Skip to main content

Say you want to bake a cake. A fluffy, layered, strawberry one, to be specific. How would you go about doing it?

Sure, you could grab whatever ingredients you have in your kitchen and throw them in a bowl, but would they be the right ones to make a strawberry cake and, more importantly, a good one?

The answer, of course, is no. You'd likely end up with some sort of doughy mess.

The only right way to go about achieving your goals is to know what you need to do to reach them in the first place. In the context of the cake, this would suggest doing your research, finding a recipe, and taking a trip to the grocery store to buy everything you need.

As for the working world, it means understanding yourself and your ideal role, what differences exist, and how to best bridge that gap.

This is the basis of any good professional development plan, and a concept both staff and managers should keep top of mind when looking to advance career progress.

In this article, I’ll take you through how to create a professional development plan with your team member. You can also modify to create your own plan too!

Let’s dive in.

What Is A Professional Development Plan?

A professional development plan, sometimes referred to as PDP, is a document or strategy outlining an employee's career advancement goals. It serves as a reference that both managers and individual staff can use to guide their day-to-day work and benchmark progress with long-term goals. 

PDPs are popular among forward-thinking organisations that use them to support and enrich employees over the course of their careers. These plans are usually created at the beginning of someone's employment at a company and then revised over time as needs and opportunities change.

For example, someone I was coaching wanted to move from a consultative environment into HR. We put in place a 2-year plan where she accomplished a certification and got some experience in HR tasks through her consulting role.

She moved to her new role within 1½ years (6 months earlier than expected) and this has contributed to her overall happiness and allowed her to excel in the company!

The ultimate goal of a professional development plan is to equip both parties with a firm and actionable agreement on what an employee's intentions are, what their future can look like, and how they can be supported in realising that vision.

Why Create A Professional Development Plan?

To some, professional development plans seem like another symbolic sheet of paper designed to promote high corporate standards. But they're so much more than that. 

In reality, PDPs serve as an invaluable resource to employees and employers and have the potential to enhance the lives of both in a number of ways. 

Consider some of the benefits below.

Benefits for Employees

As the subject of the strategy, employees are obviously suited to benefit from Professional Development Plans.

Personal and Professional Insight

Creating a PDP will help employees better understand themselves, their capabilities, and any areas they'd like to improve. It serves as a form of self-discovery and allows them to gain insight into what they need to do to become more successful, both professionally and personally.

Clarity and Focus

Having a professional development plan can help employees stay focused on their career objectives by providing them with concrete goals and action items. This is something that's often lacking from day-to-day work, where the focus is on immediate tasks and not necessarily progress towards longer-term objectives.

Increased Engagement and Job Satisfaction

PDPs encourage employees to become more engaged in their work because they can see that their efforts are going toward something bigger and meaningful. As a result, this can lead to increased job satisfaction and improved morale.

Benefits for Employers and Managers

Employees aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from professional development plans—managers and organisations get a lot of value too.

Increased Retention

While employee turnover is a multifaceted problem, research indicates that career advancement opportunities are a leading factor in its severity. 

A recent Harris Poll cited it as one of the top reasons why staff leave their jobs, while a Workforce Learning Report from LinkedIn suggests that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional growth.

This makes PDPs an incredibly valuable tool for organisations who struggle with staff retention, and continue to remain essential as the effects of the Great Resignation lag on.

Get weekly insights and how-tos on leadership and HR’s biggest and most pressing topics—right to your inbox.

Get weekly insights and how-tos on leadership and HR’s biggest and most pressing topics—right to your inbox.

Improved Performance and Productivity

By providing employees with a clear, actionable strategy for their professional growth, managers can help them reach their full potential. This can lead to improved performance, better results, and higher productivity on the job.

Aligned Goals and Objectives

PDPs help ensure that the goals of both employees and employers are aligned. This is incredibly important for businesses that want to make sure that the interests of their staff and those of the business are in sync.

With a PDP, managers can work with individual employees to create an actionable plan that meets both their needs.

What’s Included In A Professional Development Plan?

It goes without saying that no two professional development plans will look 100% the same. After all, their whole value stems from the fact that each strategy is tailored to an individual's unique career and goals.

But, with that being said, there are a few core components that every PDP needs to have in order to be effective. These elements serve as the foundation of the process—without them you'd have an unguided mess.

Employee Information

First and foremost, professional development plans should include key pieces of information about the employee in question. Beyond obvious things like name and start date, it ought to outline their specific title, role, day-to-day responsibilities, and history at the company. Including broader information from previous jobs can also be helpful for extra context and reference.


