How to Create Powerful Development Plans for Your Employees in 8 Easy Steps

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12 minutes
Last updated:
November 25, 2021
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12 minutes
The ultimate guide to creating employee development plans. Get started easily and give your people the learning opportunities they ask for.

Your employees are the brand ambassadors of your company. And how you make them feel valuable during a time of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, will largely define their coming years in your company. The idea here is to not eliminate your employees, but to implement plans that will elevate them. 

This does not mean having elaborate programs that would scale your cost. It is about creating small moments in their daily workflows, making them feel encouraged and appreciated. It is a win-win situation for you and your staff. While you help them become more efficient, you will reap the benefits through reduced turnover and higher employee retention rates. 

While it’s obvious that employee development is inherently good, many business owners get stuck - where to even get started with it? It’s especially difficult if you’re a small company without the need (and the budget) to have a full-fledged HR department.

Today, we’ll show you what an employee development plan is, why it’s a good idea, as well as some practical ways to get started today.

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What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan is a process of improving your employee’s knowledge and competencies so that they can perform better in their existing position or even acquire new skills to perform efficiently in a similar or different role.

There are two important aspects to keep in mind here. One, the goal of every employee development plan is to help your people acquire new skills, enabling them to make a lateral move to another department.

The second thing to keep in mind is that there is no universal development plan or one that is designed for a specific department. These plans have to be customised to a specific role, or to one employee in particular. Only this way, your development plan will touch new heights of success.

Benefits of employee development plans

Having an employee development plan is inherently good for your organisation, and especially for your employees. Simply the knowledge that someone is willing to elevate them can make a profound difference, increasing their confidence, satisfaction, trust, and long-term loyalty. 

Here are some more benefits of an efficient employee development plan:

  • Increased number of job applicants - potential employees are more likely to apply at organisations with employee development plans than ones who don’t implement them. 
  • Lower turnover - the development programs will make your employees feel more valued, thus motivating them to continue working at your organisation.
  • Better employee succession - you’ll be able to identify who’s a great fit for a promotion and you can help them along the way. 
  • Higher employee engagement - your employees will be more engaged in their role, knowing you’re willing to invest in their future.
  • More profits - perhaps the most important factor for some companies - employees with improved skills will be more productive and increase company revenue.
  • Better foresight - employee development plans guide you to take a look at the future of your company so you’re better equipped for new challenges. 

As you can see, there are quite a few important benefits of creating an employee development plan. With that in mind, let’s go through some practical steps in creating and maintaining one in your company.

Template: How to create a professional development plan

Creating a great professional development plan is not at all complex. All it takes is going through a series of structured steps. While every plan will differ based on your industry, company, role, and specific employee, here are some universal steps you can begin with.

1. Identify company needs

This is a crucial step for your company’s future and your development plans, so it naturally goes first. This entails taking a good look into your plans for the upcoming months and years and seeing what needs to be done and how. Give yourself some time for this step and ask questions like:

  • Do I attract the right kind of talent?
  • Am I happy with the way my employees are growing within my company?
  • Will the current pace of growth be good enough for the months and years to come?
  • Are my employees happy with the growth opportunities they have within my organization?
  • How good is my retention and are my employees leaving me to go for better opportunities?
  • Are we keeping up with the latest changes in technology and industry trends?

Once you have an honest answer to all of these questions, you’ll have a great starting point, not just for one employee’s development plan, but for an entire department in your organisation.

You need to have a strong foundation so don’t just rely on your instincts here. Do listen to your gut feeling, but also ask your top management team, department team leads, and everyone else who may have a good idea of what it takes to get your company to that next level.

2. Take time to understand the employee’s needs

Before you start planning an employee development program, you need to understand the needs of your employees first. If they’re not on board with the program, they will not stick with the proposed activities and you’ll be wasting both time and money.

Once you recognise your organisation’s goals, sit down with every employee(s) and discuss your plans with them. The more personalised the plan, the higher the chances of success.

Sit down with your employees and ask them a series of questions regarding their personal needs and goals within the company. These can include:

  • Do you have everything you need to excel in your role?
  • If there’s something you’re missing, what is it?
  • What’s your biggest success in your role so far?
  • What is your main goal as an employee of this company?
  • What is your biggest career goal?
  • Is there an area of your job where you feel that you’re lacking something?
  • What’s the number one thing preventing you from doing the kind of work that you'll be proud of?

