Employee Development Plans: 4 Winning Steps to Engaged Employees

April 16, 2019
Updated March 2, 2020

Ever think about the people who have helped your career? Maybe there was a teacher who kindled your interest in a new subject. An employer who recognized your potential and gave you training that led to a promotion. A friend or partner who applauded every new career accomplishment—and still does. Where would you be without their help?

Creating an employee development plan is a way for you to provide the same kind of boost to the employees in your own organization. An employee development plan can help both new and seasoned colleagues to learn, grow, and advance. It also has important benefits for your organization.

Vibrant and meaningful employee development plans are something today’s workers want more of. A recent survey by The Conference Board finds only 33 percent of U.S. employees are satisfied with educational and job training programs where they work. In today’s tight job market, that can lead to higher turnover. A survey from Payscale backs this up, showing that two out of three employees who quit their job name inadequate career development as a key reason. But it doesn’t have to come to that: Bridge research says career development and training would prevent 86 percent of millennials from leaving their employer. Keep your employees engaged and they’re more likely to stick around.

Check out our free employee engagement checklist!

What Is an Employee Development Plan?

An employee development plan, sometimes called an employee growth plan, is a process for helping individuals improve skills for their current job and acquire knowledge and skills for new roles and responsibilities in an organization.

Sometimes that means training them to be leaders, but not always. It depends on the individual’s abilities and interests and the needs of your firm. That means you can’t take a cookie-cutter approach and use the same employee development plan ideas for everyone in your organization.

We’ll teach you key principles behind successful career development, then you can determine the best ways to adapt them to your people and circumstances. But first, a few words about why the effort is worthwhile.

Benefits of an Employee Development Plan

Investing in a good employee development plan is a classic example of a win-win situation. Your plan can pay off for both your firm and your employees in a variety of ways:

  • Help attract talented applicants
  • Increase worker engagement and motivation
  • Improve employee performance
  • Increase your firm’s efficiency and profitability
  • Nurture promotable employees
  • Improve employee retention and satisfaction
  • Help your firm plan for the future

These are important benefits to keep in mind and share as you structure your plan and seek support from managers and decision-makers.

Check out our free employee engagement checklist!

What Are the Types of Professional Development Plans?

Depending on the needs and goals of your employees, there are various types of professional development plans you can incorporate. Some of the most common include:

  • Continuing education courses: This type of development plan may be a good fit for those interested in pursuing a higher degree or certification to help them win a promotion opportunity. Such a professional development plan could also include tuition reimbursement.
  • Increased duties and responsibilities: An employee may learn and help incorporate new technology, systems, and processes and train team members on them. This may involve learning about new developments in the industry to stay competitive in the field.  Alternatively, employees may take on more challenging responsibilities to help them advance in their roles.
  • Professional organizations and seminar participation: This type of plan may entail attending conferences and workshops hosted by partner organizations, serving as a board member, or coordinating events sponsored by the organization. These events should offer opportunities for employees to network and take on a more active role in their organization and industry.


What Are Examples of Professional Development Plans?

To supplement the types of professional development plans above, let’s walk through a few examples in the workplace:

  • An employee with a Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) decides to pursue their Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) after three years of working in your payroll department. The employee’s goal is to advance in their role, make a bigger contribution to the company, and receive a higher salary. The organization offers compensation for the fees involved in the payroll certification course and exam.
  • An employee has been at the company for a few years and feels ready to develop their leadership skills. After conferring with their direct supervisor to find appropriate opportunities, the employee takes on a bigger share of the mentoring and coaching responsibilities in the team. The employee’s direct supervisor provides guidance and tips on mentoring during this time.
  • An employee who excels at both verbal and written communication takes on a project intended to help break down the walls between siloed departments. They’re given the task to identify the teams’ pain points and test out different strategies to help team members better collaborate.
  • An employee who is part of a fairly new department at your organization attends local conferences and workshops. During the events, the employee learns about new strategies to incorporate into their role and ideas to drive the new department forward. They’re also able to speak with other professionals in their field who offer insights on how to successfully build teams and achieve meaningful results.


