Crafting Effective Employee Development Plans: A Guide for Managers

Written By Emma Anderson
Employee development plan.

Creating a Path for Growth: Crafting Effective Employee Development Plans

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, companies need to continually invest in developing their people in order to stay competitive. An employee development plan provides a strategic roadmap for empowering individuals to enhance their skills and achieve their career goals while aligning with the organization’s needs. However, creating an impactful professional development plan takes thought and care.

An employee development plan outlines the specific objectives, resources, and timeframe needed to help employees gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to advance their careers. The plan acts as an ongoing partnership between manager and employee that incorporates coaching, training, stretch assignments, and other growth opportunities tailored to the individual.

When done right, these employee development initiatives pay huge dividends through improved employee retention, engagement, productivity, and performance. Employees feel valued and motivated when organizations invest in their professional growth. Not surprisingly, 94% of employees say they’d stay longer at a company that provides development opportunities.

This article provides managers with a practical step-by-step guide for collaborating with employees to build customized employee development programs that mutually benefit the individual and the organization. You’ll learn how to assess company needs, understand employees‘ career aspirations, identify targeted development opportunities, track progress, and modify plans as needed.

With the right development plan, managers can nurture their team members’ full potential while propelling their organizations forward. This guide will equip you with the strategies and examples needed to foster an empowering culture of continuous learning and growth.

Laying the Foundation: Defining Employee Development Plans

An employee development plan is a formal strategy created jointly by a manager and employee to strengthen the employee’s current role performance and prepare them for future opportunities. Unlike traditional job training, which focuses on immediate skills, development plans take a broader view by developing competencies over time through deliberate learning activities and experiences.

At its core, an employee development plan outlines measurable goals that address both organizational priorities and individual growth needs. It specifies the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and other capabilities an employee needs to develop, documents the resources and timeline required, and lays out how progress will be measured.

Plans are living documents that managers and employees revisit regularly to track accomplishments, adjust course, and ensure alignment with changing needs. Rather than a one-off event, effective development planning represents an ongoing partnership between manager and employee.

Not to be confused with individual training programs, development plans take a comprehensive approach focused on continual growth. There are three main types of employee development plans:

Professional development plans

Focus on an individual’s overall career aspirations, which may or may not be within their current company.

Career development plans

Target advancement opportunities within the organization. These plans help employees prepare for specific roles they hope to attain.

Training and skill development plans

Short-term plans that aim to improve an employee’s competencies and performance in their current job.

While the formats differ, all three follow a collaborative process and aim to enrich both the employee and the organization. The most successful plans identify overlapping goals so everyone’s needs are served through a shared growth strategy.

For example, an employee hoping to move from an accounting role into an IT management role would have a career development plan focused on gaining technical expertise. Their plan targets organizational needs by closing a skills gap while enabling employees to progress toward their professional goals.

The key is maintaining open communication, trust, and transparency so that both parties are invested in the plan’s success. With a thoughtful, personalized approach, managers can unleash their team’s full potential.

Reaping the Rewards: Key Benefits of Employee Development

Investing time and resources into cultivating your team through employee development plans delivers measurable returns, both for individuals and the organization as a whole. When done effectively, these plans become a powerful talent management tool with multifaceted benefits.

Enhanced Skills and Performance

The most direct advantage is equipping your workforce with expanded capabilities that translate into improved job performance. With targeted development opportunities, you sharpen their expertise to not only excel in their current roles but also expand the breadth and depth of their contributions.

The data paints a clear picture – most employees today feel stagnant and disengaged, lacking training and development opportunities to advance their careers and build skills needed for the future. Gallup found only 36% of US employees are engaged at work. Meanwhile, 63% of employees quit jobs due to no advancement prospects, yet 94% would stay longer at companies that do invest in development opportunities. This engagement deficit is compounded by a substantial skills gap, with 70-80% of workers lacking proficiency in current and emerging technical abilities. The solution is clear – companies that strategically develop their people’s skills see 11% higher profits and doubled retention rates. In today’s rapidly digitizing business landscape, employee development is imperative for both talent retention and building future-proof capabilities. Organizations that nurture their workforce will gain a competitive edge.

Increased Engagement and Motivation

Employees genuinely appreciate when organizations invest in their professional growth. It signals that their needs are being heard, boosts self-confidence, and provides a sense of purpose.

In fact a LinkedIn study found that 94% of employees say they’d stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Ongoing development discussions and access to training resources also enhance engagement day-to-day.

