Employee Development Plans: 9 Steps for Creating a Path to Growth

November 9, 2022 Workhuman Editorial Team
Employee Development Plans

Have you ever wondered how businesses develop worker loyalty? Most people assume it’s through financial compensation, but there’s more to it than that.

Many major companies provide employee development plans to help identify opportunities for growth and a path to skill improvements. They keep laborers motivated and boost productivity.

If you’re trying to figure out how that works, you’ve come to the right place. This article will discuss the basics of employee growth plans and how you can implement them.

employee using online courses to gain a new skill

What is an employee development plan?

Employee development plans, sometimes called growth plans or professional development plans, are guidelines for advancing employees in their current role or acquiring new skills to take on a new role or responsibilities.

The approaches to training and development in HRM vary depending on the end goal. Successful organizations generally have several programs for training and development.

What are some examples of development plans?

Career development plan

Personalized career development plans are commonly developed by employees with support from managers or mentors. They define an employee’s professional goals and methods to achieve them, empowering employees to take control of their own careers.

Tip: Leave notes from managers and employees in your plan, especially around next steps, follow-up, and estimated costs for necessary training. This creates accountability for both parties.

Upskilling plan

This form of employee development plan can be created by managers or HR professionals for employees. They are used to define an employee’s skill and set short- or long-term development goals.

Managers should start with a skills assessment when creating these plans so you have a clear baseline of current skills and gaps. To be truly impactful, it may help to categorize similar skills and assign specific actions, training, or certifications to each.

Tip: HR professionals can use these development plans to help future-proof a company’s workflow. For example, when forecasting people needs to meet business goals, HR may look to their current talent pool to develop high-potential employees for a new role, cutting down on recruiting and onboarding costs.

Succession planning

Succession planning is when HR creates a plan to develop an employee to assume a leadership position. They guarantee that workers have a path to move up during employment and that they are successful in positions higher in the organization.

These plans should identify the key responsibilities of the role, the necessary skills or training the promotable employees must possess, and a process for them to achieve that plan. Ideally HR can work with the current position to define these requirements but succession plans can be created for new positions as well.

Tip: A succession plan can be helpful tools for contingency planning. If you can, review your organization for roles critical to the workflow. What would happen if the employee were to leave? Creating employee training plans for those roles ensures someone with the knowledge and skills is always on-hand to keep work moving.

What should a development plan include?

Creating an employee development plan typically involves identifying skill gaps and developing action plans for training efforts to close them. Good employee development plans will differ between workers and address the individual employee’s issues or goals.

For that reason, a development plan should also include clear direction and required support for achieving these aims. To do this employees should sit down with an HR representative or manager to walk through their expanded skill set or career aspirations.

These plans are most effective when objectives are defined. While an individual’s skill or career goals can help you shape the direction of the plan, employees progress can be tracked and improved with specific milestones

HR leaders helping employees plan for the future

Why is employee development important?

Without employee development, business growth is near impossible and would be far more costly.

Investing in development is actually an investment in your business’ bottom line through increased productivity, lower recruitment costs, and increased employee retention. And it’s a win-win situation because your employees benefit too.

Development also has a positive impact on culture and brand. When your organization invests in their people, they are more likely to stay connected and invested in the organization, and promote the brand externally.

employee development benefits both the employee and company

Professional development plan benefits

Now that we discussed the plans a little, we can move on to why people use them.

We’ve already addressed some of the obvious benefits for employees like achieving career goals and climbing the ladder – which comes with financial improvements that contribute to their overall well-being.

Here are a few of the benefits of these career development and training programs:

Employee satisfaction and job security

Your people will also experience great professional satisfaction as they acquire new expertise.

In 2017, an SHRM survey found that 41% of respondents felt job specific training was critical to their job satisfaction.

Going through a training program can help give workers a sense of security. A company wouldn’t spend time and money to improve a temporary employee. Besides that, the worker will now have new skills that can transfer to other roles.

Employee engagement and motivation

A 2018 survey found 46% of employees report feeling extremely engaged when connected to their role and importance of their contributions through formal workplace training.

When an employee is engaged and supported in their own development, they also develop greater loyalty to the organization that helped them achieve their goals.

Employee productivity

Honing day-to-day skills makes employees much more efficient and profitable. According to the Huffington Post, companies who invest in training can achieve 24% higher profit margins.

Classes and courses will improve their skills for their current roles, increasing productivity. When that happens, companies can better plan their future and expenses.

Employee retention and internal mobility

A 2020 survey conducted by ResumeLab found that 54% of respondents indicated they would leave a job due to a lack of development opportunities.

Additionally, the more robust and well-promoted a business’ training and development program is, the more applicants it’ll attract. This creates a massive hiring pool for any vacant positions.

A Gallup survey conducted on behalf of Amazon found that 66% of workers ages 18-24 ranked learning new skills as the third-most important perk when evaluating new job opportunities

Internal promotion is also easier and more cost effective than finding external hires because the process is shorter. You don’t have to seek out a talent pool and save on recruiting costs. Plus, veteran employees don’t need to go through rigorous interviews and tests to join the team.

leader providing guidance through a development plan

How to create an employee development plan

With the benefits in mind, let’s take a look at creating an employee development plan:

Step 1: Analyzing skill gaps

The first step of the process involves taking a look inwards. Analyze all aspects of the company, including hiring, what skills you’re missing, and current development opportunities. You’ll have to identify any gaps before you can address development needs.

