How to Build a Professional Development Plan For Your Employees

Updated Apr 11, 20225 min
How to Build a Professional Development Plan For Your Employees

How to Build a Professional Development Plan For Your Employees

Caroline BantonUpdated Apr 11, 20225 min
How to Build a Professional Development Plan For Your Employees

Workforce training and development tend to be put on the back burner by small and medium-sized businesses. Too often, meeting current orders and reducing costs are prioritized over staff planning.

However, as a business scales and the workforce grows, companies need to ensure they have the skills and core competencies needed to meet future demand. Professional development plans (PDPs) are a way for an employee to advance professionally and for the employer to develop a competent workforce without unnecessary spending on recruitment.

This article explains why PDPs are just as important to the employer as the individual employee. It explains the components of a PDP, how to put them together, and why a manager’s performance management skills may be the critical factor in PDP success.

What Is a Professional Development Plan?

A PDP lays out a career path for an employee. For example, if an employee wants to go into project management, the  PDP will show what skills and achievements they must master first. The PDP is usually part of the performance management process and is a tool to improve employees' performance in their current role and future roles. 

The PDP assesses an individual's current skills and sets a strategy to reach future career goals by developing new skills. The plan may lay out milestones and the resources required to reach them.

But,  PDPs are also necessary for employers who want to build and maintain a competent workforce. Here's why.

Why Provide Professional Development Plans?

Some employers do not prioritize PDPs because of the cost and time involved, which can be understandable for small businesses with limited resources. But as a business scales, and the number of employees increases, not providing PDPs is likely to be more costly in the long run. Here are the reasons employers should provide PDPs

To Attract Superior Talent

For employers, providing a path for learning and development opportunities for employees improves morale. The employer also gains from an employee with improved skills and talents. Lastly, an employer who offers professional growth will attract a wider and superior applicant pool, which is highly desirable in a competitive labor market.

To Build Core Competencies

A company that develops PDPs for the employees can build its core competencies. The core competencies are the combination of the workforce’s skill sets and abilities. They can lead to innovation and superior productivity if managed well and aligned with the organization’s goals.

For example, a software engineering company might have a five-year plan for new product development. Management can look ahead and plan what resources they need in terms of qualified engineers, marketing specialists, and product managers.

An assessment of their current staffing and an analysis of their current skills will indicate what skills they are missing. From there, an organization can map out PDPs with smart goals and provide training and development for existing staff to equip them with the missing competencies.

Leverage Motivated Employees

PDPS have obvious advantages for employees. They gain clarity as to their strengths and weaknesses and a clear career plan for advancement if they succeed. A PDP also provides motivation, and employees who are motivated will stay with an employer that is willing to help them develop professionally.

How to Build a Professional Development Plan

There are four components to creating an individual’s PDP. They are:

1.   Assessment

2.   Setting goals

3.   Creating a timeline

4.   Identifying resources


As part of a performance appraisal, the employee is typically asked to do a self-assessment. This self-assessment forms the basis of a discussion with the employee's manager. The discussion with the manager should touch on actual performance compared to expected performance and the individual's career aspirations. The assessment sets a baseline for career development.

The self-assessment and the discussion with the manager should include an evaluation of the individual's professional development goals, knowledge, and skills. Considering how the person’s skills and knowledge align with their current position and future aspirations will help determine where the employee needs to improve and grow.

Setting Goals

After the baseline is established for the employee’s current position, the individual and the manager can identify what improvements or changes should be made so that the individual can progress and, hopefully, move to a new position.

The goals for employee development should be clear and, most importantly, achievable so that the individual feels motivated rather than overwhelmed or discouraged. The goals should also be measurable and time-bound. The PDP should state how progress will be measured, over what period, and what resources will be used.

Creating a Timeline

The individual and the manager should discuss and set short-term, mid-term, and long-term action steps towards goals that will be benchmarked and measured. Short-term goals can range from days to weeks. Mid-term goals can range from weeks to months, and long-term goals can be months or years into the future.

For managers who will be conducting performance reviews and managing PDPs, it’s a good idea to find a professional career coach to provide the appropriate training.

For more details on conducting performance reviews, read “How to Lead a Performance Review.

Identifying Resources

The resources are what will be needed for the individual to reach their benchmarks and short-, mid-, and long-term goals. For example, they may need to take a training course, enroll in further education, attend conferences, work with a mentor, or spend some time in a different department to learn other skills within a certain timeframe.

Professional Development Plan Examples

Examples of goals are:

  • Lead team meetings

  • Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars

  • Find a mentor or act as a mentor

  • Gain cross-departmental experience by working with another team

  • Increase salary by 8 percent

  • Gain a promotion

  • Move into a management role

  • Complete leadership training

Examples of timelines for personal development are:

  • Be the spokesperson for the team at department meetings for the next six months

  • By next quarter: Attend a conference or workshop

  • By the end of the year: Act as a mentor for two employees

  • Complete leadership training within the next year.

Examples of resources for professional goals are:

  • Connecting with mentors

  • Joining professional associations and networking

  • Attending webinars

  • Taking online courses or certifications

  • Attending Conferences

Why Managers Are Critical to Professional Development Plans

A PDP is only as good as its design. And sadly, few managers that are charged with creating PDPs have any training in or knowledge of career development. Because of this, a Gallup poll found that only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve.

This is a huge problem that often leads to employees disengaging from the development process. Manager’s need PDPs too!

How Professional Career Coaches Can Help

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, "Too often organizations provide no formal development program for their new managers and no "refresher" training for existing managers or high-potential employees.” 

Only a skilled manager can assess the capabilities of employees and help set realistic targets, so it’s worthwhile to make sure that managers are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to optimize their teams through PDPs. 

Professional career coaches can help managers and organizations develop staffing action plans that align with the company's goals and keep its employees engaged and motivated.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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