In the modern workforce, employees demand development and growth – it’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity.
In fact, about one-third of employee turnover is attributed to poor management and a lack of development opportunities. Yet only 29% of organizations have clear learning and development plans for their employees.
Companies that offer the best development opportunities are going to attract the best talent, retain them longer, and see the best results.
A key part of this is a well-defined and actionable professional development plan (PDP).
Our guide dives into a thorough, step-by-step process to create a solid professional development plan, including assessing employees’ skills, setting realistic goals, and tracking progress.
We’ve also included our top tips to encourage your company to weave PDPs into normal processes.
Table of contents
- What is a professional development plan?
- The benefits of professional development plans
- How to build professional development plans for employees
- A professional development plan example
- 5 tips for encouraging the use of professional development plans in your organization
- Retain great talent with professional development plans
- ✅ Use skills tests to accurately assess future growth
What is a professional development plan?
A professional development plan is a document that establishes an employee’s career goals, and details the strategy on how to meet them.
These plans generally contain a worker’s strengths, areas of improvement, required resources, and possible strategies.
A few synonyms for professional development plan include:
- PDP (an acronym of the above term)
- Individual development plan
- Career development plan
- Employee development plan
And related terms include:
- Career development program – This refers to your company’s program for creating PDPs
- Personal development plan – This generally refers to personal growth, although some companies use it professionally
Professional development plans give both manager and employee a roadmap of goals so they have a clear path toward the future.
The benefits of professional development plans
Establishing a solid career development program in your organization benefits employers and employees alike.
Let’s examine the advantages from both sides.
Benefits for employers
Employees want career development, and it’s becoming a requirement more than a luxury.
This means that PDPs help retain talent and attract new talent.
According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say they would stay with an organization longer if it invested in their learning and development.
Another study showed that 70% of US employees say they’re at least somewhat likely to leave their current company and accept an offer with a new company that’s known for investing in employee learning and development.
An additional 34% of employees say they’ve left a position specifically to move to a company that offers better learning opportunities.
A robust career development program makes you an attractive employer to current employees, and also catches the eye of top talent.
Benefits for employees
The immediate benefits for employees are the tangible, technical advantages:
- Strengthen your capabilities
- Learn new skills
- Advance your career
- Find new opportunities
- Better goal-setting skills
Although there’s more to this than just the surface-level benefits.
When a leader puts thought into a professional development plan and personalizes it for a certain employee’s goals, it shows the worker that their growth is important.
A PDP on its own won’t retain great talent. An employee development plan should be helpful and meaningful.
How to build professional development plans for employees
Let’s take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to build employee professional development plans.
Soon, you’ll have the process down, and every one of your employees will have a valuable, actionable PDP to grow with.
Summary of the six-step process
|Get the employee to complete a self-assessment||Have the employee complete a self-assessment and skills tests to create the foundation for a PDP|
|Have a manager assess the employee||Go over the self-assessment, skills test results, and use your own judgment to assess the employee further|
|Set development goals that align with organizational objectives||Create small-, medium-, and long-term goals for the employee that also align with the company|
|Develop actionable strategies for realizing these goals||Create realistic strategies for reaching these goals using available resources|
|Track progress and development regularly in coaching and development meetings||Inquire about development during meetings and log progress in your records|
|Update goals and development areas as the employee progresses||Update the PDP regularly and keep it dynamic|
1. Get the employee to complete a self-assessment
The first step in creating a PDP is having your employee complete a self-assessment to evaluate how they see themselves.
Your opinion and image of yourself form the foundation for determining your goals and direction.
An employee self-assessment should cover:
- Current knowledge and skill set (especially transferable skills)
- Professional and tech interests
- Hopes, plans, and dreams for their career
- How these match up with the organization’s needs and goals
It’s a good idea to supplement this with online skills and personality tests. This practice enables you to collect some hard data to validate the self-assessment.
For example, a content writer has aspirations to move into a content strategist and copywriter role. Their self-assessment lists these skills as “moderate,” but you can evaluate them properly with an SEO Copywriting test and Content Strategy test.
Soft skills can also be assessed through tests like our Motivation test and Communication test.
To evaluate traits like motivators, work style, and worldview, try using personality tests. For example, the Big 5 Personality test assesses their emotional stability, conscientiousness, and openness.
A self-assessment should be done regularly throughout an employee’s career journey, so they can update their progress and crucial skills. Doing this lets them see their growth through their own eyes.
2. Have a manager assess the employee
Now it’s time for the employee’s manager to assess the employee’s skills, traits, and aptitude.
Use both the skills test results and the self-assessment together to evaluate the employee. Determine their skill levels in key areas for their current position and future ambitions.
Here are some points to review:
- Technical and hard skills – Keep in mind technical skills obtained from alternative sources, such as programming skills from a coding boot camp
- Social skills – Roles such as HR professionals, salespeople, and managers need certain social skills, but don’t focus on them heavily if the role doesn’t require them
- Soft skills – Pay special attention to soft skills, because 89% of hiring failures are attributed to the wrong soft skills
- Aptitudes – Aptitudes help determine easily learnable skills, such as a natural communicator picking up negotiation skills quickly
- Attitude and mindset – You can use personality tests to help you assess role fit
Focus on areas for development and improvement – these let you make a more helpful career development plan by strengthening your employee’s weakest points.
