Ninety-three percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. On the flip side, the number one reason people change jobs is “career growth opportunities.” Your team members and candidates want professional development, and they’re more than willing to move around in order to get it. 

Professional development benefits your team members—but it also benefits your organization. Developing people’s strengths can lead to an increase in employee engagement of up to 23 percent. That, in turn, leads to lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher customer loyalty, higher productivity, and higher profitability.

If you’re ready to invest in creating a professional development plan for your team members, there are some key steps you can take to ensure a successful program.

Professional development plan checklist:

Discuss career aspirations.

A strong employee onboarding program should include time for managers and their new team members to discuss both long- and short-term career aspirations. Learn where team members envision themselves in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, and even 20 or 30 years. This discussion should be the starting point for creating professional development plans. Getting team member input is critical for ensuring their buy-in and dedication to development. 

Match team member goals with future internal opportunities.

Managers should sync with the People Ops team to get an understanding of which internal opportunities may be available to team members in the future. This allows them to set realistic internal career paths with their team members, or to offer alternative ideas. For instance, if some positions tend to have low turnover and high tenures, there may be a low probability of those roles opening up in the right time frame for a given team member. Alternatively, if a skill gap is anticipated in the future, a manager could offer team members the suggestion to master that skill and advance their careers in a direction they hadn’t yet considered.

Research required skills and experience.

Once managers and team members have created a desired career path, it’s important to identify the skills and experience needed to progress along it. A good place to start is by looking at who is currently in the role, and what their job description entails. The team member may even wish to set up informational interviews with those in desired roles to learn more about their own career paths, development plans, and advice.

Identify long-term goals.

Managers and their team members should identify goals that contribute to their long-term interests. For example, a team member may want to become a more effective leader or become a thought leader. These goals should have a clear way to measure progress and a timeframe attached to them, though the time frame can be somewhat flexible.

Identify short-term goals.

Short-term goals, which may help team members take smaller steps within their career paths, are also important to discuss. For example, team members may want to learn a new software program or earn a degree. A set time frame for short-term goals can hold the team member accountable for achieving them. Financial incentives may also be tied to these goals, as a bonus or a raise may be appropriate as team members grow professionally.

Plan development activities.

Consider the development activities that will help team members reach their goals and progress in their careers. This might include mentoring, job shadowing, stretch assignments, formal education, industry certifications, coaching, and online learning. Remember that one size does not fit all, and that team members can benefit from development plans that play to their strengths and needs. For example, a working parent might prefer online learning to conferences, so they don’t have to travel. But someone with a learning disability may be more engaged with an in-person conference or mentoring format.

Reconsider current responsibilities.

It’s important to make space for team members to learn new skills and gain new experiences. As development activities are added, it may be necessary to redelegate some of the team members’ current responsibilities. Consider which responsibilities aren’t helping the team member toward their goals, or which activities are irrelevant to the role they are working toward. Those should be re-assigned to team members who could benefit from doing them. 

Check in regularly.

Managers should check in with team members on progress toward goals during regular one-on-ones. It’s also important to check in around career goals often, in the event the team members’ interests have changed. Managers should be flexible in setting new goals and development opportunities as needed.

Final thoughts on creating a professional development plan

Managers should work closely with their team members to define goals, plan development activities, and make necessary adjustments over time. This will contribute to a stronger workforce now, and in the future.

When positions open up, promoting from within demonstrates your organization’s commitment to professional development—and can provide motivation for team members to continue learning. Just be sure that a team member’s new manager takes the time to revisit career goals and development opportunities so the team member can continue to grow. 

Eighty-five percent of the jobs that will exist in a decade haven’t been invented yet, and nine in 10 leaders are concerned about current or future skill gaps. Developing team members now can set you up for success.

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