  • Employee’s current skills.
  • Short- and long-term goals.
  • Actions needed to reach these goals.
  • How you will measure goal progress.

A development plan template can help you outline these main items, but its shape may differ by employee.

For example, an employee looking to move into a management position may have a plan focused heavily on guided one-on-one meetings with their people manager to learn the ropes. Meanwhile, your finance manager may want to become a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to advise your company’s financial strategies better. Their plan may consist of several self-learning courses, with little oversight from you.

Managers or mentors, HR departments, finance teams, and executives should review and approve the plan, especially if it involves monetary or other time commitments from the organization. You may decide approval is unnecessary in some situations, such as professional development plans that employees manage themselves.

Either way, the plan should remain a living document. Different circumstances, like workplace demands, illnesses, or personal aims, may change the plan’s objectives and deadlines. Don’t be afraid to revise the plan to accommodate these so employees have the best chance at success.

5. Monitor plan progress

All employee development plans should include semi-regular biweekly or monthly check-ins with managers or HR teams to monitor progress. During these meetings, you should discuss with employees where they are in completing their goals, any obstacles they’ve encountered, and if they need any additional support.

If you track goal progression electronically, software with native employee development plan modules can keep employee progress plans in one place. With Culture Amp, for example, employees can track personal goals and tie them to larger company initiatives. Its employee development plans also allow managers, mentors, or coaches to provide feedback on development progress to inform employee performance reviews.

Culture Amp displays an employee's progress toward goals in team building and delivery growth areas.
Managers, mentors, or HR managers with access to an employee’s development plan can see the skills they’re developing, goal progress, and feedback in one place. Source: Culture Amp

6. Follow-up after the plan

Each post-plan action is as unique as each employee’s development plan. Ideally, once they complete the plan, the employee should be able to take on responsibilities that align with your company’s overarching strategies and their own career ambitions.

This could result in more traditional outcomes, like promotions, raises, or taking on more niche and challenging duties. Or it could result in a job transfer to a role where they can use their newly developed skills.

Besides following up with the employee, take a chance to evaluate the success of the development plan as well. Survey plan participants to see what worked and what didn’t.

Next, examine the employee’s productivity against plan budgets, resource creation, and time dedication. Doing so allows you to determine the plan’s return on investment so you can learn and make adjustments for more efficient, effective plans in the future.

Employee development plan example

Let’s say you have a sales representative who is a promising candidate for your accounts executive position. After a one-on-one chat, they express interest in advancing to this role. Below is an example of how their employee development plan might look:

Plan overview
Long-term goal Get promoted to accounts executive position.
Current skills B.A. in marketing, communication, lead generation
Skills needed Time-management, leadership, networking, presenting
Check-in schedule Every two weeks on Thursday
Goal tracking
Action Short-term goal Deadline
Take company L&D time management and presentation courses. Learn to prioritize multiple responsibilities. Complete by end of quarter.
Present on product features to an interested prospect. Present and communicate to prospects according to company strategy. Complete presentation prep by mid-quarter with a manager. Present demo at the next customer request.
Mentor new junior sales representative. Advance leadership and coaching abilities. Sign up for a mentee by the end of the month. Shadow people manager during executive presentations. Complete mentor-mentee course by mid-year.

Employee development plan FAQs

Most employee development plans should list current employee skills, development objectives, long- and short-term goals, actions and deadlines, and progress metrics.

Current employee skills

Current employee skills include both the hard and soft skills employees possess, such as Python coding and time-management skills for a programmer. The purpose of listing these skills is to quickly identify what strengths employees can hone in their development plans and what skills they will need to add or build.

One long-term goal

The long-term professional goal is the main objective of the employee’s development plan. The goal typically takes longer than a year to reach and should align with company and employee aspirations. An example includes a substitute teacher wanting to acquire the necessary licensure to be a full-time teacher.

Short-term goals

Short-term goals are the smaller goals employees must achieve to reach their long-term goal. These goals usually take a few weeks or months to complete. For the substitute teacher example, some short-term goals could be taking on more teaching responsibilities, building relationships with current teachers, or studying for licensing exams.

Action and deadlines

Actions and deadlines include the specific things employees will complete to support their short-term goals. For the substitute teacher example, this could mean passing a licensing exam by a particular date or attending networking events with current teachers.

Progress metrics

Progress metrics measure the completion rate of individual development plans. They could involve a mixture of objectives and key results (OKRs) tracking, performance review ratings, or one-on-ones with managers to connect on goal milestones.

  • Reduces recruitment costs by upskilling existing employees.
  • Fosters a culture of continuous learning.
  • Attracts top talent.
  • Increases retention and employee engagement.
  • Allows companies to strategize and prepare for future needs.

The main difference between employee development and performance improvement plans (PIP) is their intention. Companies use employee development plans to improve the performance of existing high performers as part of their professional development goals.

In contrast, companies use PIPs to help employees improve their performance in existing roles. Traditionally, PIPs are a part of progressive discipline policies, often to give employees one last chance to meet their role expectations before demotion, job transfer, or termination.

Start upskilling your workforce with an employee development plan

Employee development plans are more than just a way for ambitious employees to prove they deserve that raise. They are a way to demonstrate your commitment to your employees by providing company support and time for their professional goals, increasing the likelihood they’ll stay with your organization for years to come.

Crafting your development plan also doesn’t need to take significant time and effort. Investing in performance and L&D software solutions allows you to easily create and monitor employee development and tie them to the rest of your HR or performance management initiatives.

To get started, check out our Performance Management and Learning Management System Software Guides for platforms that fit your needs.


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