Retain Your Best Employees with Personal Development Plans

Employees consistently rate personal development as a top benefit, and a reason they stay longer in a role. So how exactly do you provide ‘personal development’ to your employees?

Think of your most valued employee — someone who’s super eager and great at what they do. Do you ever worry you might lose them to a larger organisation because they want to expand their skills and develop their career, and you simply aren’t providing them with a chance to develop?

How can you fix this? What are the practical steps you can take to develop great staff members so they aren’t so keen to look elsewhere? The answer is that you need a plan — a structured process for your employees to consider their development.

Structured Development Plans

When I ask managers how often they’re having one-on-ones with staff, I frequently get a blank look. Sometimes I’m told ‘oh, all the time’, or sometimes it’s ‘weekly’ or ‘monthly’, but realistically that discussion is rarely focused on the personal development of the employees.

Yet it’s not difficult to build development into a structured and planned process. A development discussion just involves asking your employees a couple of simple questions:

  • what can you do to help them?
  • how can you give them more meaningful work?
  • what can you delegate to them that will help them to develop?

You’ll find that once you implement this process, your employees become more efficient, and have more time to take on more duties. They’re strengthening their skills and their experience and this chain reaction organically feeds into creating a more productive team. So let’s take a look at how to implement simple development plans.

They’re strengthening their skills and their experience and this chain reaction organically feeds into creating a more productive team.

Frequency

Development needs to happen on an ongoing basis. If you’re having performance discussions, and hopefully you’re having these at least quarterly, this is the perfect opportunity to incorporate simple development plans. And you can review them every quarter.

If you are only doing a performance review once a year, and you have a development plan within that process, I would not be surprised to hear that no one ever completes the development plan. A yearly review is not enough, because it becomes a tick-box exercise and no one ever looks at the document again.

Choosing a Goal

So each quarter, encourage your team members to select a development goal. Just one is fine. This helps them grow and also cements development as a key part of your culture.

And you can start with really simple goals for each quarter. Things like:

  • identify a mentor this month
  • listen to a TED talk every month
  • join a networking group and attend one meeting, perhaps online
  • shadow another team member for half a day
  • read a business book.

These are some small initial goals, I’ve included some more developed ones below. When you start the conversation about personal development goals, it’s important to remember that people don’t know what they don’t know.

Sometimes people will say ‘I don’t know my development goal, I don’t have any ideas. That’s why I’ve left it blank.’ And really, what they’re asking is, ‘Please give me some feedback, tell me what other skills and experience and knowledge I need.’ Or they might mean, ‘Tell me about the things you think would be helpful, things that you found useful for your own career development.’ Be ready to offer some suggestions.

Building on Goals

Selecting one item per quarter is really achievable. And over time, you can build on that. So for example an employee might decide, this quarter I’m going to read this particular business book. And then next quarter, I’m going to give a small presentation on that book to the whole team, and include key takeaways and ideas that we can implement within our team.

This helps the employee to identify what they gained from that experience. And it’s a great example of how you can keep building on development goals.

Paperwork

When you’re creating a simple development plan, you need to make sure that you put it in writing, which means a very limited amount of paperwork. For example, a table showing:

  • goal (this is my goal)
  • timeframe (this is when I’m going to do it by)
  • resources (this is the help that I may need to achieve it)

Development Planning

Sometimes when you say the word ‘development’ what your employees are actually hearing is ‘training course’. But training is only a small part of development, and it’s actually the smallest part.

For this reason, it’s helpful to provide examples of on-the-job development ideas. This not only shows that growth and development are important, it can also provide a platform for employees to create their development plans. You can put these ideas on a shared drive. At Amplify HR, we have helped clients put them into a ‘My Career’ booklet. Let’s look at some examples.

Presenting

Volunteer to present at a lunch on a goal or objective you’ve achieved. This is a great development goal because you develop the skills to take a large amount of information and put it into a concise format to share with others. You’re also learning how to present, and sharing skills with other people who attend the lunch.

Business Case

Prepare a business case for expenditure. This is a good one for people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to financial budgeting. They can get an understanding of why it’s important to put together a business case to answer questions like: Are those costs worth it? And how do we show that they’re worth it?

Risk-Benefit Analysis

Identify three major opportunities and three major risks for your area of responsibility. This develops the analytical skills to say, ‘well, if I have this great idea, what are the risks associated with it?’. It encourages people to think comprehensively about all sides of a question.

Stakeholder Feedback

Gather feedback from stakeholders affected by your work. This might include developing and implementing a customer questionnaire, or contacting suppliers or internal people impacted by your role. The goal is to find out more about their perception of your role and how you can better serve them. This can be quite confronting, but it’s a great way to understand both your internal customers and your external customers. It can turn up valuable information about what you could do to help them achieve their goals.

PowerPoint Summary

Present a report as a PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes a person is really good at writing lengthy emails or reports, but not so great at explaining things concisely. In a PowerPoint you need just an image and maybe three dot points on each slide — go and have a look at old YouTube videos for Steve Jobs, for example, and how he presented. There’s really not a lot of text on each slide. This approach enables someone to start considering how to deliver information concisely. And also to consider how someone else might take your written report and try to present it. It’s a great tool for increasing skill and flexibility.

Other Ideas

At Amplify HR we have a list of about 100 development planning ideas — here’s a couple more:

  • Substitute for a manager when they’re on leave.
  • identify some people that you want to learn from, and ask them if they’d consider being a mentor.

Group these ideas by the values of your organisation, or group them in terms function, such as financial, customer-based or leadership. Then just provide some dot points underneath that kickstart people’s thinking about development, and get them thinking beyond training courses.

Beyond Training Courses

Part of that is explaining to employees that there’s a lot more to development than training courses. Here’s the rule of thumb:

  • 70% of development should be on the job
  • 20% should be relationships with others — things like feedback, networking, and coaching
  • 10% should be structured training courses.

So define development in your organisation by the 70–20–10 rule, and ensure you’re giving your employees good examples of on-the-job development. Then have a process where you discuss things at least quarterly. Those are the basics for setting up a development plan in your organisatoin.

Although each employee is ultimately responsible for their own development, your team members don’t know what they don’t know. So it’s important as a leader to guide and help an employee with development ideas. The more you can develop your staff, the greater your chances of retaining them for longer, and the more productive they will be.

Listen in for more on development planning

For more discussion: listen to my FIND. GROW. KEEP. podcast episode on development planning with more tips and examples.

Subscribe for more on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Have your say

Have you worked on development plans with your employees?

We’d love your feedback on this series, just head on over to Amplify HR or connect with Karen on LinkedIn.

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Founder of Amplify HR — a consulting company in Australia that specialises in enabling businesses to find, grow and keep great people. www.amplifyhr.com.au

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Karen Kirton

Karen Kirton

Founder of Amplify HR — a consulting company in Australia that specialises in enabling businesses to find, grow and keep great people. www.amplifyhr.com.au

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