employee development plans

5 steps to creating career development plans that work

A well-thought-out employee development plan provides your employees with opportunities and clear direction on how to increase their skills and advance their careers. And with a more expanded skill set, they have more tools to help your business forge ahead. It’s a win-win for you and your staff.

But an employee development plan or program shouldn’t be created off the cuff. Follow these five steps to help make sure your employees’ development plans are on point.

Step 1: Consider business goals

Before you set objectives for employee development plan, try to align their development needs with your company’s business needs.

Consider your long- and short-term business objectives. Do you need one of your salespeople to move into a district manager role? Does someone in accounting need to learn to use and implement a new software?

Once you’ve identified your objectives you can identify the necessary skills, knowledge and competencies that support those goals.

For example, if your business will be going through a growth spurt, you may need additional leaders. What skills do these leaders need? Do any of your current employees have the skills – or capability and desire to learn the skills – needed to move into these roles?

Developing internal candidates to bridge the gap between current employee skill sets and skill sets needed for the future would be of great value to the company.

Putting time and effort into employee development now can save you time and money on recruiting, onboarding and training outsiders. Plus, creating a career path and demonstrating advancement and promotion opportunities through development can help you retain top talent.

Step 2: Talk to your employees

Don’t assume you know your employees’ skill level and career aspirations.

Talk with each of your team members to get a better understanding of what their career goals are.

You should also ask your employees to assess their own work and discuss any challenges they’re having in their current position. In what areas do they struggle the most? Would they benefit from additional training, mentoring or a stretch assignment?

Some of your employees may already have development goals in mind, but don’t know how to get started or if the company will support those plans. Other employees may not realize you see potential in them or need encouragement to reach for the next step in their career.

For instance, Samantha may be terrific at sales, but resists the idea of learning Excel or the budgeting process. She may remain reluctant until you help her understand that those skills are required to move into sales management, her ultimate goal.

By talking to employees, you can work together to figure out what role your business can play in their plans as well as what opportunities you can offer them.

Step 3: Recognize potential vs. readiness

As you assess your staff, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between potential and readiness. For example, Michael may have the potential to become a super star manager, but isn’t yet ready to move into that role.

Readiness comes in a variety of forms, encompassing desire, skills and experience. Michael may be interested in moving into that management role you see for him – but not yet. He may be caring for elderly parents or young children and doesn’t want to travel as much as the new role would require. Or, he may need two to three years of progressively more complex assignments in order to master the project management skills required in the new role.

Keep in mind that not every employee wants to – or should – move into management, no matter how good they are in their current position. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that someone who is great as a salesperson or widget maker (potential) will in turn be great at managing the sales team or widget manufacturing (readiness). Doing versus managing are very different skills sets and pushing an employee into a job they aren’t ready for can have devastating consequences.

Step 4: Consider all types of training and development

Now that you know what the objectives are, it’s time to figure out how your employee will acquire their new skills.

Developmental programs don’t have to be expensive and may take numerous forms. Formal classroom training or online courses are only one way to help your team expand their talents.

Most learners need to be engaged to deeply learn a new skill or gain knowledge. That’s why other types of development may be even better than a course, and include:

  • Stretch assignments and special projects
  • Working directly with a subject matter expert
  • One-on-one coaching and mentoring
  • Local networking groups

Taking on pieces of the next job up the ladder is a particularly good way to prep to take over the whole job one day. It gives less experienced employees the chance to learn and grow, and builds your bench so you can promote from within.

Step 5: Create a plan for before, during and after

Once you’ve identified some specific learning opportunities, create a plan with specific and timely goals. It’s much more difficult to measure an employees’ progress when the objectives are vague, overly broad or don’t have a deadline.

Next, what is it going to take to put your employees’ plan into action? Is there any prep work that needs to be done? Is anyone else involved? Will the employee need to take time away from work? Will someone else need to cover for them while they’re training?

Before the training or new assignment starts, make sure your employees understand why they’re being asked to learn this new skill, what you expect them to learn and how this benefits the company and their careers.

After training, help them apply their new skills in the workplace.

You’re spending a considerable amount of time and possibly money on helping your employees improve their skills. To get your greatest possible return on investment, your employees need to be able to put those new skills to work in your company.