Additionally, it’s wise to keep in mind your own observations of the worker. As their leader, you have specific, actionable knowledge that others don’t possess from working with them, coaching them, and speaking with them in one-to-one meetings.
3. Set development goals that align with organizational objectives
Now it’s time to determine goals within your professional development plan.
These goals should be realistic and achievable, as well as align with the company’s direction and objectives.
It’s important to have a mixture of short-, medium-, and long-term goals:
- Short – One to six months
- Medium – Six months to two years
- Long – Three to five years
Not all professional development goals are going to be the large end goal (e.g. achieve a project manager position). Many are the smaller, short-term goals that carry your employee to the larger milestone, such as taking on more responsibilities related to their ideal role.
A good rule to follow when setting goals for a career development plan is to take a SMART approach. This is an acronym that means:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Achievable
- R – Relevant
- T – Timely
SMART goals are more easily measured and tracked, making it simple to know when milestones are obtained and when to update the PDP.
We’d recommend structuring employee goals like a staircase, beginning with the goals that are most within reach and building up to the end goal. This makes them more actionable and motivational.
It’s also essential to ensure that employee goals align with the organization’s needs and objectives.
For example, if one of your primary organizational goals is to launch an international chapter, an employee with a goal to become an international liaison and translator would be a perfect match.
However, if your company is transitioning to a 100% remote model, a goal that’s specifically on-site won’t work.
4. Develop actionable strategies for realizing these goals
Knowing where you’re going is important, but it’s even more important to know how you’re going to get there.
This step is going to determine multiple strategies to reach each goal on the PDP.
These strategies should be realistic and based on available development resources and opportunities. A plan to use a company instructor-led class is realistic, but an industry conference is only realistic if they’re currently available.
Try a variety of learning opportunities to achieve these goals, such as:
- Learning through doing – Give the employee more responsibilities that relate to their goals and their desired goal
- Learning from others – Match more experienced employees with the employee via a coaching or mentorship program
- Education – Look into possible educational and certification courses from training providers or websites like LinkedIn Learning
- Reflection – Have your employee learn from relating one task to another
Let’s expand on that last point.
Reflection means learning through everyday experiences and current work responsibilities. It’s an important resource for learning because it can be done at any time during regular tasks.
For example, if your employee wants to move from a sales rep role into an HR role, recommend they focus on the similarities between helping customers and helping employees.
5. Track progress and development regularly in coaching and development meetings
Professional development plans aren’t something to write up, put on a shelf, and forget. They should be frequently brought up and discussed.
Check in with the employee on a regular basis to see what’s going well, what skills they’re building, and any problems or roadblocks that may have popped up.
This gives you an opportunity to update the PDP and any related milestones, coach wherever you’re able, and suggest tactics for overcoming issues.
After all, everything is a learning opportunity.
Another important practice is to keep track of employee progress in your records. Here are a few things to track:
- Displays of enhanced skill or knowledge and how they were used
- Goal progression
- Opportunities for the employee to apply knowledge or skill
The last point should be logged so you can bring it up for discussion in future one-to-one meetings.
It’s important that this sort of advice should be framed in the future tense. For example, “Next time, check the requirements more thoroughly before proceeding.” instead of “You should’ve checked the requirements more thoroughly.”
This practice is also great for general employee feedback and improves overall workplace communication.
6. Update goals and development areas as the employee progresses
An employee professional development plan should be dynamic – ready to flex and evolve as needed.
This means you not only need to update their goals as they progress through their career path with the company, but also adapt to any changes to the plan as time progresses.
Unfortunately, 42% of employees report that they only re-evaluate and update their goals once a year.
It’s necessary to change the goals and required skills as the employee advances, moving the bar higher as they complete objectives.
As they build skills, some areas of development may excel, and some may lag behind. Keep an eye on these, log them in your records, and coach on the areas that need the most development.
It’s important to track this because certain employees may complete goals much sooner than anticipated, so they need to be adjusted accordingly.
You may also need to update and revise certain goals if opportunities arise. Perhaps there’s an opening in a similar role they hadn’t considered but would fit them perfectly.
A professional development plan example
Let’s take a look at a sample career development plan using the steps from our guide.
This is a simple example with only a few goals and strategies, but it gives you a solid idea of what a good PDP looks like in practice.
Here’s the example employee professional development plan:
- Currently a writer but would like to move into a content strategy role
- Currently have good communication and SEO skills
- Need to improve time-management skills
- Increase salary by 35%
- Earn a promotion to content strategist
- Find a mentor
- Complete a content strategy course
- Take on more content strategy responsibilities
- LinkedIn courses
- Internal mentorship
- One month: Help current content strategists with their responsibilities
- Two months: Handle a small workload on their own
- Six months: Ask for a content strategist role
Please remember that this is just a basic professional development plan template to show you the key items to include. Personalize it to your management style, your employee, and your organization.
