Sep 21, 2022
25 min read

How to Build the Best Employee Development Plan

In this article:

Create an employee development plan for developing skills and competencies of your people is paramount. Forbes indicates that 87% of millennials perceive development opportunities as vital for job development. Moreover, LinkedInLearning suggests that 76% of GenZ employees envision learning as the key to personal and professional success. Finally, 86% of respondents argued that better care concerning employee development on the part of an employer would have kept individuals from leaving their position. 

The evidence, as mentioned earlier, leads to several key insights. First, employee development can enhance your company’s effectiveness. Second, it can keep employee retention in check. Yet, to achieve that, you need a good employee development plan. Let’s explore what it is in detail and plunge into the ins and outs of what constitutes an effective employee development plan, including examples.  

Why care about employee development?

Before our journey starts, it is important to establish a context. We need to understand why employee development is a topic worth discussing. The answer to that comes ahead.

Companies have various resources, such as impressive offices, great brands, powerful technology, or even hard cash. All of this can be pretty important, but if there’s one thing that can be the difference between success and failure in today’s knowledge-based economy, it’s the people. And Harvard Business Review calls it “human magic.”

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A qualified workforce is essential to provide goods and services, no matter which industry you work in. If you have talented, passionate employees, along with the necessary time, pretty much only the sky is the limit for your business because people are the source of innovation and ideas—and those, in turn, generate money. No company can scale if its environment is infertile. In turn, a fertile environment is one where employees can grow and become the best versions of themselves.  

Investing in your people and offering them meaningful professional development opportunities is important. The evidence shows that effective employee development starts with the right approach chosen by managers. In other words, you must plan your team members’ growth together. The best way to do that effectively is to create an employee development plan. How to do that? What can you gain? What should be included in such a development strategy? These are the questions we will answer next.

What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan is a strategy that outlines the professional development plans of a given person. Remember that the goals can be short-, mid-, and long-term (in fact, it’s best to outline all of the timeframes).

It’s essentially a list of steps that have to be taken to get from the current point to the desired one. For example, the employee development plan of a Junior Software developer might look something like this:

  1. Deepen the knowledge of JavaScript and Python
  2. Learn new back-end frameworks: Ruby, PHP
  3. Advance to a mid-level back-end developer position
  4. Learn some front-end skills: React, Angular, CSS
  5. Get certifications for the most popular cloud technologies
  6. Deepen your front-end skills
  7. Build a portfolio of front-end and back-end projects
  8. Advance to a senior full-stack developer position

Of course, the steps and level of complexity may vary, depending on the person and the industry, but the primary idea is more or less the same.

What is the purpose of an employee development plan?

Advancing a career and learning new skills can be much more effective when done in a structured, thoughtful way. Harvard Business Review advises integrating learning into employee workflow. There’s also a lot to be gained from developing such plans in a collaborative environment—the employee feels his goals and needs are supported by the workplace, and, at the same time, the company can steer its development in a beneficial direction for it. It can have a positive impact on the team’s productivity.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) indicates that training and development programs deliver a 218% higher income per employee. Another advantage of having a career development plan is that it sets expectations—for both sides. The employee knows in what capacity the company can support his growth.

On the other hand, the manager gets a general idea about the progress he can reasonably expect from his employee in a given time frame. This transparency helps build a healthy work environment and plan future projects or recruitment strategies.


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Benefits of an employee development plan

These are the three most important benefits that employee development plans can bring to your company:

  • They help your people get better at what they do and acquire new skills – which means your company’s competencies improve
  • They’re one of the ways to build good relationships with your team members – you show them you care about their personal progress
  • They can be important when it comes to keeping valuable people in the company – people like to work in places that facilitate their growth. It can do wonders for employee satisfaction and engagement (of course, other things can help in this regard, including some unexpected ideas)

These upsides help make your business better and make employees better professional- and personal-wise. A properly designed employee development plan is a direct way to keep top talent at bay, boost business performance, and help employees offer 100% output. 

What should be included in a work employee development plan?

To be effective, an employee development plan should have several components. 

First and foremost, It needs to be challenging enough to motivate the employee to learn something new. Here are some insights into what helps make people lifelong learners. 

Second, it should provide a clear guideline on achieving the goal, including the support the manager and the company can offer in this regard and any possible obstacles encountered. Create a learning path with clear goals and timeframes for each task—this is important because, if it’s to work, the plan can’t be completely non-binding. 

Third, the results need to be evaluated, and conclusions drawn from the entire learning process. You have to define which activities will be a part of the learning experience and list courses and materials the employee should get through to succeed.