This first conversation will be the cornerstone of your employee development plan and will help you guide your efforts in the right direction.

In your communication with the employee, you should be open and welcome to their feedback. At the same time, you should stress that the success of the program largely depends on their own hard work and dedication.

3. Skill gap analysis for both parties

Now that you have your employees on board, see how you can help them play to their strengths. To do this, you need to identify your company’s goals, and elevate your employees with skills necessary to achieve them. Start with talking to your employees or orchestrate training needs analysis to determine what kind of skill gap you have at your hand. You can also get in touch with their immediate managers to discover areas of improvements.

For example, if your aim is to close 30% more deals by this time next year, you should invest in upskilling and reskilling your sales team as part of your employee development plan.

Example for an employee skill (gap) matrix. It helps you identify opportunities for growth on a team or company level.

This way, you will be enriching your employees’ journey at your company during moments that matter. Developing their skill sets give them a chance of promotion or make a lateral move in your organisation. As an employer, you will get the satisfaction of your employees crushing your organisational goals, while boosting your profits. 

4. Set realistic goals

Let’s take a look at the aforementioned statement: if your aim is to close 30% more deals by this time next year. Looking at this sentence in isolation, it may be a good goal, but one that’s unrealistic for your employees. Before setting out to create an employee development plan, you should have a set of goals that are realistic to achieve by your employees. 

Since you’ve assessed the employees’ potential, you’ll know if they have what it takes to hit the benchmark you set out for them. The key here is having clear, well-defined goals. And, when the goals are clear, it’s much easier to track the success of your employee development plan.

For example, you can set a goal for your employee to become proficient in a programming language, enough to be able to build out a page or a feature on their own. If your employee works in sales, you can make it a goal for them to close 30% more calls by the end of a year. 

On the flip side, if you set goals that are unmeasurable and unrealistic, you will have a hard time tracking whether the development program is working or not. For example, “improving my communication skills is a great goal to aspire to, but it’s hardly measurable. For soft skills, you’ll need to develop a different method to assess and measure them, so take your time here to create something meaningful.

5. Identify actual activities

Great news - now that you know who’s on board and what kind of skills they need to fulfill your plans, you can create a variety of activities for each employee. Here are some they can benefit from: 

  • Courses: a more formal teaching method that doesn’t require direct involvement from your company
  • Mentoring: one-on-one mentoring is one of the easiest ways to transfer knowledge directly within your company and can actually help both the mentor and the mentee
  • Job rotation: if you to prepare your employees to make a lateral move, allow them take a set of completely different responsibilities 
  • Job succession planning: make a detailed outline of an employee’s career path, should they stay in your company for a prolonged time period
  • Coaching: hire an external coach or have someone within your team who can help your employee(s) learn new skills 
  • Online resources: quizzes, ebooks, guides, courses, podcasts, communities, and much more

Once you start doing some basic research, you’ll see just how many opportunities there are to upskill your employees, provided you’ve set a strong foundation of your employee development program.

One tip that can greatly help is to have a set of activities planned in advance. For example, finding the right mentor for your employee will help them become better at closing sales calls. 

You can offer your employees options during the very first meeting and they can decide who they’re more comfortable working with. This way, you can hit the ground running and get started with your employee development plan immediately.

If you want to go deeper, we have summarised 6 innovative employee development activities you can start with.

6. Support your people to actually go through

Training plans aren’t as easy as A for Apple, especially in a stressful work environment. For instance, not even 10% of the video courses get finished!

It is important for you to offer support and motivate your employees during this process. Send them reminders, ask them questions, or help them create a structure so they can create a balance between their workflow and training process. 

To help you with this, we’re here to help you set up powerful learning routines in your company, turning it into a learning organisation. This will help you make sure that your support actually drives change within the whole company.

7. Track the results

Now that you’ve put everything into place, it’s time to track the success of your development plan. To do that, you need to approach it from two different angles - the level of the employee and the level of the company.

From the employee’s side, you’ll want to ensure that the activities in the employee development plan are elevating their skills and making a tangible improvement over time. 

