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Employee development plan: 6-step guide [free templates]

Discover the organizational impact of an employee development plan and how it can affect the employee experience. Use our free templates to get started today.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated June 12, 2024

What is an employee development plan?

An employee development plan (EDP) is a structured process designed to help employees enhance their skills and knowledge. This strategic tool enables managers and employees to recognize individual career interests, set clear development goals, identify resources, and outline actionable steps toward growth.

Architects must create structural plans before buildings get erected. Without these plans, construction teams would randomly develop floor plans, select building materials, and add design flourishes. But with them, everyone working on the building knows the desired outcome.

An employee development plan, or an employee growth plan, is similar to the plans drawn up for a building. Managers and employees use growth plans to align on short- and long-term goals, identify professional development steps, and encourage active collaboration across teams. Uncover the types, benefits, and steps to create an employee development plan in our guide.

More in this guide:

Benefits of development plans for employees

Successful employee growth plans significantly impact the employee experience (EX). Follow along to uncover the most common benefits both employees and the organization experience:

  • Increased employee engagement: Investing in professional growth plans allows workers to develop their unique skills. As employees grow through EDPs, they often gain confidence in their abilities, leading to greater autonomy, creativity, and innovation in their roles, which are key drivers of engagement.
  • Improved problem-solving: EDPs provide targeted training, exposure to different scenarios and challenges through cross-departmental rotations, and mentorship with continuous feedback, all of which equip employees with techniques, methodologies, and skills necessary for broadening perspectives and enhancing confidence for tackling complex issues.
  • Expanded recruitment: Offering professional development as an employee benefit can entice employees with a growth mindset to apply for open positions.
  • Decreased employee turnover: Employees who don’t see growth opportunities in their organizations are less likely to stay in the long term. Investing in your workforce also increases morale and employee satisfaction, which boosts retention.
  • Improved understanding of DEIB: Growth plans should include training in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) topics like inclusive leadership, unconscious biases, and disability awareness. Succession plans and leadership programs for underrepresented groups are also critical to employee development planning.
  • Prioritized company growth: Development plans should align employee and organizational goals, effectively encouraging employees to assist in completing business KPIs.
  • Reduced skill and knowledge gaps: Upskilling within growth plans closes knowledge gaps and increases the number of workers with skill competencies.

In short, employee development plans improve your employee experience.

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How to create a development plan in 6 steps

As a component of employee experience management, EDPs must encourage, support, and evaluate employee growth. To create an employee development plan, follow the six steps below.

1. Understand your business goals

Your business’s goals are the foundation for building and developing employees. The skills you build within your team should directly correspond with your company’s objectives and drive your organization’s success as well as your employees’. If you’re undecided about your business’s short- and long-term goals, it will be nearly impossible to prioritize workforce optimization and determine the next steps for employee growth.

Consider your business goals (and timelines) before developing an in-depth, actionable employee growth plan to ensure their development aligns with your objectives.

2. Openly discuss your employee’s goals

Be open with your employees about their own professional goals. Collaborate individually with each employee to develop an employee experience journey map and personalized growth plan based on their wants and needs. Ask them where they see themselves in two to five years, their personal goals, and what they value, then use their answers to help create their development plan.

If your direct report aims to eventually move teams or leave your company for a different industry, don’t be afraid to invest in their EDP. Creating a space where they can be transparent about their needs can build long-term, loyal relationships.

3. Be ready with resources

Employees may have questions and need resources while working through their development plan. An internal knowledge base is a great place to host resources like:

  • Educational podcasts, videos, and webinars

  • Videos about career paths in your industry

  • Documents on internal growth tracks

  • Recordings or transcripts of professional development seminars

  • Goal-specific training opportunities

  • Online courses or certifications

  • Contact information for industry professionals

Also, consider creating a mentorship or cross-team training program to introduce employees to additional resources within your organization.

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4. Use workforce engagement software

After you’ve discussed professional goals, use employee engagement software to identify knowledge gaps and training opportunities. WEM solutions like Zendesk WFM and Zendesk QA provide effortless and transparent insight into team performance, showing where teams and individuals may fall short. This whole-picture visibility can help managers make goal or skill recommendations while creating individual growth plans.

5. Work together to create an actionable plan

You must tailor an employee development plan to each individual and keep their unique goals in mind. To create an effective employee development plan:

  • Be realistic: Encourage employees to set attainable SMART goals and work together to develop practical timelines.
  • Consider employee competence: Know your employees’ skill sets and use their current abilities as a starting point for developing their plans.
  • Make employees accountable: Regularly check in on employee progress and host consistent check-ins to discuss feedback and request progress updates.
  • Follow HR best practices: Collaborate with the human resources department to provide employees with up-to-date development programs, internal resources, and recent training outcomes.

