Employee development plans aren't just for employees who need help raising their job performance from poor to adequate; they're for all employees. Today's smart manager works with his or her employees to develop their skills. An employee development plan puts into writing various skills the employee wishes to work on and develop. It's a useful tool for performance reviews but also to coach, mentor and guide employees towards personal and professional growth.
Attributes of Employee Development Plans
Employee development plans shouldn't be written and kept soley in a drawer or a file on the computer. They're working documents, guiding employees to develop skills and attributes they need to progress in their careers. There are generally four areas of a such a plan: preparation or assessment, development opportunities, monitoring progress and feedback.
Preparation and Assessment of Skills
Before deciding upon an action plan, the employee must have a clear understanding of where his skills are today. It's like taking a baseline temperature or understanding one's grade point average at school; you need to know where you stand now before thinking about areas for improvement.
A good self assessment might begin during the annual review process. It is at this time both the manager and employee are focused on the employee's skills and successful handling of various projects throughout the year. Some human resources specialists recommend uncoupling performance reviews from development plans. The thinking is that giving both at the same time may give employees the impression their development plan is in response to a performance review. In truth, the development plan should be separate from a performance review. The development plan is for growth in the future, while an employee review looks back at accomplishments.
During the self-assessment phase, both the manager and the employee should reflect upon questions such as the following. Each person should write answers down and then compare them. If there's a wide gap between what the employee thinks and what the manager thinks, there could be a perception problem.
- What skills do you need to accomplish your job?
- How do you feel you rate on each skill?
- What parts of the job do you like the best?
- What parts do you like the least?
- What are your goals for the next year, quarter, or month?
- How can I (the manager) help you achieve those goals?
- What activities, classes or projects can you tackle to improve your job skills?
The next portion of an employee plan is devoted to development opportunities. Here the employee lists specific activities and opportunities to grow in areas flagged as needing improvement.It's important for both employees and managers to think outside of the box on development opportunities. While it's true that taking seminars, courses and workshops can improve specific skills, what work-related projects can also help the employee grow? How about making the employee the leader of a project team, or asking him to conduct a special training session for junior staff? Depending upon the employee's specific goals, the manager may be able to open up opportunities for him to lead, develop or manage new work to help him develop additional skills. One way to look for such opportunities is to look at the manager or job level above the employee's and see if any tasks or projects can be shifted down. Not only does this help the person in the position above the employee, it also helps the employee stretch and grow into the next level of management.
It's one thing to create a robust development plan, but how will you monitor its progress? Create milestones, checklists and check-in points between employee and manager. What goals can you set? What timeline do you agree upon? Remember, such a plan isn't dictated by the manager to the employee. It's a set of agreements spelling out how the employee hopes to develop his business and job skills and how the manager will support, encourage and guide his progress.
Growth can't happen in a vacuum. Employees need feedback. Frequent, casual feedback on job skills is essential to growth and motivation. Managers guiding staff through a development plan should note the person's primary and secondary goals, then look for opportunities to praise and provide constructive feedback on whether or not the person is achieving those goals. It doesn't have to be a formal feedback session. A simple email, phone call or casual hallway conversation will suffice.
Usefulness of Development Plans
Development plans are all the rage right now in managerial circles, but how useful they actually are depends on many factors. It depends on how much the company itself supports such activities. Some companies prefer everyone stick with their job description and provide few opportunities for growth, while others encourage creativity, innovation and leadership. Success also depends upon the manager and the employee-manager relationship. If the lines of communication are kept free and open, such a plan has a greater chance of success.