Employee development plan

By Kat Boogaard
Plant sprout

What do your employees want from you? Do they crave flexibility? Autonomy? Work that aligns with their values?

They want all of the above and one very important thing that's not on that list: growth.

Employees want to know that there isn't a ceiling to their careers - that there's room and resources available for them to develop and advance within your company. 

Needless to say, prioritizing employee development positively impacts both recruitment and retention.

In a report 59% of millennial respondents said that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job.

A separate study found that 76% of employees will seek other job opportunities if they’re passed over for a promotion at work.

So what does this all mean for you? Well, put simple, you need to demonstrate that you're committed to the advancement of your people, and one of the best ways to do so is by creating employee development plans.

The nitty gritty on employee development plans

An employee development plan is a documented strategy for how an employee will grow and advance within your company (usually broken into short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals).

Ultimately, the core purpose of documenting this plan is so that:

  1. There’s an increased level of accountability for follow through, with one study showing that writing down our goals makes us up to 42% more likely to achieve them
  2. There’s transparency between all relevant parties (leaders, the employee, and the HR team) about the future plans for an employee

Most often, the employee and their manager create, agree on, and execute the plan together, with the manager guiding their direct report through each step. But as the HR team, it’s your job to support the employee development plan by: 

  • Preparing both the employee and the manager for productive growth conversations
  • Streamlining and templatizing the process so it’s as straightforward as possible
  • Promoting available growth and development opportunities within your organization

We’ll cover each of those responsibilities in detail a little later, but to start, let’s take a look at the general steps that are involved in creating a formal employee development plan. These steps will help prepare you to answer any questions from managers within your organization.

Meeples helping each other climb blocks

5 steps for creating an employee development plans

As part of the HR team, you likely won’t be the one actually creating the plan – that’ll be up to the employee and their supervisor. However, you might need to step in and walk them through the process.

This workflow will vary from organization to organization, but below are generally the steps to kick off and execute an employee development plan.

Step 1

Have the employee complete a self-assessment

To figure out where an employee wants to go, start by evaluating where they are now. Ask the employee to fill out a self-assessment and  honestly evaluate their performance. 

Not only does this serve as a starting point for a candid conversation between the employee and manager, but it also helps to highlight learning and improvement focus areas.

Step 2

Connect on the employee’s career goals and desires

It’s important to remember that this process isn’t only about what the employee could do – it’s also about what they want to do. With the self-assessment in hand, the employee and manager should engage in a discussion about the employee’s personal ambitions.

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Example topics to cover:

  • Is their goal to move into a management position?
  • Do they want to explore a different area of the business or hone a new skill?
  • Are they eager to take on some different responsibilities, like representing the company at more speaking functions?

Development means something different to everyone, so encourage the employee and manager to connect on exactly what sort of growth they’re aiming to pursue. That’s context they’ll need as they map out the development plan.

Step 3

Discuss how those relate to company needs

After the employee has laid out their personal objectives, it’s time for the manager to begin to draw lines between their goals and the needs of the business and the team. Remember that not every requested development opportunity will be viable. For example, there might not be any promotions or management positions to be had right now or when the employee has earned one.

That’s why this practice is so critical. It helps the manager determine what’s possible but also beneficial for the business and avoid over-promising to the employee.

Charts and pencils

To get each employee’s development plan aligned with your org’s goals, establish and track Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) at the company, team, and individual level – and review them often. Jira’s Definitive guide to OKRs can help everyone in your organization understand their shared goals and work toward positive outcomes, together. 

Step 4

Explore available development opportunities

Let’s say that the employee is eager to take on more speaking opportunities on behalf of the company, and the organization really could benefit from that increased exposure and thought leadership.


Employee development plans need to go beyond “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s make that happen.” They exist to detail action steps that the employee and manager can take to attain the growth goals.

So now it’s time to ask: What does the employee need to do to accomplish the goal and how can the manager support them? A few options could be:

  • Attending employer-provided public speaking courses or trainings
  • Collaborating with a mentor who has experience in public speaking
  • Applying to be a speaker at industry-relevant conferences and seminars
Step 5

Document the development plan and submit to HR

With all of that sorted out, the manager and employee should document those objectives in a formal employee development plan that should also be submitted to you in the HR department.

Career development plan template preview

While the name might sound formal, keep in mind that the development plan doesn’t need to be anything overly complex. In fact, the more straightforward you can keep it, the easier it will be for all necessary parties to understand and follow that information.

Employee development plan chart

Make sure nobody misses a beat. Organize the five-step process with Jira.

Make sure nobody misses a beat. Organize the five-step process with Jira.

HR’s role in supporting employee development plans

You exist to do more than file the plan. Your role is to support the entire process to make it as straightforward, painless, and positive for everyone as possible. Below are the three core ways you can make that happen.

Prepare all parties for productive growth conversations.
Conversations about growth and development can be nerve-wracking. Managers are worried about providing enough support and encouragement, while employees can be anxious about coming across as too pushy or demanding.

Each side might need some support and resources to approach these conversations and create the plan in the best way possible. Below are a few suggestions for how you can support these conversations.

For managers

  • Resources and training about how to have productive one-on-one meetings 
  • Suggested questions they can be asking during growth conversations and one-on-ones

For employees

  • Training about how to effectively fill out a self-assessment
  • Resources about how to identify and define their own career goals

For both

  • Information about what training and development opportunities are available and accessible
  • Templates that make these various growth activities – whether it’s a self-assessment, one-on-one conversation, or actual development plan – more straightforward

The gist of it is that nobody should be winging these conversations, and equipping both managers and employees with the right resources and guidance means they’re far more likely to approach those important conversations with confidence.

Streamline and templatize the creation of the development plan 
You’ll notice that templates have been mentioned several times throughout this guide, and that’s for good reason: They’re a great way to save yourself time and improve consistency, while also making the entire process easier on managers and employees. 

There are numerous steps and activities that occur before the actual development plan ever gets documented, and you can templatize each one of those steps. For example, you can create template documents for the following: 

  • Self-assessment
  • One-on-one meeting agenda
  • Career goals worksheet
  • Employee development plan

Make sure all of these templates are shared, interactive documents, so that managers and employees can easily collaborate through edits, comments, task assignments, and more.

Use Confluence to create your templates and make collaboration a breeze

Use Confluence to create your templates and make collaboration a breeze

Actively promote other development opportunities 
For some growth and development means climbing the ladder, but there are other ways to reach the next level. 

That’s why one of the most crucial responsibilities of the HR team in supporting employee growth is to actively promote all development opportunities that are available, whether it’s something as formal as a lengthy training program or as casual as a regularly scheduled lunch and learn. 

Exactly where and how you promote these is up to you and largely depends on what tools and platforms you have available. But at the very least, you can:

  • Send out all-team emails and calendar invites for upcoming events, trainings, and opportunities
  • Post these training opportunities to your employee intranet
  • Remind managers to promote these opportunities in team meetings and conversations
  • Include signs, flyers, and other promotional materials around the office

Make it your goal to spread the word about what’s available, and you’ll likely see an increasing number of employees taking advantage.

Trello board

Share Trello’s Personal Productivity System board with employees to help them plan and track their to-dos and projects

Support, develop, and succeed

Too many employees leave organizations because they feel like they’ve reached the end of the line. There’s no obvious way for them to learn, grow, and advance within their current company. 

But refining your process for creating employee development plans is a surefire way to demonstrate your commitment to learning and keep your best talent around. Implement these tips, and employees will no longer feel like the only way up is out. 

Employee onboarding