Organizational Wellness

Creating a Professional Development Plan

Nov 22, 2023
Last Updated Nov 22, 2023

Gone are the days of sticking to one job and one company until retirement. In the modern workplace, it's common for employees to switch jobs multiple times throughout their career. This is where professional development comes into play.

But what exactly is professional development? We'll explore the importance of having a development plan and how it contributes to career growth, such as cultivating leadership skills and improving social abilities. We'll also outline the steps to create an effective development plan.

If you want to stay ahead in today's professional landscape, professional development is key.

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What Is a Professional Development Plan? 

A professional development plan is an always-evolving document where you outline an employee’s skills, their career goals, and their strategies to achieve these goals. There are three basic elements of a good professional development plan: 

  • Documentation of goals. A professional development plan includes the goals someone wants to achieve in their career. They might want to be a manager someday, or it might include a certification they want to achieve. Whatever they are, each individual should outline all of them as clearly as possible. 
  • Assessment of past performance. A professional development plan will also include the employee's skills and past performance. This should include all skills they’ve developed already, as well as their performance in other positions. They should note things that they’ve done particularly well, but also note any projects or goals where they fell short, so they have a way to assess how to improve for the future.  
  • Measurement of progress. Once an employee has a good idea where they’re at and where they want to go, they can establish a way to measure progress and keep track of how they’re developing. Maybe it’s meeting certain milestones. Maybe it’s getting the role of their dreams. However you measure progress, a development plan should outline progress.

The exact format of a professional development document will depend on what you want your team to do and what style works for each individual. If they like a typed document, that sounds good. If they’d rather make a sheet with columns and rows, that also works. 

Purpose of a Development Plan

In simple terms, a professional development plan should help someone become the best version of themselves and have the career they want. It involves improving in ways that help them achieve their goals. Here are two purposes of a development plan to consider: 

  • Foster improvement. A plan outlines someone’s goals and where they are now, so they can visualize where they can improve. That can help foster an attitude of improvement and growth. Actively measuring progress can help them grow. 
  • Align one’s career with their vision and goals. We’ve all been hearing about the Great Resignation for a while now. With 4 million people quitting their jobs a month, it’s a pretty big deal. What was the number one reason these Great Resigners picked a new company to work for? Thirty percent said their new company better aligned with their goals and had a clear path to their development. So reversing the Great Resignation could start with aligning a role with an employee’s vision and goals. And this alignment can start with a development plan. 

The Importance of a Development Plan

Employees will consider leaving a company if they’re not given development opportunities. About 29% of employees cite a lack of opportunities to develop as a reason they quit their job, and 70% will consider leaving their jobs to work for a company that prioritizes their professional development. So to make your company a place where your employees want to work, you might need to have a focus on professional development. 

Professional development is crucial to understand as an employer. In fact, 49% of employees expect their employer to play an active role in helping them develop. 

Steps to Creating a Development Plan

As you can see, development plans are powerful tools and they can have an impact on your company as well. But how does an individual create a development plan for their career? Here are six steps for you to guide your team through the process of creating a career development plan that will help them achieve their goals. 

  1. Have Team Members Perform a Self-Assessment

Step one? Assess yourself. It’s pretty hard to get an idea of goals and where someone stands if they don’t understand themselves. If you’re helping your employees create a development plan, you should encourage them to do a proper self-assessment to get started. 

But when we talk about self-assessment, what does that mean? For a development plan, it can include anything like an assessment of goals, vision, hobbies, interests, and passions to current skills someone has. You might encourage employees to bring in feedback they’ve received from coworkers and management to give them an idea of what they’re succeeding with and where they could improve. 

  1. Set Meaningful Goals

Once your employees have a good idea of their vision, interests, and skills, they can begin to set meaningful goals. Remember that there are three types of goals, and a development plan should ideally include all three: 

  • Long-term goals, months or even years into the future. 
  • Mid-term goals, that can range from a couple of weeks to months into the future. 
  • Short-term goals, ranging from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. 

A solid development plan may include one long-term goal with many mid-term and short-term goals to support that. The exact number will depend on how far into the future your long-term goal extends. If an individual is planning years into the future, they’ll probably need a lot of manageable smaller goals. 

Setting only one long-term goal can help your employees avoid the burnout that may arise with trying to stretch themselves too thin. So encourage your team to only set an additional long-term goal if it is in a different area of life. For example, someone might have a career goal and a financial goal. 

  1. Outline Development Opportunities

Once everybody knows their strengths and where they want to go, the next step is to understand how to get there. Employees will need to outline the opportunities they have for development and the strategies to get there. As the employer, it’s beneficial to provide your team with a comprehensive overview of the development opportunities you offer. 

Your company might provide a professional development fund or allotted hours. Let everyone know! Tell your team about networking opportunities; look for educational and training opportunities your company offers; and promotions that they could shoot for. 

  1. Create Actionable Steps

Once all of that is done, it’s time to create actionable steps. How exactly will everyone reach their goals? These steps can be really specific because that will help everyone measure success. 

The key here is to make sure that your team creates achievable goals. Humans in general tend to be overconfident and set unattainable goals. When you set unrealistic goals, you may get burnt out or feel like a failure. Don’t let that happen to your people.  

So how do you encourage your team to keep their goals in check? Keep them small. Everyone can have as many steps as they need, so keeping the actionable steps incredibly small to guarantee they're achievable is ideal. That way, nobody gets discouraged along the way. 

  1. Utilize Resources

Nobody is on their own when it comes to development. You have the resources, and your employees can count on them for help — but your team might not even know it! Let your employees know what resources you have that can push them to grow and develop. 

If someone has the goal of a promotion and the plan is to go back to school, you could help them make that a reality. About 47% of companies offer a benefit of tuition assistance or reimbursement. So to help your employees develop (and to play that active role we discussed earlier), consider offering resources, like tuition reimbursement, to help support their development.

What other resources might you consider offering? Here are a few: 

  • Educational programs.
  • Webinars — both company-created webinars and funds to access other powerful webinars. 
  • Networks and associations to offer like minded groups that your team can connect with. 

  1. Track and Analyze Progress

Finally, no development plan is complete without tracking progress. Keeping track of success can include tracking all of the steps and short-term goals. Encourage your employees to regularly check-in with their development plans and to keep them updated. Don’t forget to remind them to keep track of the new skills they acquire. If they attend training and develop a new skill, measure that, so they can see just how much closer they’re getting to their long-term goal. Consider offering employees time to update their plans and analyze progress. 

The Bottom Line

A professional development plan is an effective tool for assessing your team's current status and their desired future. It enables you to align goals and actions, demonstrating your commitment to your employees' growth and development. By encouraging them to create these plans and providing assistance, you can show your support for their professional growth.

To explore additional ways to support your employees, consider offering a wellness program like Gympass. Talk to a wellbeing specialist today and see how we can help you develop the wellbeing of your workforce.

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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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