Readied Talent Pipeline

Strategic development planning focused on high-potential employees prepares your organization for the future by building a robust leadership pipeline. Succession planning ensures you have qualified candidates ready to step into critical roles smoothly.

Cross-training via job rotation likewise expands your bench strength so team members can pivot across different business functions when needed. Investing internally pays off exponentially.

Improved Recruitment and Retention

With today’s competitive hiring landscape, prospects want to know their career growth will be nurtured. Strong learning programs are a magnet for top talent.

Tangible Business Impact

Taken together, all of these benefits culminate in tangible positive business outcomes: higher productivity, profitability, agility, customer satisfaction, and more.

When you have skilled, motivated teams powering your organization forward, the possibilities are endless. Development plans ensure your people evolve as quickly as your business environment does.

Creating an impactful employee development plan is a thoughtful process that requires input from multiple stakeholders. Follow these steps to build an employee development program tuned into both organizational and individual needs:

Assess Organizational Needs

The first step is gaining a clear understanding of the broader business context so you can align development efforts accordingly. Analyze your company’s current state and strategy to pinpoint priority capabilities.

  • Review business objectives and initiatives planned for the next 1-3 years. How will headcount, operations, and customer needs evolve? What projects or technology changes are forthcoming?
  • Identify potential skills gaps by comparing the workforce’s existing capabilities against future plans. Where might you fall short? Collaborate with other managers and leaders to get their insights.
  • Consider which roles and functions are most critical to achieving strategic goals. Look for ways to deepen your bench strength in those areas through cross-training and succession planning.

Gaining an accurate picture of organizational needs provides the foundation to build development plans that offer mutual benefit.

Understand the Employee’s Interests

Next, shift to the individual employee’s aspirations and interests to understand their motivations and goals. Have an in-depth career conversation focused on development.

  • Ask open-ended questions and actively listen without judgment to understand their needs and passions. Sample questions:
    • What are your long-term professional goals?
    • What excites you most about your work?
    • What duties or projects do you hope to take on?
    • What knowledge or skills could help you achieve your aims?
    • What obstacles or barriers stand in your way?
    • How can I better support your growth?
  • Discuss talents and competencies they want to leverage more. Help them identify gaps holding them back from their goals.
  • Be prepared to share organizational needs and possibilities, but keep the discussion centered on their viewpoints and ideas. Facilitate, don’t dictate.

Identify Development Opportunities

Armed with insights from both strategy evaluation and career discussions, start shaping the specifics of the plan by identifying development opportunities that achieve mutual aims.

  • Consider training programs, seminars, job shadowing, stretch assignments, new projects, mentoring, and other activities. Blend learning on the job with supplemental resources.
  • Provide alternatives and collaborate to select options tailored to the employee’s learning style and needs. Seek opportunities that overlap individual/organizational goals.
  • Be creative in providing development on a budget. Mentoring, job rotation, special assignments, and online resources are cost-effective options.

Keep an open mind to create a robust learning experience. The employee should take an active role in shaping the activities.

Create the Development Plan

Once you’ve aligned on the objectives and opportunities, document the details in a formal written plan. Make sure to:

  • Outline specific, measurable goals and how they’ll be assessed. Use the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework.
  • List all resources required, including budgets, facilities, technologies, and people.
  • Provide an implementation timeline with key milestones and target completion dates.
  • Clarify who is responsible for each component and the plan’s overall administration.
  • Keep language positive and encouraging. Position the plan as an ongoing partnership.
  • Seek the employee’s input to ensure buy-in before finalizing the plan.

Having a well-crafted written document provides clarity for all parties to successfully execute the plan.

Implement and Track Progress

With the plan formalized, it’s time to put it into action. Launch the initiative, maintain momentum, gather feedback, and gauge effectiveness.

  • Check-in regularly with the employee to provide coaching, resources, and feedback. Recognize achievements and milestones.
  • Periodically review progress on goals and milestones at 30/60/90-day intervals. Does the timeline need adjusting?
  • Gather the employee’s input on what’s working well and any barriers encountered. Revise components as needed.
  • Measure the impact on their job performance using KPIs, surveys, and productivity metrics. Verify the plan is delivering ROI.
  • Keep executives updated on program results and success stories to maintain buy-in and support.

Consistent communication and nimble course corrections ensure development plans remain effective. View plans as living documents requiring ongoing collaboration.

With this stepped approach, managers can create high-impact employee development plans that maximize human potential while propelling the organization forward. Investing in people pays dividends.