Remember that cake analogy at the beginning of the article? This is where you take stock of your kitchen for ingredients. 

Skills assessments are a key component of professional development plans, as they enable employers and staff to obtain a clear view of a person's interests, existing skill set, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. 

The results of these assessments can be used as a guiding map throughout the rest of the PD process, literally spelling out what elements are missing to make the end goal achievable. 

Assessments also give employers the opportunity to better understand how their employees can be best supported. No two individuals have the same mind, and taking the time to properly evaluate an employee's nature ensures that everyone has a compatible path to success.

Behavioural Profiling: Why It's Essential to Any Professional Development Plan

Behavioural profiling is the process of understanding an individual’s behaviour patterns and how they influence their working style. This can involve looking at their motivations, communication style, and any potential conflicts that may arise when working with others. 

It's an important part of a professional development plan, as it can help managers better understand how to work with their employees and ensure that the plan is effective.

While behavioural profiling isn't absolutely necessary to creating a PDP, it is if you want to make a good one. Understanding how an individual behaves, interacts, and works best with others can help ensure that the plan is designed for their needs and that it's successful in achieving their goals. 

It can also help provide insight into areas where improvement is necessary, allowing the manager to better focus their efforts and resources.

Action Items 

Like the end of any productive meeting, personal development planning has to include some degree of actionable takeaways. The insights of the prior skills assessment should be translated into straightforward, tangible changes that both staff and managers can take to get the ball rolling.

For example, let's say an employee is eager to take on a supervisory role but lacks the background experience to fulfill one. They could agree to take training classes that cover the skills they'd need to learn for a leadership position, while their employer connects them with mentors who can provide necessary guidance.

How to Create A Professional Development Plan With Your Team Member

It's important to recognize that the aforementioned components simply scrape the surface of the professional development planning process. The formal thing is a lot more in-depth and includes several layers of assessments, options, and special considerations.

Below is a step-by-step look at creating a PDP from start to finish.

Step 1: Self-Assessment

Personal Development Planning is best initiated with a self-assessment on behalf of the employee. 

This primary step creates a sample of their individual interests, personality, skills, and values that can be referenced later on. 

Self-assessments can take on a lot of forms, but generally include questions that ask employees to rate their abilities on a scale and provide an open space for them to elaborate on any special talents or traits they possess.

But having someone fill out a document is only the first part of the endeavour—once they've submitted everything it will be time to go over the responses and interpret their meaning.

Consider asking yourself the following questions when doing so:

  • What interests does the employee have outside of work?
  • How do the employee's personal values relate to their current position?
  • What skills do they need to move from their current role to where they want to be?
  • Are there any weaknesses that might be blocking their progress?
  • What kind of training could help them overcome those obstacles?

Step 2: Assessment of the Individual's Skill Profile

Next up is—back to the analogy—seeing what ingredients you have to work with. Are the basics like flour (communication skills) and sugar (smart and logical thinking) covered? 

What about special considerations like strawberries (a background in CRM) and multi-layer pans (a minimum of six years of project management experience)?

Answering these types of questions can help employers get a better understanding of their employees' capabilities and how to optimise them for the best possible outcome.

Conduct interactive assessments, interviews, reviews of work history, and any other practices that will paint a picture of the employee's identity. The results should be compiled into the following four categories for easy reference.

  • Technical skills—these are the specific skills and knowledge required to do a job.
  • Interpersonal skills—this covers the employee's ability to work with colleagues and customers in a professional and approachable manner.
  • Aptitudes—aptitudes are the capacity to learn and develop new competencies, as well as how an employee interprets and applies information.
  • Attitude—this speaks to the overall dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm that the employee brings to their position.

Step 3: Assessment of the Organization's Needs

Every good relationship must have mutual benefit. That's why it's important to assess an employee's needs during the PDP process as well as those of the organisation they work for. 

Ultimately, the two should align in one way or another, and that alignment is how you get the most out of a PDP roadmap.

Management should ask themselves questions like:

  • What skills are our organisation lacking?
  • What changes need to be made in order for us to meet our business objectives?
  • What kind of training do we need in order to remain competitive?
  • Do we have the resources and personnel necessary to support these changes?

Step 4: Exploration of Development Opportunities With the Employee

With a proper idea of what each party at the table needs, it'll be time to explore the possible options. Ideally, you'll want to identify opportunities that are realistic and satisfactory to both sides of the relationship—the employer and the employee.

For example, say an employee wants a career with plenty of room for salary increases. The employer could offer one in a department that requires long-term commitment and career growth. Or, if the employee prefers flexibility and mobility, the employer could suggest a role that allows them to work remotely or travel to different locations on a regular basis. 

