5 Essential Steps to Creating a Professional Development Plan

As a manager or mentor, one of your most important responsibilities is to help your employees strengthen their skills.

Wondering where to start? We recommend crafting a professional development plan for each member of your team. As a manager you can use it to align employees’ career goals with organizational needs, share feedback and measure progress. It also helps you monitor your employees’ development, acknowledge accomplishments and demonstrate investment in their career development.

Here’s how to build employee professional development plans that take your people and your organization to the next level.

Identify Core Competencies

Core competencies are the characteristics, skills and behaviors that the best employees use to achieve success in their careers. They are specifically what the professional development plan will help your employees cultivate.

The most effective way to identify these competencies is to evaluate, informally or formally, an employee on their skills that are important to the company — both in the employee’s current role and in possible next-level roles. That could be a set of competencies that have already been recognized as core to your organization or a broader competency suite identified by quality research.

Identify Strengths

Competencies are important if the employee needs them to achieve success at the level she’s at in her career, to rise to the next level or to be successful at that next level. Identify where that learner is adding value to the organization with their skills, because it’s important to build off of those for future success.

Identify Weaknesses, Gaps and ‘Noise’

If an employee has a gap between his level of competency and its importance in his career, that’s a weakness. If an employee has a serious weakness that you or co-workers notice, it’s probably keeping her from being successful. This “noise” must be addressed in the employee’s professional development plan. An example of noise would be a team member who is highly intelligent and productive but so abrasive that others don’t want to work with them.

If something is identified as a weakness, it doesn’t mean it is a hopeless cause. Oftentimes employees are bad at something because they don’t have any experience. For example, employees who are not proficient at leading a team may just need more experience to cultivate that skill. Still, it’s important to identify these gaps in the development plan so employees can take active steps to improve.

Develop Action Steps

Once you’ve identified strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to build a development plan that contains a combination of actions, experiences and events that can help the employee build on his strengths and improve upon his weaknesses. It should also contain specific action steps, which are strategies the employee can use every day to build competencies. Many of these are simply one-time behavior changes the employee can use to correct her course throughout the day. This will help her develop habits that improve her skills in her list of competencies. Setting due dates can help keep the employee on track and accountable to you, the manager, for completing action steps.

Other steps can be more involved, including developmental events and on-the-job experiences that can help your employee build critical competencies. When an employee leads a team, deals with a crisis or implements new software, this is an example of a development event.

Training opportunities such as webinars, online courses, workshops and conferences can help your employee increase knowledge, lay the groundwork and put him in a position to build competencies. Remind your employee that while training can be helpful, it will be the actions and changes that he incorporates and the developmental events that require him to share or integrate learning with work that will make a difference in his career.

Monitor Progress

Once you’ve set the development plan into motion, it’s important to check in with your employee, encourage them and offer feedback periodically on how they are progressing. If the development plan is going to work, it will require an ongoing conversation in which the learner is checking in on her progress and the mentor is offering honest feedback. Schedule regular feedback sessions and provide guidance when you see success or room for improvement.

It’s also important to remember to display the competencies yourself that you want an employee to develop and to be available and serve as a model for him as he works through his professional development plan.

A professional development plan can help identify weaknesses to work on and strengths to build on. But most importantly, a professional development plan holds employees accountable through action steps that help strengthen competencies.

Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located 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.