Begin by evaluating the business as a whole. Be sure to look at the company’s mission statement and its vision for the future at this stage so you can align your strategy planning.

After that, it’s time to figure out how to get there. Is it a matter of expanding the business, or do you need more experienced workers?

Once you find out what’s holding you back, you can brainstorm ideas to resolve the problem. You may want to consult a professional or at least your workers for the most accurate results.

This process can be a little time-consuming. However, the more energy you spend on it, the easier the rest of the steps will be. No matter the results, writing these issues down is good practice. They’ll help you visualize a solution later.

Step 2: Reviewing the workforce

Once you have organization-wide gaps identified, you can find opportunities to address them. To do that, you need a full review of your workforce.

Work with managers to break down employee skill sets. The easiest way to do that is to create trait categories. For example, you can divide skills into punctuality, efficiency, and the ability to work in a team.

Score each one out of five and tally up the results. At the end of the process, you’ll have the foundation of upskill development plans for employees and a sense of exactly what’s missing from the workforce.

That will also show you what courses would be the most useful. For example, are most of the workers lacking in a specific skill, or is it a mix-and-match situation?

This can help you decide what kind of employee development program to create and follow.

Step 3: Figuring out employee and company goals

Now it’s time to set a few goals. These can be objectives for the business as a whole or for specific individuals.

To do that, you’ll need to interview your employees. You must ask questions like what their five-year plan may be. It’s a good idea to inquire about specific skills they may want to work on. When you have a couple opportunities, consider using a survey to collect a lot of feedback quickly.

With all this information, you can set S.M.A.R.T. objectives. This stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. All of your goals should meet these criteria to be helpful to the company.

Set objectives that you know you can achieve within a reasonable time frame.

Step 4: Identifying employees for career and leadership growth

With the help of the employee interview, you can identify workers for career growth. These will be people who show an interest in advancing their skills and job position.

Don’t feel like you need to do this part on your own. You’ll get the best results if you involve the workers in this process.

For this part, you may want to create and circulate a questionnaire. Include a list of potential growth plans that you may offer.

Use the form to gauge what employees would benefit from any training.

Step 5: Customizing employee growth

While questionnaires can be useful, they’re a little too generic. Since you hand them out to many people, they need to be broad and cover a lot of ground.

Once you identify employees that would benefit from training, you can analyze them. This will help you figure out how to assist each individual.

To do that, you can hold coaching sessions. That provides an opportunity to build rapport and customize your employee development plans.

Step 6: Develop and communicate the action plan

At this point, you should have enough information to set up an employee growth plan. Start by deciding what programs you’ll provide.

There are many general options, like management classes or computer courses. You can also opt for plans that address specific skills.

Then, it’s time to set out the guidelines for joining. For example, think about aspects like how to apply to the plan and what credentials you need to qualify.

Finally, you have to communicate the plan with the employees. Typically, it’s best when you do this face-to-face, but you can also hang posters and send emails.

Step 7: Checking in

You must perform regular check-ins when the growth plans are up and running. These don’t have to be strictly formal.

The easiest way to follow employee progress is through verbal communication. Have a chat with the development program members, including the instructors.

Still, there are also slightly more formal solutions. For example, Conversations is an excellent tool for keeping in touch with employees.

Look for gaps the plan may not address or general complaints. If there are quick fixes for any of the issues, you should take the initiative to solve them.

However, you don’t have to stress about ironing all the kinks out just yet. You’ll have time, later on, to work on the details.

Step 8: Tracking the results

The only way to find out if the development programs are meeting their goals is through tracking. You have to follow the progress of every participant.

It’s usually best to wait until the program wraps up before you do this. That allows all the involved parties a chance to improve at their own pace.

Now you can look at the overall effect of the plan. Did the employees boost their skills? Can these skills add value to your business?

Step 9: Finding new ways to grow

Depending on the final results of the training plan, this step will be a little different. If you’re satisfied with the outcome, then it’s just a matter of repeating the process.

Yet, when you find gaps, it’s good to address them before starting a new growth cycle.

This is when you want to consider all aspects of the program. For example, consider how much time it took and whether or not it’s worth it.

That’s when continuous performance management comes into play. Even if the program runs smoothly, there’s always room for improvement.

sharing tips for employee development

Tips for successful employee career development planning

Here are a few tips to help you get started on a growth plan:

Consider many programs

When creating development plans, don’t limit yourself to specific training courses. Instead, try to branch out as much as possible into new and exciting skills. Think about on-the-job training, cross-training, and online resources to help support different learning styles.

This will keep both you and your employees invested in the program.

Use S.W.O.T. Analysis

To help you narrow down what courses you need, you can use S.W.O.T. analysis. That stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. With that information, you can customize the plan to your business.



When trying to create employee development plans, start off analyzing any skill gaps the company or employees may have. After that, it’s a matter of reviewing your workers and identifying how to help them.

Once that’s done, you can develop and circulate your improvement plan. During the process, there should be a couple of check-ins.

When the first cycle of training is over, review the results and make adjustments.