What Are Key Elements of Every Individual Development Plan?

Before we dive into creating an employee development plan, let’s review the three key elements every individual development plan should include. These components are intended to give each plan the right foundation and balance to satisfy everyone’s needs.

  • Organizational needs: What are the demands of the organization? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What types of skill sets and technology does it need to stay competitive within the industry?
  • Employee competence: What are the strengths of the employee? How can they leverage their skills to bring greater results to the team and organization? How can these results benefit their career and help them grow?
  • Employee passion: What is the employee passionate about? What do they genuinely enjoy doing and find fulfillment in? How can these passions better align with their strengths and the needs of the organization?

How Do You Create an Employee Development Plan?

Above all, staying focused on the three key elements above will help you and your employee design a holistic employee development plan that motivates them to succeed. They’ll find fulfillment in their roles and feel more inclined to stick around for the long haul.

What Are the 4 Steps Involved in Designing an Employee Development Plan?

If launching an employee development plan seems overwhelming at first, we’ve got it broken down so you can take it one step at a time:

  1. Size up your needs
  2. Focus on the individual
  3. Offer the right opportunities
  4. Track the results and refine your strategy

You can break each step down even further into smaller tasks tailored to your needs and circumstances. Soon, you’ll be well on your way.

Step 1: Size up Your Needs

Put on your thinking cap. Evaluate where your organization is, where it wants to be, what the goals, opportunities, and challenges are, and how you need to shape and strengthen your workforce to achieve your objectives. To help you begin, here are a few questions you might ask yourself about your organization:

  • Do we have knowledge or skill gaps?
  • Are we able to attract the talent we need?
  • Do we align our training and development with our strategic needs?
  • Do we align our benefits with our employees’ priorities?
  • How do we measure and improve employee satisfaction?
  • Are we doing enough to reduce turnover?
  • Are we keeping up with changes in our industry?
  • Are we grooming employees for our succession plan?
Check out our employee development plan checklist!

Think carefully about such issues, and ask leaders and trusted colleagues for their suggestions. Create a list of answers and priorities that are as specific as possible. Everything you do to in the following steps should be guided by this list.

Step 2: Focus on the Individual

Even though your employee development plan will affect your entire organization, it works by helping one person at a time. There’s no room here for lumping people together in groups. The magic of customized one-on-one collaboration is what produces superior results.

Set the right expectations for both supervisors and employees. Explain that they will work together on individual employee development plan ideas for the worker’s career development. Employees are expected to take responsibility for their own career development (researching available resources and sticking to their self-training schedule, for example) while supervisors act as facilitators who provide guidance, resources, and feedback.

Even though your employee development plan will affect your entire organization, it works by helping one person at a time.

Each employee should meet privately with their supervisor to discuss the employee’s professional accomplishments, abilities, interests, and needs. The supervisor should expect to do more listening than talking in this initial meeting. Here are some key questions that can help launch the conversation. (For the most insightful answers, the employee should be told in advance what they’ll be asked.)

  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • Tell me about something you’re proud of accomplishing in your current job.
  • Do you have what you need to do your best work?
  • What would help you improve your performance?
  • Are there other positions in our organization that you are interested in?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What have you done to advance your career?
  • What would help you make further progress in your career?
  • What obstacles to your career goals do you face?
Check out our employee development plan checklist!

Make sure supervisors understand the value of asking follow-up questions to more completely understand the employee’s situation. Employees should work together with their supervisors to set specific, measurable goals using appropriate resources such as those mentioned below.

Step 3: Offer the Right Opportunities

Once you know what employees need and want, there are many possible ways you can help them work toward their goals. It’s best if the supervisor has a list of resources ready to offer during the meeting. That way, the supervisor and employee can collaborate on the plan right away instead of having to schedule another meeting.

Here are some popular employee development plan ideas and resources to consider.

