How to Create Professional Development Plans For Emerging Leaders

Whether you realize it or not, your company’s high-potential employees are clamoring for opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills and to grow into the well-rounded leaders vital for the continued success of any organization.

Are you providing enough of those opportunities? If not, you’re at risk of losing your best and brightest employees to other companies offering more chances for high-achievers to grow professionally.

The most effective way to ensure you provide these types of opportunities for your top talent is to create a detailed, high-quality professional development plan for each of your emerging leaders. A well-crafted plan can help you consistently place top employees in real workplace situations that challenge, teach and help them develop into effective leaders.

Here’s how to create a development plan that will yield meaningful results for both your individual employees and your organization as a whole.

Identify Areas for Growth

The best way to create an effective development plan is to first understand what needs to be developed.

While some professional development plans are aimed at addressing employee deficiencies or outright problems — a worker who repeatedly interrupts the facilitator during staff meetings, for example — emerging leaders require a different approach.

Creating a supportive and actionable plan designed to help employees grow and develop into leaders within the organization is absolutely critical for your high achievers, and there are three key elements that a good professional development plan should support:

  • Increase business acumen and understanding of the broader business. Exposure to and knowledge of the organization, its operations, products, processes and customers will increase the employee’s ability to contribute, improve their perspective and decision making and start building strategic insight that is highly valuable in next level roles.
  • Increasing functional or technical skills. Developing new skills — such as learning new software or a different function within the business — or improving existing skills such as delivering persuasive presentations will increase the employee’s overall knowledge and competencies critical to the business.
  • Building and enhancing stakeholder relationships. A development plan designed to spark growth for emerging leaders must include specific steps to foster relationships with peers and leaders throughout the organization, particularly those important to their current or future roles and ones the employee may not encounter on a day-to-day basis.
  • Experiences. Rotations that include larger scale, bigger scope, line-to-staff or staff-to-line switches, cross-moves, start-ups, turnarounds, change management initiatives, and corporate or international assignments. Changes in level, organizational unit, location, industry, and circumstances. The greater the change in scope and responsibility, the greater the learning.

Outline Action Steps

Once you’ve worked with the employee to identify leadership competencies to develop, it’s time to help them build on those competencies. Since you’ve identified the “what,” the next step is to outline the “how.”

For any development plan to be successful, the employee must be held accountable for their plan through action steps. Action steps need to be concise, specific and objectively measurable. If you can’t measure your employee’s progress, you’ll have a hard time determining whether the professional development plan is successful.

The plan, for example, could call for the employee to schedule internal informational interviews with key people in the organization, read and keep up with best practices in the industry periodically, attend a conference or professional association meeting, or participate in activities outside of their area of expertise to gain knowledge.

The plan should always include these types of specific developmental events, but it’s also important for employees to complete these tasks with clear intention to support their professional development.

Create a Timeline

We’re so busy with our day-to-day work that carving out new behaviors or pursuing new activities can easily go by the wayside without a timeline or action date. That’s why it’s important to set a due date for each action step. This helps ensure your employee makes continuous and consistent progress toward goals. Create reminders or schedule follow-up meetings to help monitor progress and keep the employee on track.

Action steps in a development plan generally cover a period of six months. At the end of the six months, review the employee’s progress and update the development plan with new action steps for further improvement.

Measure Progress

Measurement types can include tests, inspections of work, self-assessments, results logs and accumulations of feedback about development. However, in the case of high-achievers who are developing soft skills, the measurement often is more focused on making sure the employee follows through and is learning from the action items outlined in the plan.

For example, an employee working on building relationships could identify five stakeholders within the company and plan to reach out and schedule lunch or coffee with them over a six-month period. In this case you’ll want to check in periodically to talk about progress and follow through, but more importantly, it’s important to engage in a discussion with the learner about what’s being learned through the activities and then help them take advantage of opportunities to apply the learning to their work.

Give Feedback

Providing objective, honest feedback is essential to your employee’s growth and development, especially when they are working on some of the more abstract leadership competencies. This feedback can come from a variety of sources, including peers, self-assessments, internal or external coaches, a 360-degree feedback process or customer surveys.

Sometimes the best feedback isn’t formal, it’s the in the moment feedback offered day to day and along the way. To provide useful feedback in a timely manner, you need a system that ensures the right people are observing your employee and considering her performance. Feedback shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but an ongoing part of the development process.. Continuous feedback is critical to help your employee stay aligned with both her development and the organization’s business goals.

If you’re the one giving the feedback, remember to be as specific as possible and make sure that you’re providing information that helps the employee become more successful and effective in the future.

Contact us to learn about our leadership development and coaching offerings.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.