Bringing Plans to Life: Employee Development Plan Examples

While each employee development plan is unique, reviewing examples can provide inspiration on how to tailor activities to different development goals. Consider how these common plan formats could be applied to your team:

Technical Skills Training

Robert recently joined the IT department and needs to quickly learn a new cloud-based system the company adopted. His manager creates a development plan focused on acquiring hands-on skills rapidly.


  • Pass cloud administration certification within three months
  • Shadow senior team members and assist with cloud projects
  • Create training materials and help transition the team to the new system


  • Complete online video courses for cloud certification
  • Complete the cloud provider’s virtual labs and simulations
  • Schedule regular 1:1 coaching sessions with the Director of IT
  • Partner with a senior engineer on current cloud implementation project
  • Create FAQ, user guides, and tip sheets on administering the cloud system

Measuring Success:

This plan accelerates Robert’s hands-on skills through experiential learning. The blend of formal training, mentoring, and real-world experience quickly closes his cloud knowledge gap.

Presentation Skills Development

Sarah, a sales rep, feels intimidated presenting to large groups and wants to improve. Her manager created a 6-month plan to hone her presentation abilities.


  • Exhibit a more confident, persuasive, and engaging presenting style
  • Expand knowledge of presentation best practices
  • Improve ability to field questions and objections


  • Join Toastmasters club
  • Complete LinkedIn Learning modules on presenting with confidence and storytelling
  • Participate in the manager’s weekly sales roleplaying sessions
  • Have the manager review presentation drafts and provide feedback
  • Request feedback from colleagues after each sales presentation
  • Consider enrolling in a community college public speaking course

Measuring Success:

  • Receive consistently positive feedback from the manager on presentations
  • See increased audience reactions and fewer objections in sales presentations
  • Achieve Competent Communicator award in Toastmasters within six months

The development opportunities strengthen Sarah’s presentation ability through practical experience. Her manager provides ongoing coaching and feedback.

MBA for Advancement

James, an Operations Supervisor, currently has an undergraduate business degree and wants to earn his MBA to transition into a management role. His manager supports his aspiration with an 18-month development plan.


  • Obtain MBA from State University evening program within two years
  • Gain broader business acumen and leadership skills
  • Attain promotion to Manager upon graduation


  • Research and enroll in an evening MBA program
  • Apply classroom concepts in a current supervisor role
  • Shadow managers in other departments to gain insights
  • Take on volunteer leadership roles in professional associations
  • Attend company leadership training program
  • Meet quarterly with the manager to review the progress

Measuring Success:

James’ plan includes formal education and experiential development opportunities to expand his capabilities for a management role.

Management Training

Lisa was recently promoted to her first management role. To set her up for success, her new supervisor wants to accelerate her leadership competencies through a development plan.


  • Improve managerial skills within six months in areas like communication, delegation, coaching, and feedback
  • Complete the company’s leadership development program within one year
  • Demonstrate competencies needed for Department Manager promotion


  • Establish biweekly 1:1s with new supervisor to discuss management challenges
  • Join a professional association for new managers for networking and growth
  • Have regular coffee chats with higher-level managers as informal mentors
  • Complete a Harvard ManageMentor leadership development module each quarter
  • Enroll in the company’s Emerging Leaders program

Measuring Success:

  • Receive positive 360 feedback on management competencies after six months
  • Achieve high completion scores in leadership program modules
  • Consistently meet key department KPIs and benchmarks
  • Promotion to Department Manager within 18 months

Lisa’s development plan accelerates her transition to management through training, mentoring, and hands-on learning. She receives ongoing guidance while applying new abilities.

These examples illustrate how strategic development planning can uplift employees at any stage while filling critical organizational needs. The key is crafting plans tuned into both perspectives. Managers play an instrumental role in bringing these plans to life by providing support and guidance each step of the way. Invest in your team’s growth, and they’ll invest themselves in propelling your organization forward.

Making Plans Soar: Key Tips for Managers

Managers are instrumental in bringing employee development plans to life. While each plan is unique, incorporating these best practices will lead to engagement and optimal results:

Take an Individualized Approach

Avoid the trap of trying to fit employees into canned development programs. Treat each person as the individual they are.

Tailor plans to leverage strengths while addressing weaknesses. Understand their specific aspirations, learning styles, and needs. This fosters motivation and ensures activities resonate.

Make it Collaborative

The most successful plans are co-created, not prescribed top-down. Provide ample opportunity for employee input and listen without judgment to their perspectives and ideas.

Give them autonomy in shaping the plan based on their interests and desires. Guide them, but let them drive. Collaboration and trust are essential.

