LeaderTips: Creating Development Plans That Make A Difference

It’s mid-year, which means for lots of organizations, managers and employees are busy writing development plans.  But, for many managers and employees, they aren’t totally sure how to write meaningful development goals.  Instead they create something hastily that becomes more of a check-the-box exercise, and isn’t very useful in helping the employee actually develop.  

But, as a leader – it is critical that you work with your employee and get this right.  This goes way beyond you doing this just because HR told you it was required.  According to the LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career.  94%! Getting this right directly impacts your ability to retain your people.

Now that I’ve got your attention, how do you create effective development plans with your employees?  I won’t tell you that this is an easy or fast process.  It takes time and effort from both you and your employees.  But, I can break it down into 4 key steps for you to help you navigate forward!

  1. What does development mean?  Define what you mean by “development” and differentiate it from performance goals.
  2. Who owns what? Get really clear on what the employee owns and what the manager owns in the process.
  3. Trust the process.  Define and use a process to work through the creation of development goals.
  4. Get creative with the development activities.  Be sure to go beyond formal training and identify development opportunities that fit the 70/20/10 model.

1. What does development mean?

Different types of development
Different types of development

The first thing to do is to make sure that you and your employee are really clear that development is occurring because you are making a positive investment in the employee. Part of getting them involved and engaged in this process is helping them to understand what’s in it for them, and building their excitement about the possiblities.  The second thing to do is understand and communicate the difference between creating a development plan and creating annual performance goals. This can be confusing for some people. Below is a good differentiation between the two:

  • A Performance plan defines how you will contribute to the business goals in your current role during the current performance period.  Typical performance period is one year.
  • A Development Plan helps you achieve your personal short and long-term career goals while helping you do your current work better and more efficiently.  A true development period is longer than one year and may even range 3 to 5 years.

This means your development plan is separate and different from your performance goals.  Once you are clear on this definition, share it with your employees and make sure that you are all talking about the same thing when you begin working on creating the development plan.

2. Who owns what?

Have you heard the old adage: “nobody cares as much about your development as you do”?  It’s meant to signify that the employee should be driving the development planning process.  HR4D agrees with this philosophy, but it doesn’t mean you, as the manager, can wash your hands of the process.  Instead, you need to partner with your employees on this process. Here’s what that might look like!

Employee-Owned ItemsManager-Owned Items
Consistently performs well in
current job
Understands employee’s career
aspirations and provides new
opportunities
Identifies and articulates own
career aspirations
Knows employees’ strengths,
passion, interest and growth
opportunities
Develops own functional skills
and capabilities
Provides developmental
coaching to employees 
Builds development plans and
takes ownership of the completion
Supports employees in refining
and following through on development plans
Regularly seeks feedback from
manager, peers, and direct reports on how to improve
Provides timely and actionable
feedback

It is absolutely a leaders’ responsibility to share development needs with employees in a clear and actionable way.  It is also critical to provide support, clear obstacles and generally help your employees develop.  Even if that means, they end up taking a job that no longer reports to you. Ultimately, it is your job as a leader to develop talent for the organization – not to hoard that talent for yourself.  One key component of being a leader is to help the company be successful.  Even when that means you might lose your star employee.  It is far better to lose them to another job inside the organization, then to lose them to a competitor!

3. Trust the Process

It is unlikely that you or your employees can sit down and write meaningful and impactful development goals in an hour.  Instead, it requires contemplation and reflection.  Below are four high-level steps HR4D recommends organizations have employees use when creating their development goals.  These steps are all led and driven by the employee.

  • Step 1: Looking Inward – Clarify your employee’s interests and abilities
  • Step 2: Looking Outward – Increase your understanding of your organization and the talent needs the organization has
  • Step 3: Looking Forward – Identify development opportunities that satisfy your interests as well as the needs of your organization
  • Step 4: Create Development Goals – Write goals and get agreement with your manager

You will notice, there are three steps before actually writing the goals.  This is just an example of the steps you could use to write development goals. You may have different steps you’ve used that you prefer. Feel free to use whatever steps works best for you.  What’s most important is that you put the appropriate time, energy and attention to what the future can hold for each employee.

4. Get creative with the development activities.

70/20/10 development model

In order for development to be meaningful, you have to go beyond formal training, or going to a class. You may have heard of the 70/20/10 development model.  

The idea is that as adult learners, we learn, improve skills and change behavior most effectively from one of the following: 1) on-the-job experiences; or 2) from feedback, coaching and mentoring from other people. These  are more meaningful and individualized to the employee and get away from a one-size-fits-all training class.  Be sure you and your employees get creative and identify activities that primarily (~70%) fall into on-the-job experiences and secondarily (~20%) into feedback, coaching and mentoring.  It is harder and takes more time to identify these kinds of activities.   But, providing these kinds of opportunities are exactly what employees are looking for!

Remember, once the goals are set, discuss progress and updates with your employees several times throughout the year and make updates when needed!  Good luck partnering with your employees on their development planning to make them meaningful and effective!!  


HR4D’s mission is to ensure our client organizations fulfill their visions, by adopting their goals as ours, creating solutions that are right for them, and making the people who hire us professionally successful.  Contact us to learn more!

Jennifer is a seasoned leader and executive coach with over 20 years experience including as a Chief Human Resources Officer overseeing the HR and Communications functions. She is an Associate Certified Coach through ICF.