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How to Help Employees Create a Meaningful Development Plan

Managers often wonder why their employees have such a hard time completing their IDPs (individual development plans). When asked, “What skills do you need to work on?” many folks just don’t know, resulting in IDPs with vague statements and weak commitment to executing the plan. Managers don’t know how to help, and even feel discomfort with the conversation itself.

Three keys to an effective employee development plan

So how can managers get comfortable? With structure, preparation and practice.

In order to be impactful and effective, a development plan must contain goals, specific actions, dates, milestones, and expected outcomes. If the employee can create their goals independently, great. Many times, they need your help the first time and can run with it next time on their own.

Development conversations need to be focused on where the employee wants to be next in their career. Is that a natural progression of individual contributor to supervisor? Do they like being an expert and want to become more deeply specialized in one area so they can become even more of an expert to the organization?

They need to figure out what they want to do for the organization, where they want to contribute; that is their responsibility. However, you may notice underused strengths, so speak up and encourage them to apply themselves more. It is the manager’s job to challenge the employee to be their best.

Also, you are the coach and guide. This five-point process can frame your conversation. Share it with the employee ahead of time so they can prepare as much as they can on their own.

  1. Identify the desired job title they seek to work towards

  2. Review the job description of that position

  3. Identify the knowledge, skills and talents necessary for that position

  4. Map the employee’s own knowledge, skills and talents related to the position

  5. Note any gaps between the necessary qualifications and the employee’s qualifications

Those gaps are what you will help them write into their development plan.

For example, Peter wants to be a marketing project manager, yet lacks knowledge of budget process. Circle that phrase in the job description. While he has project management experience, he needs to lead more to be ready for this new position, so circle leadership. He solves problems well, but needs to do it more collaboratively with other functions in the organization. Highlight collaboration in the list of required skills.

Do not proceed until you have a clear understanding of the gaps between your employee’s current skill level, and the skills required for the new job he or she wants. Once you’ve defined these gaps, congratulations! The rest is easy.

Building development into job function

In Peter’s case, maybe you’ll start having him sit in on budget process meetings with you or someone else to get experience. In addition, to build his project management skills you might encourage him to learn about certification options from Project Management Institute, or your development department may have courses in project management. You could also suggest he mentor under a more senior project manager. Ask Peter how he can improve these skills and what he will do to close the gap.

If you want him to do more collaborating and problem solving, then assign a project or task requiring those competencies. Give examples of what collaboration looks like if he isn’t sure, then have Peter write this into the plan in his own words.

Since this was Peter’s goal, and you discussed together how to fill the gaps between his readiness today and being a qualified candidate for the job he wants, you are now aligned.

Put learning into practice

Resist the urge to simply list training classes in a development plan. People learn more from experience. If a class will help them, write into the plan that they must apply their learning from the class to their daily work, outlining how.

Taking a class is just one way to gain competence. What you really want is for the employee to practice the concepts from the class and achieve comfort with those tools. Make sure you work together to describe expected outcomes, e.g., the employee will lead four projects this year in order to gain enough mastery to be ready for the next level. You must be really clear on what you expect.

Great managers develop their people. Using this structure with your team this year will give you greater confidence next year. It shows your people you care about their success, yet they own the development to get there.

Would a structure like this make your next conversation about development easier? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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