Provide Resources and Support

Don’t just point employees toward development opportunities – actively pave the way for them to pursue activities by providing resources.

Offer to cover costs for training courses and conferences. Adjust schedules to accommodate learning. Introduce employees to mentors and coaches who can provide guidance. Check-in regularly to remove obstacles.

Focus on Measurable Goals

The hallmark of good development planning is measurable, skills-based goals. Tie activities directly to knowledge and competencies the employee needs to acquire or improve.

Get specific – a goal to “improve communication skills” is vague. Break it down into distinct abilities like public speaking, executive presence, active listening, writing emails, etc. Good goals are specific, achievable, and tied to timeframes.

Give Regular Feedback

Don’t just launch an employee on their development journey and leave them on their own. Provide hands-on guidance to keep the momentum high.

Give frequent, constructive feedback on progress and accomplishments. Ask questions to help them reflect. Be generous with praise when successes occur, and milestones are reached.

Be Prepared to Modify Plans

View plans as living documents requiring fluid adjustments, not rigid sets of rules. Schedule regular check-ins to solicit the employee’s feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

If activities prove ineffective or goals need realigning, don’t be afraid to switch course. Changing circumstances may require plans to evolve. Adapt plans as needed.

Track Results

Assess the tangible impact of development activities on the employee’s performance and capabilities. Are previously weak areas improving? Are new skills apparent?

Share success stories with executives to maintain support for development initiatives. Analytics affirm your program delivers measurable ROI, keeping stakeholders happy.

Recognize Achievements

Publicly celebrate the completion of major milestones in the plan. Acknowledge the employee’s hard work and dedication to their own growth.

Recognition feeds intrinsic motivation and gives other employees role models. A simple thank-you note or team shout-out goes a long way.

By incorporating these practices, managers enable development plans that help individuals thrive while propelling the organization to new heights. An investment in your team is an investment in the future.

The Path Forward

Employee development represents a winning proposition that pays dividends across the board when done strategically. As this guide demonstrates, creating high-impact plans requires input from multiple stakeholders – managers, employees, executives – to identify overlapping needs.

Keep communication flowing, tailor activities to individuals, be ready to adapt and focus on developing tangible skills. The returns are immense: more engaged, empowered teams and stronger organizational capabilities.

The time is now for managers to launch this process within their teams. Have candid development discussions, collaborate on plans, provide resources, give feedback, and track progress. Invested employees become invested in the organization’s success.

Unleash your team’s potential through development plans, and watch your organization reach new heights. The journey begins with a single conversation.

Employee Development Planning: FAQ

Creating impactful employee development plans takes thought and care. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions managers have:

1. What should be included in an employee development plan?

The plan should outline specific development goals, the timeline for completion, resources required, and measurable outcomes that will track progress. Goals should be concrete skills and knowledge the employee aims to attain. Plans have more impact when tied directly to capabilities.

2. How often should managers meet with employees about development plans?

Frequency will depend on the timeline of the plan, but at a minimum, managers should have development discussions upon initial creation of the plan, at the halfway point, and upon completion. Many experts recommend connecting at least quarterly.

The most important factor is keeping an open channel for continuous feedback, not a fixed schedule. Short impromptu check-ins also provide valuable coaching moments.

3. Who is responsible for an employee’s development plan?

While managers initiate development planning and provide guidance, employees themselves are ultimately responsible and accountable for their own growth. Employees own following through on the activities outlined in their plan.

Managers play a critical facilitating role with coaching and resources, but the employee must embrace development opportunities for real change to occur. It’s a dual responsibility.

4. What if an employee’s development goals don’t align with company needs?

Ideally, the plan addresses shared goals that offer mutual benefit, but gaps can occur. Focus on finding potential overlap between the employee’s aspirations and priorities the company has. Development is always a two-way street.

If mismatches persist, have candid conversations and be transparent about organizational constraints. But also keep exploring creative ways to incorporate the employee’s aims. With trust and ingenuity, common ground can usually be found.

5. How can managers encourage employees to stick to their development plans?

Regular check-ins help managers provide guidance, feedback, and motivation needed to maintain momentum. Create standing meetings focused specifically on development plan progress.

Publicly recognize achievements and milestones employees complete. This builds confidence and reminds others of the importance of development.

Finally, managers should lead by example, pursuing their own growth. This demonstrates the organization’s sincere commitment to development at all levels.

Development planning is an organic process that brings managers and employees closer together through trust, communication, and a shared commitment to nurturing potential. Start that rewarding journey today.