July 28, 2021

Career development plans: what are they, why are they important, and how do we develop them?

Melissa Malec

Creating a career development plan offers as much value to your company as it does to your people. 

But what exactly is a career development plan? Why are they so valuable? And how do they work?

In this article, we answer all of these questions and give you some handy advice about what to do and what to avoid when helping your employees with their career planning. 

What is a career development plan? 

A career development plan, or career progression plan, is a personal roadmap of someone’s career goals, with steps for how to achieve them.

At Learnerbly, each of us develops a career plan, or personal development plan, geared towards what we call our “North Star” goals, or our long-term, ultimate career goals. 

Once we have our North Star goals, we can set short-term and medium-term goals leading up to them, charting a clearer career plan. 

We can then create an action plan of skills and experiences we need to acquire to reach our most immediate goals and how to achieve them. This career planning process also informs our personal learning plans.

 

Why are career development plans so valuable?

A career development plan helps each employee and their company. Here’s why:

For people:

  • Most people want to make progress in their careers. This is probably why Addison Group’s 2019 Workplace Satisfaction Survey reported that 76% of people would start looking for work elsewhere if their workplace passed them up for a promotion. Offering professional career planning shows employees that their companies are keen to help them grow.
  • Career development opportunities help people feel valued and believed-in, not just for what they can offer right now, but for their future potential. 
  • A career development plan boosts transparency. By showing your employees what they need to do to progress and giving them the resources they need for their career growth, you make your organisational structure more transparent and gain your people’s trust. On the flipside, when companies are too opaque about who gets promoted and why, it’s hard for their employees to trust them or feel supportive of these decisions.  Many end up feeling resentful and unappreciated at work, which is not a good feeling!
  • Career development means people view their work as “more than just a job”, which makes them more engaged and happier at work.

 

For companies: 

  • Upskilling people makes them better at their jobs, which adds value to the company and the work it does. Conversely, employees lacking professional development can do a lot of damage to a company if they do their work badly for a prolonged period of time.
  • Upskilling internally is cheaper than hiring externally. If you have a non-entry-level position you need to fill, upskilling one of your existing employees can be a lot more cost-effective than filling the position through external hiring. It can save you all the costs associated with externally sourcing and onboarding a new employee. 
  • Upskilling internally means sourcing reliable talent. Although there are plenty of people outside of your company who already have the skills and experience you’re looking for, most of these people are strangers—and the element of the unknown always carries risk. Although a new employee may have a stellar CV and seem great in an interview, there are multiple reasons they may not be as suited for the role as you judged them to be. On the other hand, if you choose to upskill someone you know and trust from inside the company instead, you can sidestep a lot of these risks.
  • Career development opportunities make people stay with their companies for longer. If most people want to make progress in their careers and their job doesn’t offer them that career growth,they’re likely to leave that job as soon as a better—or even just a different—opportunity comes along. Implementing an effective career development plan programme at your company can do wonders for employee turnover rate—which, if you consider the cost of onboarding employees, makes a lot of financial sense.


 

How to implement a career development plan

Now that we’ve covered what a career development plan is and what guided career planning can offer both your employees and your company, let’s talk about how to implement a career development plan in the workplace. We’ve broken it down into eight simple steps.

1. Identify people who want or need one

If you’re just starting out with career development planning, or you don’t have the resources to extend career planning to all of your people just yet, you might want to start off by offering a career development plan to just a few people and expanding from there. 

If this is the case, decide how many employees you have the time and resources to support with a career development plan at the moment, and then choose which people you think would benefit from it the most. 

Think about who seems the most frustrated or limited in their current career path, who displays the most drive to learn new things, and who seems the most willing to take on new challenges. 

At this stage it’s also a good idea to explain to the people you’ve chosen what a career development plan is, and ask if they’d like to draw one up with you. 

Some employees might be happy with their current career path and not want to move forward with a career development plan for the moment. If this is the case, you can approach others instead. 

2. Give them a Self-assessment task

Ask the people who are keen to participate to complete a self-assessment worksheet. 

The aim of this is for employees to identify the skills they need to do their job well, what they currently excel at, and where they may need more professional development. This is vital information for career planning.

