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5 Steps to Creating a Career Development Plan (+3 Things to Avoid)

March 27, 2019

The greatest investment you can make isn’t in fancy new technology or high-profile acquisitions, it’s your own workforce.

As your company grows, your employees should grow with it. With the job market as competitive as it is, it’s more important than ever to invest back in the people who helped you reach your success in the first place. One of the most popular ways to do this is to create and implement a career development plan for your employees.

What is a career development plan?

If you’ve never used a career development plan before, you should first get familiar with what it entails and how it fits into your overall talent management strategy.

An easy way to discover which of your employees want to prioritize their career development is to utilize an employee satisfaction survey. Asking specific questions about career planning during a survey can give you invaluable insight into what your employees are really after.

Why should you invest in your employees?

Here’s a dirty little secret about the current state of employee happiness – 30% of employees feel undervalued in their current position. That's a large portion of the workforce that doesn't feel as though they're being heard.

And according to research from Work Institute, those feelings of not being appreciated can have serious consequences. Their research shows that the second most popular reason employees give for quitting their job is lack of professional development and opportunities for growth.

Why you should invest in career development

What could be worse than unhappy employees leaving your company? How about unskilled employees sticking around? Unskilled and unmotivated workers can wreak havoc on your company culture, revenue stream, and overall office morale. 

It’s time for companies to stop holding their employees back for fear that they’ll leave for a competitor. Investing in your employees’ career development will not only keep them around longer, it will make them better at their jobs.

5 steps to creating a career development plan

It might seem daunting to create a new corporate program from scratch, especially if you've never done it before. But the great news is that creating a career development plan isn't as daunting as you might think. Once you create a system that management and the C-Suite can agree on, a career development plan can be rolled out to every team and department!

career development plan
We've done the hard work for you and done all the research about what the best career development plans include. Here's out easy to follow five-step plan to help get you on your way. 

1. Identify employees that you think are ready for career advancement

The first step you’ll want to take is identifying a list of employees that you think are ready for the next step in their career. These are your high-performers or employees that have shown a great deal of potential. You can enlist the managers of each department to help you tap those who will benefit the most from a career development plan.

Not all of your employees will be ready for a career development plan. Those who are underperforming or not meeting expectations may benefit more from a performance improvement plan first before moving onto a career development plan.

Once you have a list of employees you should be focusing on, it’s time to create a tailored career development plan to fit each of their needs.

2. Set a meeting and expectations with your employee

Once you’ve created a list of employees that are ready for some personalized career planning, you’ll want to alert them of the process. Start by sending the employee an email or scheduling a quick fifteen minute meeting to go over your plans for their employee development plan.

This first meeting should not be the in-depth meeting where you review everything with the employee. You should set a more in-depth, follow-up meeting for a week or two after your initial contact to give both yourself and the employee time to prepare.

During this first meeting you should recommend some ways the employee can begin preparing for their career development plan.

Some questions you should ask your employee to think about could be:

  • An idea of where they want to be in one year, three years, and five years
  • A print-off of a job description for their dream role
  • Ideas of what they believe will benefit their career
  • Any questions or concerns they might have

Think of this first meeting as more as a courtesy heads-up or a pre-meeting in order to get them thinking about what topics they’d like to cover regarding their career path.

3. Personalize each plan based on the individual employee

The most important thing you need to keep in mind when creating a career development plan is to personalize it for each employee.

Start by determining what professional and personal goals you think will help each employee reach their full potential. These should be tailored to their current position and experience level.

Here are some professional goals you can highlight for your employees:

  • Seminars they can attend
  • Skills they can learn
  • New projects they can work on
  • Certifications they can get
  • Public speaking opportunities

You will be dealing with employees from different backgrounds, skill levels, and career aspirations, which means no plan will work for the same two people.

Tip: Professional goals and objectives are crucial for a successful career development plan.

4. Be prepared to be flexible

All the planning in the world can’t prepare you for an employee walking into your meeting and deciding they want to take their career in a different direction. Don’t panic! An employee who has done enough thinking to decide they want to take their career in a different direction is still someone you can work with.

If you do have an employee that wants to switch career paths, teams, or departments, you may need to loop in management from the department they are hoping to switch to and get their input.

You should come prepared with a list of ideas and career development goals that are generic enough that they will help anyone with their career planning. For example, leadership courses, writing workshops, etc. This way you can continue on with your career planning process while you restructure your plan to fit the employee’s career aspirations.

5. Create an actionable plan and follow through

Once you and the employee decide on their career development plan, it’s time to get things moving. Offer and maintain an open-door policy where employees can come to you to discuss ideas they have for their career development.

You are a resource for them to explore what interests them on their path to career growth. In addition to an open door policy, plan on meeting with your employees every quarter to discuss the progress of their plan

It’s important to track the progress of employees who take their career development plan seriously and ensure that the right managers know about their progress. While you cannot promise a promotion or a raise to an employee for their participation in a career development plan, you can let the right people know that they deserve one!

If you don’t have a system for tracking the progress of a career development plan for your employees already, you may consider investing in a career management software.

3 mistakes to avoid when creating a career development plan

Just as there are best practices for creating a career development plan, there are some things you should avoid doing.

1. Don’t make any promises

You should make it crystal clear to your employees that any and all career development plans or reimbursements are contingent on budget and ability. You may be in a different spot nine months from where you are now and don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep.

Instead, focus on short-term goals they can strive to hit that show they're serious about career advancement. This gives your employee something tangible they can work on while allowing you flexibility to change course should future plans change.

2. Don’t do the work for them

Your job as an HR professional is to empower your employees to take their career into their own hands – not to do the work for them. Allow them to take charge of how their career planning will unfold and act as a resource for them.

Your job isn’t to find seminars and workshops for the employee, but rather to advocate on their behalf with their manager to allow them to attend. This is also a good test of which employees want it. An employee that is focused on career advancement won't need hand-holding in order to get the job done.

3. Be mindful of your local HR laws

The reason you don’t want to create any formal documentation or contract regarding career development is because you don’t want to unknowingly violate any of your state’s HR laws.

Think of this process as more of career guidance than a formalized process. You are the counselor and advocate acting on behalf of your employees. You should be very careful not to promise any promotions, raises, or career opportunities to an employee during this process.

Remember, change is a good thing!

Ultimately, the goal of a career development plan is to create a space and opportunity for your employees to thrive. Let them lead with curiosity and explore new paths for themselves. You might be surprised what you learn along the way!

Ready to put it all together? We've got you covered. Download your free career development plan template.

FREE RESOURCE: Career Development Plan  Download Template Now →

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