Fourth, plan for a few different timeframes: short-term (3-6 months), mid-term (1-2 years), and long-term (3+ years). You can adjust these to fit the particular needs of your company and employees. The employee also needs to be provided with enough time so that learning new things doesn’t affect his performance in other areas (and if it does, here are some tips that should help you improve it), but that doesn’t mean a complete lack of supervision. You can break up each of the steps of the employee development plan into smaller goals and assign them a particular deadline.

Finally, the contents of the employee development plan should make sense from a broader perspective—you need to evaluate the competencies and skills you need in your team and look for ways to fill in any possible gaps. One great way to do that is to create a skills/competency matrix. In the simplest of terms, it’s a table that summarizes the current knowledge levels of your people (see the template below). Thanks to this, assessing your situation and planning future steps should be much easier.

Employee #1 Employee #2 Employee #3 Employee #4
Prof. Interest Prof. Interest Prof. Interest Prof. Interest
Skill #1
Skill #2
Skill #3
Skill #4
Prof. = current proficiency level (on a 1-10 scale)
Interest = how much the employee is interested in learning the skill (on a 1-10 scale)

How to manage the plans?

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Thanks to Effy, you won’t forget the important feedback meetings.

Building employee development plans is one thing, but to use them—and reap the benefits—you have to manage them properly. This is where a good human resource management system—a solution like Effy—comes in handy. With its 95% client satisfaction score and an average response time of 2 hours, the team of experts make certain you are not left behind. 

Effy uses software allowing you to automate and simplify the feedback process, which can help situations like these. The platform can also take care of leaves and absences, onboarding, and more. Thanks to extensive customization and out-of-the-box integration with popular communicators (like Slack), it’s a great fit for many companies.

Want to give Effy a try? Sign up by clicking here!

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How do you build a good employee development plan?

At this point, we know all about the importance of employee development and how an employee development plan can help achieve the best results. However, to make a good employee development plan a reality, you need to follow the steps mentioned further. 

Step 1. Identify employees who want to learn and move up

While it might be true that most of us want to further our careers, it's not a universal truth. Some people are satisfied with their achievements, don't have the leadership abilities necessary for advancement, or don't want to spend time learning new things. 

Others might not be interested in the types of positions and advancement opportunities offered by your company—but they still feel comfortable working for you. Talk about growth and advancement with everyone, but identify those who genuinely are interested in such possibilities (you can also look for leadership abilities).

Step 2. Talk things through with the employee

Before you develop any plans, you first need to learn what your employee expects and how they want to advance their career. In many cases, they'll already have a plan for their development, but that's not always the case—sometimes, they'll be open to some of your ideas. Find out what they want, consider what might be good for them, and analyze these findings—see how they fit your company's business goals.

Gallup suggests that about 25% of employees are completely ignored when it comes to the evaluation of their strengths. Simply put, a massive chuck on talent is left out because managers don't have proper assessment tools at hand.

The idea here is to find a way forward that satisfies both parties. Still, sometimes you might also need people to learn something they'll be less enthusiastic about (for example, a legacy technology required for a project). If that's the case, be upfront and explain why it's necessary. Don't try to hide such things at the employee's expense—it probably won't turn out well in the long run.

Step 3. Plan a development strategy and be realistic

The next step is creating an employee development plan. The important thing here is to be realistic. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver (“we’ll send you to that developer conference abroad”) or things that you think might be beyond that employee's capabilities at this point. 

The goals should be attainable and as specific as you can make them (for example, “learn the basics of the Spanish language and pass the exam for the A1 certificate”—instead of “learn Spanish”). For best results, use the “small steps” strategy so that the whole process doesn’t become frustrating for the person in question.

Also, ensure that your goals are measurable and define possible obstacles that might prevent the employee from reaching them. Consider what you can do to minimize their impact on the entire endeavor. Remember that the more you define these things at this stage, the higher the chance the plan will be a positive and fruitful experience —for the employee, you as their manager, and the company. You can use the following form if you want—it should help make this process a bit easier.

