Steps to Create a Career Development Plan

A Career Path Is Crucial to Guide Employee Development

Business People Using Laptop in Office to Make a Career Development Plan
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Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images 

A career development plan can take many forms, but the goal is always to encourage your employees to grow with the company and to offer a space for open discussion and future planning. Instilling a career development program at work is an excellent way to demonstrate to your employees that you value their career goals, job satisfaction, and livelihood, while at the same time ensuring a positive and supportive company culture.

Learn more about the benefits of career development plans, as well as how to prepare and conduct an efficient meeting, and the potential pitfalls you should avoid.

The Importance of Career Development Plans

In a research study on job satisfaction, The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) identified 18 unique conditions that must be present in the workplace for employees to experience engagement. Of those, four of the seven lowest-rated conditions were related to training, professional development, and career development.

The growth and development needs of employees are not a typical priority in many workplaces, in spite of their importance. When employees identify the factors that they must have to be happy at work, career growth and development is one of the top five.

Employers would do well to heed this insight if they wish to attract and retain quality employees. A career development program that offers individualized plans can help employees feel valued. It demonstrates that the company wants to help them grow both personally and professionally. It can also help to align their career goals with the company's mission or reveal where these might differ.

A career development plan is a win for employers and employees. The plan focuses on the employees’ needs for growth and development and the assistance the organization can provide, so that the employee has the opportunity to grow his or her career.

How to Create a Career Development Plan With an Employee

There are many ways for career development planning to be effective. An outside training class is not the only way to develop employees, and an in-house program may even be more effective and a source of greater employee satisfaction. You can create career development plans with your employees in a few simple steps. Here is an overview of the process for such a meeting.

Before the Meeting

When you first prepare for the meeting, bring your employee in as an equal partner in the process. Tell the employee that you want to meet with them to discuss their career goals at the company. Make sure the intentions of the meeting are clear, and that it's a positive opportunity for both of you. Ask them to think in advance about their options for growth and development and how they see their career unfolding in your company.

It might be useful to offer a few questions upfront to guide the meeting and help them brainstorm and prepare. You may want to offer a printed handout, or email follow-up, with questions that will get them thinking. Below are a few examples, but feel free to create your own.

  • What would you like to accomplish this year?
  • Are there any projects you'd like to implement, expand, or join?
  • Do you think any of your current duties could benefit from additional resources or training?
  • What professional job or career growth goals do you hope to achieve within three years?
  • What additional support can this organization provide so that you can accomplish these goals?

As your employee is preparing their responses, you should be preparing recommendations on what they can do to ensure that they are making progress on their career path. Determine what kinds of resources and support the organization can provide so that the employee can accomplish his or her professional job or career growth goals.

At the Meeting

When you sit down with your employee, use the questions as a guide to formulate a plan with the employee's involvement. Be flexible because the employee may have other avenues that he or she wants to discuss. As a manager, your job is to know all of the options available to the employee, such as job shadowing, mentoring, and coaching on particular skills.

Make sure that you're up to speed and can talk knowledgeably about all of the training and development options that exist for your reporting staff members. Many employees don’t consider development in any other sense beyond taking a class, and it helps to share with them all of the additional available options for training.

Many employers conduct these meetings yearly, and it can be helpful for all involved to look back at the former year's goals to assess progress. Create and fill out a form that details the employee's plan, and turn it into Human Resources for review, additional input, and filing.

After the Meeting

Once the plan is intact, it's time for action. The best plans keep the responsibility for follow-through squarely on the shoulders of employees. Otherwise, if an employee does not complete their development opportunities, he or she may choose to place blame on management, which is counterproductive for everyone involved.

You can steer the employee in certain directions, but don't do the work for them. For instance, if your employee's plan includes improving their communication and public speaking skills, make it their responsibility to research classes or clubs that practice, such as the local Toastmasters chapter. Both the HR department and a manager can help the employee explore his or her options; these may need approval or funding, but the employee is ultimately responsible for the choice and follow-through. 

The HR staff can be a great resource to help select excellent vendors and avoid low-quality development opportunities, but the employee should take on the bulk of the work in finding them, and selling the company on their idea.

Issues to Avoid in Career Development Planning

There are some issues that can get in the way of an effective career development plan, as well as a few statements you would want to avoid making during the process.

Avoid Making Promises

Make sure you don't guarantee a specific outcome or form a contract with the employee by promising that the company will provide training or other benefit. The best that you can do is to say that you will help however you can, but that the company's growth, economic circumstances, priorities, and goals will have an impact on the employee’s desired developmental path, promotions, and career goals. Nothing is guaranteed, and it's best to leave room for flexibility.

Know the Law

You want to avoid statements that over-commit the employer. For example, at a small manufacturing company, HR put up a "career opportunities" bulletin board in the lunchroom. The company attorney advised them that the board implied that employees were promised careers and asked HR to call the board "job opportunities" board instead. Know your applicable state and federal labor laws.

Defer to the Employee to Follow Through

Remember that the career development plan belongs to the employee. You can facilitate its pursuit, explore options with the employee, provide opportunities when possible, and encourage the employee to have goals for growth and expansion of his or her career and skills, but you cannot do it for them. The employee must own their plan.

Set Boundaries to Protect Your Time

As much as may be devoted to helping your employees grow, you have a limited amount of time available to help. Your primary role is still as their boss. For example, unless you are already aware of a great class or resource, providing options for the employee to develop skills is not your main job. It can be exciting to mentor an employee, but make sure you are not overcommitting your resources to your own detriment.

The Bottom Line

As an employer, you have a great responsibility to your employees and to your company. With the use of career development plans, you can serve both by helping your employees grow in their career path, which in turn creates a better company culture and a more valuable and skilled workforce.

Just remember that your role in the career development program is to provide guidance and support, but not to hold their hand along the way. Use the meeting to set goals and milestones, and to communicate to your employees that they hold the reins going forward.