Many times, it’s not possible to objectively measure the progress of some skills (example: soft skills). For this, you will have to resort to interviews with your employees. Also, it’s a good idea to ask their direct managers if they see any improvements moving in the right direction.

On the side of the company, it gets a little bit more complex. In order to measure the results of your plan, in the long run, you need to keep up with how your employees are progressing at an individual level. That can be quite a challenge, so we are here to help you simplify it by keeping a track of your employee development activities. 

You can use our customisable templates to schedule meetings, run pulse surveys to get more timely results. That way, you can make changes more quickly if things don’t seem to be going in the right direction. 

8. Don't shy away from iterating

Don't be afraid to revisit your employee development plan. Doing this will help you:

  • Get input.
  • Fine-tune individual components.
  • Conduct a formal assessment.
  • Help you understand how the development plan affects processes

Keep orchestrating assessments and re-tuning them. This will ensure your plans are effective, and just what your employees need. 

Examples from other companies

The only thing constant is change. And the best way to create or improvise your employee development plan is by taking inspiration from companies that have nailed them. 

Career development action plan for exmployees at SEOptimer.

They put the weight of the employee development plan mostly on the employee. The employee has to do a self-assessment of their most important motivators, skills and competencies as well as how they see their future roll out in the company. Moreover, they need to set their own short-, medium- and long-term goals.

This is a good starting point, but the form itself won’t be enough to produce good results. You also need to add another layer of information through an interview with the employee. 

Here is another example of a fairly simple employee development plan from SEOptimer:

Example of a personal development plan (PDP) at SEOptimer. It's more ebalorate than the first example

As you can see, this one allows more room for employees and employers to express their perspective. The only downfall to this is, it’s quite unlikely that an employee will instinctively know what kind of skills gap you have in the company and what specific activities they can do to get to their desired skill set. They won’t know the ideal evaluation period either.

Here is another version of a similar employee development plan from SEOptimer:

Example for an employee development plan at SEOptimer. It's a 12-month outlook.

This one is slightly more detailed in the sense that it covers a specific career goal and lists particular skills gaps that need to be addressed, and actions that can be performed within a timeframe.

When it comes to lessons you can learn from these plans and examples, one that really matters is that the length of each development plan is at least 12 months. 

Another learning is that for each employee, you’ll have a host of documents regarding their skills and individual plans. If you have a large number of employees, this documentation quickly piles up and requires lots of organization. You could do this manually, but why would you? Our tools allow you manage your entire workforce from one dashboard, which makes it easy to set and track employee development initiatives.

The two angles of employee development

One thing that all of these examples have in common is that they all look at development plans from an employee’s perspective. While this is beneficial, it’s not a good practice. To design a harmonious employee development plan, one needs to consider the needs of both - the employees’ path to acquire new skills and the employer’s journey to success.

While the employee gets invaluable new skills that they can use to advance their career, the employer should also fill a certain skills gap and benefit from the upskilling as well. Having this in mind, we’ll stress once again that it’s a great idea to have a dedicated person in your organisation in charge of setting, monitoring and assessing your employee development program.

No promises

The success of your employee development program is largely subjective to a lot of external factors, affecting the process of your employee’s growth. Reason why, you should never make any promises beforehand to your employees regarding their success in your organisation. For example, when they learn new skills through the program, they expect to be rewarded through promotion, raise, or move to a different department or something else. Failing to meet these expectations and promises could get you into legal trouble from employees who would feel cheated out of a promotion.

Second of all, not even HR experts can make accurate predictions on how a development plan will pan out. As mentioned before, success largely depends on the input from your employees. They may not put in the necessary effort, resulting in the failure of your development plan. However, they’ll still expect their “reward” for completing the initiative.

Make no guarantees and state that their career advancement in the company will depend largely on their results.


For many companies, employee development plans are something they take for granted for too long. By the time they realise they need to help their employees, they already feel the negative effects of low employee satisfaction and high turnover.

Introducing an effective development plan benefits everyone - it makes your employees happier and it helps your company grow in the long run. If you’re on the fence, don’t be - start working on your employee development plan immediately! If you don’t have an HR team, we’re here to help you every step of the way — from identifying room for improvement to tracking results, setting goals and achieving them with ease.


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