Use an employee development plan template to succinctly describe goals, objectives, and timelines, and ask employees to collaborate during the initial creation process. Don’t be afraid to update these plans as goals change or skills improve.

6. Track and monitor results

Once you’ve created and implemented an employee development plan, schedule regular meetings with employees to discuss their progress. Assign them specific milestones before each meeting to encourage accountability and employee engagement, and then track the effect of their progress on the organization as a whole. Consider how:

  • Their goals continue to align with company objectives

  • Personal milestones impact team performance

  • New or improved skills impact personal performance

If you (or your employees) notice a decline in productivity or performance, set up a meeting to discuss the plan’s pain points.

5 types of employee development plans and examples

Not every employee development plan is identical. While they share similar end goals, different types of employee growth plans are designed to help managers and workers reach certain milestones.

Depending on an employee’s skills, abilities, and goals, these five examples can enable teams to create actionable, customized development plans for individual employees.

New employee development plan example

A preview image of a filled-out new employee development plan.

Employee development plans for new employees should focus on the growth of skills necessary for workers to do their jobs accurately. This type of plan includes various actions like:

  • Adopting mentorship and coaching relationships

  • Participating in industry seminars

  • Earning certifications

A new employee development plan may also focus on training employees to use the software and systems in place at an organization.

Example scenario:

You hire a customer service representative who is highly skilled in communication, collaboration, empathy, and adaptability. You and your new hire create an employee development plan focused on growing their other customer service skills, including data centricity, tech proficiency, and product knowledge. You also use this system to develop a plan to educate them on your customer service software.

Performance-based development plan example

A preview image of a filled-out performance-based development plan.

Similar to new employee development plans, you can use performance-based plans to hone skills necessary for improving efficiency and productivity. However, this type of development plan typically focuses on high-performing individuals and prioritizes career advancement through the:

  • Completion of leadership training opportunities

  • Redistribution of complex projects

  • Assignment of high-level skill training

Individuals seeking this type of employee development plan hope to gain additional responsibilities or promotion opportunities, and their long-term goals usually align with those of the organization.

Example scenario:

One of your customer service agents has been asking for additional responsibilities and growth opportunities. They have been one of your highest-performing agents over the last year, are coachable, and have strong problem-solving skills. You and your employees create a performance-based development plan that prepares them to move into a customer service manager role.

New career path development plan example

A preview image of a filled-out new career path development plan.

For employees looking to change careers, a new career path development plan may be necessary. Whether an agent is looking to transition to a quality assurance (QA) or sales role or you have an employee looking to make a total career change, this type of development plan provides:

  • Coaching opportunities focused on new skills

  • Cross-team mentorships

  • Training opportunities

Before creating this growth plan, understand your employee’s preferred timeline and future career goals.

Example scenario:

A customer service agent approaches you about potentially transitioning to the QA team. You and your employee create a new career path development plan to prepare both teams for the transition. You focus on QA-specific skills like data analysis, project management, and compliance.

OKR-based development plan

A preview image of a filled-out OKR-based development plan.

The OKR-based (objectives and key results-based) development plan is ideal for employees and organizations with specific goals. This plan focuses on a short- or long-term specific goal and sets realistic expectations for completion.

Example scenario:

You have a customer service manager who wants to decrease their team’s average resolution time by 3 minutes per ticket by the end of the year. This SMART customer service goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They may focus on building a knowledge base, updating agent training, and leveraging AI to achieve this goal.

Soft skill development plan

A preview image of a filled-out soft skills development plan.

All employees must be well-versed in soft skills. This type of development plan is designed to improve skills like:

  • Communication

  • Relationship building

  • Teamwork

  • Time management

  • Flexibility

  • Problem-solving

While this is not an exhaustive list, it highlights the necessary skills for professional success.

Example scenario:

You want to encourage a customer service agent to improve their empathy skills in the next three months. You and your employee agree on a soft skill development plan with three steps for practicing empathy. You schedule monthly check-ins and agree to reevaluate the plan in three months if additional training or practice is needed.

Employee development plan templates

A preview image of an employee development plan template.

Once you’ve identified the employees who are ready, willing, and able to work on their professional development, you can use an employee development plan template to design a unique plan.

Use our free templates to invest in employee growth today.

Download templates

Frequently asked questions

Invest in agent development with Zendesk WEM

Just as a building’s strength relies on its initial structural plans, many workers need an employee development plan with clear direction to grow their skill set and achieve their goals.

For customer service teams, improving skills like customer service voice, empathy, adaptability, and digital literacy is crucial to creating strong customer relationships and providing exceptional support. With AI-powered software like Zendesk WEM, employers can evaluate agent-customer interactions, track performance metrics, identify knowledge and skill gaps, and provide transparent and actionable feedback to agents. As a result, both your employees and your customers will enjoy smoother experiences.

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