Professional Development: Creating Plans for Employees and Your Own Career

December 4, 2023
Professional Development: Creating Plans for Employees and Your Own Career

How to Create a Professional Development Map for Employees

Professional development can improve your employee retention rate. Here’s how to create a program from scratch, along with best practices to maximize success.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Designing a successful professional development initiative has both short-term and long-term benefits to the organization, as well as to the employee
  • A successful career plan involves workers through the process
  • Tools and programs that employers can choose to invest in include remote learning platforms, continuing education, and more
  • To map your employee's professional development plan, have the employee complete a self-assessment and set goals
  • Help your employee to draft an action plan and check in with them regularly to track their progress and ask if they need help

Professional development and upskilling fulfill company needs and boost employee engagement, and yet starting an employee development program is an extensive project. But it’s becoming more of a non-negotiable benefit than ever before.

Over 90% of workers have said that development opportunities and training matter. At the same time, 56% of HR professionals believe that the skill gap within their organization is severe.

Designing a successful professional development program is 1 way to help employees stay on their career path (and stay with your company)! However, unlike other perks or benefits, this program is a continuous process for both HR and the workforce.

Often combined with performance management, professional development initiatives incorporate employer resources, 3rd-party tools, and employee input to bring value to the organization.

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan is a specific strategy to help an employee to acquire essential skills and meet their career goals. No employee wants to be stuck doing the same job 10 years down the line, and this is especially true for Millennial and Gen Z workers.

So, why invest in creating a career advancement program? Why can’t employees do it themselves?

An employee development plan can help boost employee engagement, increase the value the worker brings to your organization, and ensure they have a clear career path to follow. All of these benefits lead to increased retention and productivity.

In other words, there are both short-term and long-term benefits to the organization, as well as to the employee, by fulfilling their training needs.

At the same time, employees might not be aware of their next career steps or how to acquire new skills. Other workers might know their trajectory but aren’t confident they can take the time to pursue their career goals.

Providing employees with professional development opportunities gives them the space to grow without stress or uncertainty.

How do you set professional development goals for employees?

HR and business owners need to approach employee development through the lens of their workers, not the organization’s immediate needs. Successful professional development opportunities build long-term gains and, more importantly, make sense to the employee.

In other words, simply listing a group of skills an employee needs to master isn’t enough to sustain a true career path.

Some questions to consider are:

  • What are the natural promotional roles from a specific entry-level position?
  • What is a healthy time frame for an employee to leverage the learning opportunity or pick up a specific skill?
  • How will a specific skill contribute to their long-term career plan?
  • What personal development goals can be linked to their professional life?
  • What types of development programs are there, and which would be most accessible for all employees?

However, it’s important to note that a successful career plan involves workers through the process. The human resources team may choose the platform of tools employees can use to meet their professional goals, but workers can help customize their journey.

Tools and programs that employers can choose to invest in are:

  • Remote learning platforms
  • Offsite performance training
  • Funding conference tickets and travel
  • Certification assistance
  • Leadership coaching
  • Mentoring network
  • Continuing education courses at the local college
  • Employee assistance programs that include career planning

How to map your employee professional development plan

Once you’ve decided on your organization’s specific tool set, it’s time to sit down and discuss the professional development benefits with the team.

The human resources team will likely introduce new hires to this benefit and include information about career advancement programs in the employee handbook. However, supervisors can also recommend the career path and training program to individual workers.

You can also highlight the program or specific skill training during performance reviews.

Regardless of how they learn about the opportunity, at some point, the employee will ask about promotions or career advancement. At this point, HR or the employee’s supervisor will need to help the worker develop their plan.

To do this, there are a few steps:

Step 1: Employee self-assessment

First things first, it helps to have the individual employee determine their current skills and competencies.

You want your employees to be as committed and involved in their individual development plans as possible. Self-assessments are a great way to kick off what an employee believes is important for their role and career.

Step 2: Goal-setting

Next, you’ll want to have the employee set several short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Usually, you only want 1 long-term goal that lasts 1-2 years, and this goal will be broken up into smaller, achievable goals.