In the workplace:


  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Classes
  • Ebooks
  • Slideshows
  • Articles
  • Quizzes
  • White papers


  • Membership in industry organizations that provide networking and training opportunities
  • Conferences, seminars, and other events within your industry
  • Tuition reimbursement

There are plenty of other ideas out there, from trendy to traditional. Once you start looking, chances are it won’t take long to compile a list of resources that are a good fit for your employees’ needs.

Some types of training and development may not be practical due to cost, time and effort required. Supervisors should know in advance what they can and can’t offer.

Some types of training and development may not be practical due to cost, time and effort required, or other reasons. Supervisors should know in advance what they can and can’t offer. Many online resources are inexpensive or free, but be careful to evaluate their quality.

A word of caution: The Balance Careers says to avoid making promises to employees about how much training they will get or its career benefits, such as raises and promotions. Promises could get you into legal hot water if you can’t make good on them. “The best that you can do,” they advise, “is to say that you will help however you can, but that the company growth, economic circumstances, priorities, and goals will have an impact on the employee’s desired developmental path, promotions, and career goals. Nothing is guaranteed.”

Step 4: Track the Results and Refine Your Strategy

Once your firm’s employee development plan is up and running, follow through with the ongoing steps that will help you and your workers continue to get the most from it.

For individual employees:

Supervisors should periodically meet with each employee to review their progress, praise their accomplishments, and discuss where to go from here. Were there unexpected obstacles or difficulties? How can they be overcome? Are there new opportunities? Have the individual’s needs, career goals, or personal circumstances changed? A plan isn’t set in stone. It should be a living, breathing document that’s constantly adjusted and improved to keep helping the employee thrive.

How often a supervisor and employee formally meet isn’t as important as keeping their lines of communication open so adjustments can be made as soon as they’re needed. Between meetings, occasional quick, informal check-ins can help. Still, it’s a good idea to require a minimum number of meetings per year to avoid hearing the excuse, “Everything’s fine so we don’t need to meet.”

For your organization:

Improving your firm’s employee development plan is a lot like improving an individual’s career development plan: you measure results, assess progress, consider new opportunities and obstacles, adjust goals and strategies, and repeat regularly.

How do you implement these steps? Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two organizations are identical. What works for one firm may not be suitable for another. Consider what’s practical for your organization’s size, structure, and situation.

Measure results, assess progress, consider new opportunities and obstacles, adjust goals and strategies, and repeat regularly.

Decide who will be in charge of the employee development plan. Small firms may need to rely on one person who already has plenty of other responsibilities. Larger organizations may appoint a full-time employee-development person, or decide a team works best. Any of these approaches can work. The goal is to give whoever’s in charge appropriate power to act, accountability for the results, and a strong voice to advocate for the interests of both the organization and its employees.

Also, consider how your firm can evaluate results and show the value of employee development to executives. HR professionals are a great resource for measuring training outcomes. Managers can report on productivity improvements. But your executive team also needs to understand the bigger picture: are your career development efforts creating a more optimized workplace with happier, more engaged employees?

One of the best ways to find out is by asking for feedback often. A brief, anonymous email survey can quickly take the pulse of your entire organization and show what’s working well and where there’s room for improvement. For example, BambooHR® Employee Satisfaction with eNPS uses employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys to quickly and easily gather employee feedback and analyze results.

Start Changing Lives!

Look around at the faces in your organization. There’s a story behind each one.

Maria has just earned her first promotion. Think how far she could rise with a mentor.

See how Employee Satisfaction with eNPS can make a difference in your organization.

Isaac hopes to use the people skills he cultivated in Customer Service to launch a new career in Sales. Cross-training can open the door.

Your organization is teeming with untapped potential in such people. They are eager for new knowledge, skills, and challenges. Creating an employee development plan will connect them to the people, resources, and opportunities they need to progress. You can help them at any stage of their career, just as others have helped you over the years. It’s a rewarding feeling to watch your employees grow—and to watch your organization rise to new heights as a result. Why not begin today?

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Kent Peterson

Kent Peterson is a writer at BambooHR. He has also created award-winning work in radio and television.