Additionally, you can reuse this model as a template in your structured career development program to make PDP creation easier. We speak more about this in the tips section.
5 tips for encouraging the use of professional development plans in your organization
Now, let’s go over the top ways to encourage regular use of PDPs in your organization.
It may seem daunting at first, but once you implement a standard process, train managers in key areas, and lay out all available resources, building professional development plans becomes second nature.
|Design a PDP process that’s easy to follow and even easier to use||Create a solid, repeatable process to make PDP development smooth and easy|
|Make sure managers are clear on the resources and development opportunities available||Keep managers informed on the resources and opportunities available so they can create better strategies|
|Reach out to managers and employees and use their feedback||Improve your development program continuously by collecting real feedback|
|Develop baseline skills for all major roles in your organization||Clarify roles and responsibilities to ensure employees know what they’re shooting for|
|Periodically check in with managers and make sure PDPs are being developed and used||Bring up PDPs with managers to encourage their use and improvement|
1. Design a PDP process that’s easy to follow and even easier to use
Designing a go-to process is the number one way to encourage the regular use of career development plans.
This can include a step-by-step structure along with reusable PDP templates.
A structured, repeatable system makes it easier for employees, managers, and companies alike:
- Employee – A system that’s been used often is more honed, streamlined, and reliable
- Manager – A standardized process ensures managers get used to creating PDPs and improve every time
- Company – A reliable process produces better results, makes happier employees, and reduces trial and error
As you create this process, be sure to provide plenty of support to both employees and managers.
You can facilitate this by empowering your team with handy software and tech, like career development software to log goals and progress, or skills testing tools to make assessments easier and more accurate.
2. Make sure managers are clear on the resources and development opportunities available
Managers are more proactive and motivated to create great PDPs if they’re crystal clear on the resources available to them.
Familiarize managers with all available educational resources, such as training opportunities, organization-paid classes, and mentorship programs.
It’s also a good practice to keep leaders aware of available professional development opportunities and open positions. You can easily organize open roles and keep track of them by using an internal talent marketplace.
Clarifying resources and opportunities helps employees overcome the barriers to achieving their PDP goals.
It also gives them a better idea of what’s possible. Many people may not shoot for a certain goal simply because they don’t think it’s viable.
3. Reach out to managers and employees and use their feedback
As you build your career development program, refine it by utilizing real feedback from the people making and using them.
Does the self-assessment portion have helpful questions? Do managers have the right data to make informed decisions about goals and objectives?
Managers may not have enough resources to create a solid strategy, and could ask you to organize more resources and development opportunities.
For example, they might need you to secure new online courses for customer-facing staff.
Collecting real feedback enables you to continuously improve the process to make it more streamlined and easier to complete.
Feedback also leads to higher-quality professional development plans that give employees actionable strategies and reliable resources. This enables them to reach their goals more effectively, which improves employee opinion and retention.
4. Develop baseline skills for all major roles in your organization
Baseline skills for job roles show your employees what they need to achieve to reach their dream job.
This promotes transparency and enables employees and managers to pinpoint necessary skills, so they can then devise the method to reach them.
By clarifying roles and responsibilities, you also ensure that employees have the required skills before starting a role. It’s possible that a few small skills slip through the cracks, and your employee ends up starting their new position unprepared.
Try asking current employees in a given role what skills they need the most, which ones are needed daily, and which ones are nice to have – but not necessary.
5. Periodically check in with managers and make sure PDPs are being developed and used
The best way to ensure a system is being used is to just ask about it.
Check in with managers now and then to ask them about the career development program, PDPs, and how employees are faring with them.
A great way to discuss this is during 1:1 meetings. Bring up PDPs every few meetings, ask how the program is, and collect feedback (the feedback mentioned in tip three!).
Asking about the development and use of PDPs is a great way to keep them in the front of everyone’s mind and effectively weaves them into your regular practices and company culture.
Retain great talent with professional development plans
Your people want to grow their career and reach new professional heights. Employee professional development plans empower you to help them achieve their goals.
Let’s quickly recap the six-step PDP process:
- Have the employee complete a self-assessment and skills tests
- Have a manager assess the employee
- Set development goals
- Develop strategies for attaining these goals
- Track development
- Update goals as the plan progresses
Proper attention to professional growth boosts retention and relationships with existing employees, and makes your organization a more attractive place to work.
For more information on the subject, check out our entire guide to learning and development.
Try adding our 16 Types test to your career development program to assess how an employee makes decisions, their main source of energy, and the way they process information.
- Rogers, Margaret. (January 20, 2020). “A Better Way to Develop and Retain Top Talent”. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved December 13, 2022. https://hbr.org/2020/01/a-better-way-to-develop-and-retain-top-talent
- “Learning and Skills at Work 2020”. (June, 2020). CIPD. Retrieved December 13, 2022. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/learning-skills-work-report-1_tcm18-79434.pdf