Setting more than 1 long-term professional development goal can lead to burnout as the employee attempts to complete their individual development plan on top of their regular workload.

Your HR professional or team supervisor can guide the employee through this process by using SMART goals. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Step 3: Draft an action plan

At this stage, you would help your employee choose from the organization’s resources how to achieve their goals. You may have a general action plan for certain departments or roles in advance, especially if there are specific skills in demand.

But even if you are starting your action plan from scratch, you and your employee can match development opportunities with their specific goals.

Step 4: Track progress

Finally, you’ll want to check in with your employee regularly to ask if they need help. If you have a mentorship program, then it’s possible the mentor would take over this role.

However, it’s more likely that you’ll track employee progress during monthly or quarterly reviews. You will want to find a balance between supporting your worker in their career plan but not micromanaging.

At the end of the day, work comes first, and deadlines might shift depending on your employee’s bandwidth. The important thing is that they continue to make progress.

The professional development map template

Not sure how to structure your professional development template? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Here is a general template you can use as a guide:

  • Employee’s Current Role — Include their current job description, skills, and competencies. You may also want to include their junior and supervisor coworkers to highlight where the employer is in the current hierarchy.
  • Employee’s Long-Term Goal — Include their main goal for the next year or so, what skills they will need, people they may need to meet, and how long it should take to achieve it.
  • Medium- and Short-Term Goals — List the specific and time-bound goals that employees can take over the next few months, weeks, and days to start moving towards their larger goal.
  • Additional Resources — List potential employer-provided or 3rd-party resources employees can use to accomplish their goals. This can be online course services, a special communication channel for workers focusing on professional development, EAP programs, and more.
  • Check-in Dates — Write in specific dates where a supervisor, mentor, or HR professional can check on employee progress.

How can companies dive deeper with employee well-being?

Providing professional development benefits is only 1 part of creating a competitive benefits package and building loyalty with your existing staff. To strengthen employee relationships and get a pulse on what your workers want, it helps to have an action plan.

A People Operations checklist for employee well-being can help you figure out how to make your employees’ jobs easier, tap into employee motivation, and foster a productive work environment through a mix of professional and personal development goals.

More Than Training: 10 Professional Development Tips to Grow Your Career

Professional development involves more than training. Consider the value of networks, mentors, and other professional development tips.

Are you looking to advance in your career? If you are, one of the best things you can do is work on your professional development. When you develop new skills and learn to use new technologies and innovations, you stay ahead of the curve. That helps set you apart from others in your industry. Typically you’ll increase your earning potential, broaden your professional network, and create new opportunities for yourself.

Of course, you can’t just sit back and hope that professional development will come to you. So let’s take a look at 10  professional development tips that can help you succeed, both now and in the future.

Top 10 professional development tips

In order to write your plan for professional growth, you need to get objective. Analyze yourself, where you stand currently in your career, and where you want to go. Then, you need to create a comprehensive plan with accomplishable steps that will help you achieve your career development goals. This may require stepping out of your comfort zone to seek available resources and new professional development opportunities. Here’s how.

1. Assess your skills

To create your development plan, you’ll need to assess where you are in your career and your current skill set. This isn’t a time to be considering how great you are or how far you’ve come in your career. Rather, it’s a time to be objective about your knowledge, your skills, and where you need improvement or additional training. To begin this task, you may want to make a list of everything you know as of today. Include hard skills like educational degrees, computer coding, or data analysis, and soft skills like strong relationship or communication skills. After you list each skill, rate your competency. Then list the specific areas where you do well and where you do poorly.

Next, list all the relevant skills that you lack. These could be skills that you know you’ll need in order to advance to the next position in your company. Or they might be skills that you’ve been told you need through performance reports or one-on-one conversations with supervisors.

2. Create a plan

Next, think about where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, and in 10 years. Most businesses create current, intermediate, and future goals, which translate into 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year business plans. You can do the same with your career development. It’s also important to remember that plans can be flexible. You can adjust them as you meet goals, as the business environment changes, or as your own goals change.