 This knowledge is also useful for managers to help them understand what each employee is capable of and assign them a workload they can manage. 

3. Have them do research into themselves and their goals

Before their first career development plan meeting, have each employee prepare answers to the following questions. They may want to take some time to research their responses, especially regarding any skills courses they might want to take.

  • What is your ultimate career goal? 
  • What do you think are some of the short- and long-term goals you need to reach along the way?
  • Which short-term goal are you closest to reaching? 
  • What skills or experience do you need to do to reach it?
  • What action could we take for you to gain these skills or experiences?
  • What challenges do you think are preventing you from gaining the skills and experience you want to get from your current role?
  • How do you think we could help you face these challenges?

 

If the employee you are meeting with is still getting to grips with their current role, you can ask them to consider these questions:

  • What challenges are you facing in meeting your day-to-day goals? 
  • What do you think we could do to help you face these challenges? 

4. Arrange for them to meet with their managers

Have each employee meet with their line manager to go over their answers to the questions, flesh them out with the manager’s help, and draw up an “official” career development plan for them to work on.

5. Evaluate what’s achievable in your organization

Evaluate which of the person’s career development goals the company could help them achieve and what skills development and experience opportunities you can offer them. 

Consider what their career with the company might look like five years down the line, and what roles they could go on to fill in that time.

Consult with the right people to decide which development opportunities you can offer to which people, and how this process will work.

Remember that development opportunities are not restricted to formal courses. They can also include knowledge-sharing events like conferences, working on specific projects, and shadowing or assisting certain people in the company. 

6. Implement the career development plan

This is the exciting part where you get to implement the career development plan together! 

Meet with each employee again to talk through the opportunities you can offer them and find out which opportunities they want to take.  

Remember, although you’ve done a lot to set this up, it’s ultimately each person’s job from here to work hard and use the opportunities they get to learn and grow. 

7. Keep in touch 

Schedule regular follow-up sessions with each employee—quarterly is a good idea—to check in on how their career development process is going, make any necessary adjustments to their career plan, and prepare for the next steps if need be. 

Make sure every employee has a copy of their career development plan that they can keep and look back on to be reminded of the progress they have made. 

It’s also important that people know they can schedule additional career progression meetings at any time, for example to seek advice on a bump in the road or a new career development opportunity they would like to take.

Do's and don'ts of career development:

Now that we’ve got a step-by-step process laid out, here are some important things to remember and common mistakes to avoid when implementing a career development plan. 

Do: 

  • Send each career development plan to HR so that they can keep a record of them. Inviting HR into the conversation as a third party also helps hold people accountable for their own progress and hold you accountable for not getting in the way of their growth.
  • Acknowledge people’s progress and the work they’re putting in to develop their skills and gain experience. You should also communicate people’s work and improvement to managers who might not work closely enough with them to notice it day to day, so that they can consider them for future opportunities.
  • Take a broad view of career development and don’t limit your thinking to workplace training. For example, think of all the “soft” or interpersonal skills that can’t be taught in a classroom or measured on a CV, and how you can aid people in growing these skills along with their technical abilities.

Don’t:

  • Don’t make talking about career goals beyond your company taboo. If your people feel encouraged to pursue their dreams even beyond your company you will end up with a network of remarkable alumni with many good things to say, and this is a powerful resource.
  • Don’t push people to do things that don’t interest them. Some people might be happy with their current role and job description for the foreseeable future, and there’s nothing wrong with this. A career development plan can still develop their ability to do the job they like as well as they can, and meet any challenges they have too.
  • Don’t make promises to people about future opportunities. Career development opportunities are subject to change based on a number of factors, like budget and company structure. Strike the balance between making people’s development their own responsibility, without standing in the way of their growth when the opportunities arise.

Conclusion

Career development plans can give your people the development opportunities they want, and help your company put the right people in the right places to allow your workforce to excel.

Creating a career development plan requires buy-in and help from a number of different people in a company, but it’s ultimately the responsibility of each employee to drive their own development with the resources they are given.

Follow us to find out more about how Learnerbly can help you implement career plans.


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