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How to Build Employee Development Plans That Work!

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How & When to Do Development Planning

In an ideal work world, managers and leaders create STRATEGIC PLANS, from those strategic plans flow the ANNUAL WORK PLANS, and from the annual work plans (group or unit level), flow INDIVIDUAL WORK PLANS.

Then, based on the work an individual is charged with accomplishing in the coming months, the manager and employee together discuss needs for developmental experiences and activities (i.e. classes, project-based roles, mentoring, books, conferences, cross-training, shadowing. The activities don’t have to carry a large, or any, price tag but they do need to be thought through.)

How Should You Allocate Resources?

Do you have an unlimited (or huge) budget for development? And is focus on organizational goals optional? If so, sure! Let your employees select their goals and related activities. They may be happy, but you may not get what you need as the leader. If you’re like most, you have some discretionary money to support development activities for your entire staff. You’ll need to balance several factors in deciding how to allocate resources:

  • What are the priority goals for your unit for the year?
  • What is the current skill mix on your team?
  • What development activity has occurred in the past year?
  • Do you need more than one employee to be strong in a given skill set?
  • Are there some skills that ALL employees in your group must master?
  • What are individual staff members interested in?

As you can see, staff interests are certainly something to consider but in reality, probably can’t drive the entire decision. You have a team to balance and must focus on building a blend of skills. This is not a scheduling activity, it’s quite strategic!

How Do I Know Staff Will Build Skills?

Unfortunately, approving a registration form to send an employee to a half-day class ALONE is not terribly likely to result in long-lasting, significant behavior change. “Knowledge transfer” doesn’t happen automatically, but we are becoming increasingly smart about how to increase the value of a learning event. Here is a quick list of “to do’s” when you are coordinating development activities with your staff:

  1. Collaboratively set goals for the learning & make the goals “SMART” (doing this step WELL will increase the value of all of the actions below)
  2. Ask employee what motivates them about building performance in the selected skill(s) (this engages him/her emotionally – important!)
  3. Plan for employees to share learning with others (leverages resources AND reinforces learning)
  4. Debrief learning with employee after activity to strategize how and where to apply new skills or knowledge
  5. Continue to support employee by offering specific feedback when s/he practices new skills
  6. Honor employees’ preferred learning modes (observing, trying out with help, reading, formal training, online research, etc.)
  7. Revisit learning goals and results at performance review conversations


  • Balance group needs and individual interests
  • Set goals (collaboratively) for employee learning and for applying new skills
  • Give staff frequent, effective feedback

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