In any case, the goal is to find a solution that challenges and supports the employee's growth while also accommodating the organisation's needs.

But new opportunities don't have to be entirely new positions, either. In many cases, it's actually best to start off with smaller steps that accumulate to a greater goal.

Some examples include:

New Projects and Responsibilities

Adding new tasks and projects to an employee's role can help them gain relevant experience in the given field they're interested in without committing to a whole position change. This can be a stretch assignment over a short period or even a permanent venture into a new field that will provide challenging experiences meant to expand and grow the employee's abilities.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs are used to connect more senior and experienced team members into developmental relationships with team members who want to expand their skills and/or experiences.

Mentorship programs are great ways to get employees up to speed with the new skills they need for a career path. It also gives them a chance to learn from their peers and other professionals in the field.

Related read: How To Start An Effective Mentoring Program In 6 Steps

Professional Development Courses

Enrolling in a professional development course, either online or offline, can provide employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to fill in any gaps they may have.

If the employee isn't ready for an entire course, attending a relevant conference or webinar can be a good place to start.

Short-Term Assignments

Temporary assignments allow employees to gain hands-on experience in a new area of the business while still having the flexibility to move back to their original role if needed.

Cross-Training Opportunities

Cross-training initiatives give employees an opportunity to explore different roles in their organisation and build new relationships with colleagues.

Step 5: Tracking Progress

No strategy—whether it involves employee development or not—is complete without progress monitoring and analysis. 

Managers and staff need to be able to identify where their plan is and isn't working, correct any problems, and change course as things go on. 

The best way to do this is by setting specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that are measurable and benchmarkable. For example, you could opt for SMART goals—which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This helps to keep track of how the employee is progressing and whether or not they're meeting their professional development goals.

At the same time, it's important to remember that no PDP is perfect, and the goals should be realistic enough for the employee to achieve. If their targets are too high, they may feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.

Finally, it's important to take feedback into account as well. Regular conversations with the employee will help to create a better understanding of their goals and objectives, which can then be used to adjust the plan accordingly.

Professional Development Plan Example

The below is a screenshot of a three-year professional development plan broken into goals and subsequent actions to reach them.

sample of a professional development plan
Example personal development plan.

Best Practices For Creating And Implementing Professional Development Plans

While professional development plans undoubtedly offer a number of potential benefits, they aren't inherently successful. Reaping full value from the strategy requires effort on behalf of both employers and their staff. 

There are also pitfalls that can happen along the way that you need to be ready for when getting started.

Leverage Software

It's the twenty-first century, which means that today's businesses have no excuse when it comes to the organisation of their PDPs.

Leveraging the right software solution can ensure that everything remains organised, up-to-date, and easily accessible. Many performance management tools allow you to set and track both short and long-term career goals, and incorporate feedback from both involved parties.

Open Communication

Open communication is key to a successful career development process. Be sure to set clear expectations from the start, and encourage open dialogue between managers and staff with regular one on ones. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the plan's objectives, as any misunderstandings can cause costly delays.

Set Goals Wisely

The goals set in a PDP should be realistic, attainable, and measurable. Unrealistic goals will only lead to frustration while setting the bar too low could lead to employees feeling unmotivated and uninspired.

Connect With Human Resources

Your organisation's HR department can help ensure that the PDPs are in line with company policies and strategies. They may also have resources available to help with the plan's implementation and execution.

Follow Through

The most important element of a successful PDP is following through. Doing the work required to achieve the goals is essential, and it's important to provide support, performance reviews, guidance, and resources when needed. Above all, be sure to provide recognition and reward employees for their hard work.

Be Flexible

Finally, it's important to be flexible with the PDP. As employees' skills and goals evolve, so too should their plans. Allowing for changes in direction and new milestones can help ensure that the plan remains relevant and beneficial to everyone involved.

Icing the Cake

Creating and implementing Professional Development Plans is a powerful way to ensure that employees are making the most of their skills, talents, abilities, and interests.

But, half-baked plans and limited follow-through won't get you very far, so it's important to carefully consider each step of the process. You might consider supplementing your plan with some good educational materials, such as books or podcasts dedicated to personal development.

Further resources to help you develop talent in your organization:

Subscribe to the People Managing People Newsletter to receive regular content to help you progress in your career and build happy, productive organizations.

Miriam Groom
By Miriam Groom

Miriam is a nationally renowned industrial & organizational therapist and HR strategist with 15 years of experience in coaching, counselling, employee experience, recruitment, retention, and employee development. She's the CEO and Founder of and Senior Director of Human Capital Consulting at KPMG.