Employee name:
Skills to be acquired (i.e., Spanish – level A1) Training methods (Specific courses, training programs, learning materials) Required resources (Money, Staff, Hardware, etc.) Expected benefits (i.e., faster delivery of software, better communication) Priority (High, medium, low) Possible obstacles (i.e., lack of necessary skills in close areas) Specific timeframe (Start date, review date)
Short (3-6 months)
Short (3-6 months)
Mid (1-2 years)
Long (3+ years)

Step 4. Research resources and learning materials

When the outlines of the learning plan have been created, it’s time to research the available resources and learning materials. Consider how much time you think the employee can invest and how much money the company can spend—though it’s worth noting that in the case of many fields and industries, there’s a multitude of free tools and materials, so learning opportunities don’t have to come at a great cost. There are more general development platforms like Udemy and ones targeting employee development like Skillsoft


Step 5. Follow-up and review the employee’s progress

No matter how admirable and ambitious the goals are (though you should remember not to go too far in this regard), they won’t amount to much if the entire thing begins and ends on the plan creation step. The employee should remember that developing skills and competencies outlined in the plan is a part of the professional duties. Therefore the progress needs to be measured and reviewed periodically so that everyone knows how successful the entire project is.

A feedback conversation is also a great chance to measure employee satisfaction—you can judge how happy the person is with their employee development plan. Depending on the outcome of such a meeting, training efforts can be adjusted to fit the specific needs better. It's good to remember that it's all about the employee and their professional growth in the end. The New York Times suggest employers want to look for ways to translate feedback into care, they just don’t have the right tools.

It's also a good idea to test the new skills in practice. If the employee's current role allows that, it can be done as part of work (for example, you give them some additional duties and see if they use the knowledge). If not, consider including some practical exercises in the learning materials you're providing them, and give them some time to go through them.

Step 6. Keep moving!

Last but not least, it's important to note that learning never ends. As long as the employee wants to gain knowledge and you can find ways to facilitate that process, it would help if you did so. Keep suggesting new goals and motivate them to advance and improve their skills. The best employee development plans aren't set in stone—they evolve with the person in question. New options, avenues, and career possibilities can and should be added, taking the place of competencies gained already.

Employee development plan examples

To give you a better idea of how an employee development looks like, here are three examples. The first one is a basic template. The second one focuses on career development. And the third one is all about professional development. 

Basic plan

Name: [Employee name]
Date: [Date]
Job title: [Position]
Strengths: [List]
Development needs: [List]
Professional goals: [List]
Step 1: Timeline + actionable and measurable steps
Step 2: Timeline + actionable and measurable steps
Step 3: Timeline + actionable and measurable steps
Step 4: Timeline + actionable and measurable steps

Career development plan

Name: [Employee name]
Date: [Date]
Job title: [Position]
Career goals: [List]
Training needs: [List]
Estimated costs:
  • E.g: Google analytics certificate - $600
  • Skillsoft seminar - $150 per day
  • Computer science degree - $7,500
Completion date: Autumn 2023
Manager notes:
  • External training needed
  • In-house training - “database management”
  • Next steps: assign as a trainee to Jack Smith CFO.

Professional development plan

Development and Learning needs Type of development Timeline Responsible person Comments
Get additional skills in Google Analytics Course with certification Complete in 2 months Jack Smith (manager) Check the budget for external learning programs
Improve day-to-day efficiency with better workflow planning Coaching or mentoring Over next 3 months John Smith (employee)

These are templates you can use in different scenarios. It all depends on the objectives you perceive and the development needs of each particular employee. 

Employee development plan: a roadmap to success

As you can see, a good professional development plan can be an immense help for both the company and the individual people it concerns. On the one hand, it shows the person in question that the organization cares about their growth and takes them seriously. On the other hand, it allows the manager to influence the careers and skills of his people and possibly guide them a little in the direction desired by the company. When it works, it’s a win-win for both parties.

While creating good career development plans isn’t the easiest or least time-consuming of tasks, the most important thing here is to take the time to get to know your people and their needs—as long as you do that, you’ll be able to come up with something that’ll be useful. In turn, you can always ask the professionals to do the job. We are here to meet your needs at the blink of an eye. Come onboard right away!


What should I write in my employee development plan?

Although there are many categories you can include in the employee development plan, some of the most common ones include: 

- skills to be acquired

- training methods 

- required resources

- expected benefits

- possible obstacles 

- priority level

- specific timeframe 

How do you write an individual development plan for employees?

The first step is identifying employees who want to learn and move up. Afterward, you must discuss this with the employee and plan a realistic development strategy. Once you have a plan, research resources and learning materials and follow up with employees regularly to monitor their progress.

How do you write a development plan for an organization?

First, you must define specific goals you want to achieve as an organization and analyze your current performance. Once you have detailed data, you can identify specific areas that will bring you closer to your goals. Make sure that your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound)

What is an employee development plan template?

An employee development plan template is a document that is easy to customize based on your individual goals. It usually includes:

- name

- date

- career goals

- development needs

- necessary resources

- expected benefits

- possible obstacles

- time frame

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