3. Expand your skill set through free training and online courses

Next, take another look at your skills list. Compare it to your 1-year goals. What do you need to learn right now? Does your company offer a specific learning program that can help you meet that goal? Some companies invest regularly in their employees’ training and development. So the first place to look in order to advance and to learn a new skill is your own company. If it offers a class you need, enroll in it. If your employer recommends an institution where you can learn that skill, take the course at that institution. If your company doesn’t offer any type of training or recommendations, search for online classes of interest. Remember to check your local university or community college.

4. Develop a professional network

Build a rich professional life by cultivating professional contacts and surrounding yourself with people from your industry. Share with people in your department. Make yourself available to your team members, and let them know that you are available for them. You must be willing to give and get, and you must stay in touch with these people. You can’t call them for a favor if you haven’t talked to them in 5 years. Likewise, they shouldn’t do that to you.

As your business network grows, you’ll likely expand to having contacts in other departments, and even outside your company if you attend seminars and conferences. These are the people in your circle of business associates and friends who may also share development tips and opportunities more quickly than you’d be able to find them on your own.

5. Find a mentor for advice, ideas, and tips

Many companies offer mentoring and coaching programs, so the best place to start looking for a mentor is within your company’s mentoring and coaching network. If your company doesn’t offer a mentoring program and you belong to a professional group or organization, look for a mentor at your group meetings. A mentor or a coach is someone who can give you unbiased advice — someone who can help you sort through your thoughts about your professional and personal development. Once you get far enough into your career, you can become a mentor or a coach to someone else in your industry.

6. Build your brand through social media to share — not brag about — successes

Don’t forget to build your personal brand through social media. This means that you will share your accomplishments, along with pertinent business articles and information, so that others can learn and share in your excitement, advancements, and progress. The trick here is to share your knowledge and accomplishments without seeming like a braggart.

If you just got promoted at work, make sure to give step-by-step updates. After all, no one wants to hear about your $100,000-a-year overnight promotion. People will think that you just got lucky and that you’re bragging or being egotistical. Instead, share how you learned your new skills. Share the way in which you found and applied for the job. Share how you got yourself ready for that promotion, and only then tell people that you got the promotion. Not only will you be sharing your accomplishments, you’ll be helping others in your network advance their own careers.

7. Read industry-related books, trade publications, and blogs

Keep yourself up-to-date by reading books about your industry, as well as by keeping up with trade publications and blog posts written by other professionals. This can give you innovative ideas that you may be able to use in your current job. You may also discover new learning opportunities or new software that could help you do your job more smoothly.

8. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to your career development

Take time regularly to work on your professional development. Don’t make it just one of your New Year’s resolutions! While you don’t have to do something every day, you might set aside time each week to work on your skills, to network, and to stay up-to-date on industry news and advancements.

It helps if you create reminders for yourself. Perhaps every Wednesday at lunch, you’ll read a few trade articles. On Saturday, you may decide to work on your skills via a free online course. On Sunday, you might check in with your industry contacts or mentor.

9. Analyze your successes and your failures

Just as if you were a business, you’ll want to track your metrics. This means that you will objectively analyze the places where you succeeded and how you succeeded. You’ll also look hard at your failures to determine where you went wrong and what you need to work on in the future to prevent the same type of failure.

10. Continue to learn

Remember: Always be learning something new. In business, they say that if you’re merely maintaining, you’re falling behind. For example, if a company made VCRs in the ’80s and determined that people would always buy VCRs to view movies because distributors were selling billions of VCR tapes, they’d be out of business today. This is because VCRs were quickly replaced by DVD players, which offered better video and sound quality.

Today, many people view all of their movies over the Internet. You need to think of yourself as an advancing business. If you started your career using a typewriter, you probably use a computer today, and you needed new skills to be able to operate that computer. So take advantage of continuing education opportunities, and you’ll be ready for the next technological advancement in your industry.

Start now

What are your professional and personal goals? Do you want to participate in project management ? Do you want to take on additional leadership roles? Or do you just hope that your business will teach you a new skill so that you’ll be ahead of everyone else in your department or industry? No matter what your goals are, you can accomplish them by becoming a lifelong learner and by taking advantage of professional-development opportunities.

The good news is that you can get started on your career advancement today.

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