Set up some opportunities where your employees can quickly apply the new skills to the job and get feedback. This will help them reinforce and refine their new skills. If they don’t use the new knowledge when it’s fresh, they’re likely to lose it.

The takeaway

Creating a employee development plans not only helps you make your workforce more effective and knowledgeable, but you can also improve employee satisfaction. And when your employees are happy, they’re less likely to go looking for work elsewhere.

How effective is your employee development plan? Learn how to design a powerful people-focused HR plan by downloading our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.

How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business
Download your free e-book

23 responses to “5 steps to creating career development plans that work


This is great! Is anyone able to recommend a Facebook group or similar that allows workplace trainers to share ideas?

Insperity Blog

Hi Brooke, Thank you! Glad you enjoyed this article. One idea for you to consider is performing a search on LinkedIn for a group that matches the criteria you’re looking for when it comes to starting a discussion. Once you find the right one and join, you can begin and add to conversations among group members.

Intellisense tech

One of my friend asking me about how can I plan employee development, and I found your blog which is all about this. thank you so much for helping me and my friend.

Insperity Blog

You’re welcome! Thank you for reading – and for sharing your feedback. We’re so glad you and your friend found this article helpful.

Enock Luyenzi

The 5 steps of an individual development plan are excellent. HR people should take a lead to encourage leaders to have genuine conversations with their employees. This will help the employees to know what they need to put in place to start developing their individual plans for execution. Progressive follow up for an employee who has developed his/her plan will also add value.

Insperity Blog

Hi Enock, Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback and for sharing some great insights on employee development plans. Genuine conversations and follow up are definitely practices that smart leaders should engage in to help their staff learn and grow.

Billie Ellis

I am a current student at Tulsa Community College, and I am taking Principles of Human Resources. I am wanting to quote your article in a paper that I am writing for the class and need information. Is it ok if I quote your article? I am using APA style and under Web Site. I need the year, month, and date for the source.

Insperity Blog

Hi Billie, You’re welcome to quote our article when you cite our website as the source, thank you for asking. This article was published on September 14, 2017. Good luck on your paper!

Pamela Tanton

I’ve been working in a nonprofit for more than three years. A couple of months ago, the Executive Director said they had created a new job description for me, in an area that I have shown talent and skill. They’ve added hours but not pay. What’s more they are telling me that I have to create an “action plan” for this new position. Is this unusual? Shouldn’t they be creating the action plan? It doesn’t seem like it’s something I should have to do on my own. They came up with this idea in the first place. They also think I should do it on my own time, not work time.

Insperity Blog

Hi Pamela, Have you spoken with your direct manager with regard to your questions and concerns about your new job duties?

ron buckholtz

helpful information

Insperity Blog

Great to hear, Ron! Thanks for your comment.


What are your core strengths and areas of improvement in your current role?

What knowledge, skills and abilities do you need to acquire or improve this fiscal year to achieve your role aspiration and grow your career?


The expression is “it’s all for naught,” rather than, “not.”

Insperity Blog

Thank you for the editing tip!

Salomy Paulose

thanks. for the info
Question: Some employees are with perfect work /professional Ethics, integrity and hard working . But less in critical thinking which leads to unexpected / unwanted outcomes. what do I do with this category of employees

Insperity Blog

Hello Salomy, Thanks for your comments. Perhaps it’s time to invest in additional training for your employees. Does your company have any specific programs already in place with your HR department? This magazine may also help you strengthen employee engagement and identify training opportunities: http://bit.ly/2htvBIZ

Mike Adams

Every thing must be consider we should know whether the business is for long term or short term. Thanks for sharing your blog. Keep it sharing with more new updates.

Insperity Blog

Thanks for your comment, Mike. You are more than welcome – so glad you’re enjoying our content. Have a great weekend!


Good Article! I’d like to present it in my human resource class tomorrow. can you tell me the date of publishing ?
Thank you!

Insperity Blog

Thanks, Jenny! Great to hear! Sure – that post was published in November of 2012. If you’re looking for something a bit more recent, this post was published in March of this year: https://www.insperity.com/blog/how-to-create-smart-career-development-plans-employees/

Robert Castro

Good Article got the main points. This are good guild line that can be used on your day work day.

Insperity Blog

Thank you, Robert. So glad you found the article interesting and informative!

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some are essential to make our site work; others help us improve the user experience. By using the site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Read our privacy policy to learn more.