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How to Use a Professional Development Plan to Support and Empower Your Employees

While 2021 was the year of recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, the years ahead will be a period of growth for businesses and employees alike.

One of the top five drivers of great workplace culture is opportunities to learn and grow. But according to the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2022, employees who feel that their skills aren’t put to good use in their current job are 10x more likely to look for a new job.

A professional development plan is a tool managers can use with their employees to measure performance, self-assessment, self-discovery, goal setting, and taking action. It can identify the skills and resources needed to support your employees’ career goals and business needs.

Learn how to create an employee professional development plan that is meaningful, robust, and aligns with your business priorities. 

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan (PDP) is a structured framework that helps employees and employers reflect, identify, and set goals. It has clear timescales for upskilling, reskilling, and accomplishing career goals—all linked to organizational priorities.

PDPs are an effective way to support employee career growth, help achieve career goals and offer genuine learning opportunities that improve retention and engagement. Moreover, research shows that 73 percent of employees would consider leaving their current role for the right job offer, even if they’re not actively looking for a new job.

A meaningful PDP will show employees that you’re committed to their goals, helping them visualize their future with your company.

Why is creating a professional development plan important?

High employee satisfaction and engagement are two critical factors in successful businesses. Gallup found that the companies with the highest engagement are 23 percent more profitable than those with the lowest engagement.

Creating a PDP can improve employee engagement and retention rates by:

  • Showing team members they are valued. As part of your PDP, dedicate time to discuss and review achievements to make employees feel supported. Doing this gives them confidence that their time spent learning is valued and recognized. 
  • Staying competitive in the job market. Some 82 percent of employees believe they’ll need to develop new skills at least once a year to remain competitive in the marketplace. A PDP is a powerful tool for identifying required skills.
  • Helping employees who lack motivation. Setting and accomplishing personal goals gives a sense of satisfaction. A PDP can make employees feel passionate about their work with clear goals and paths to success, increasing motivation.

Developing a PDP with employees also supports managers in measuring performance. By defining goals and resources, managers truly understand employee strengths and weaknesses and can take action to address any difficulties. 

How to create a professional development plan

Creating a PDP with your employee isn’t a tick box exercise to show you have discussed their learning goals. Instead, a PDP should be valuable, meaningful, and timely to employees and managers.

Let’s look at how to develop a professional development plan with your team members. 


The key to successful self-assessment is honesty and transparency. A PDP can become obsolete if employees don’t fully engage or aren’t truthful with themselves. 

Encourage employees to be open in sharing their existing skills and areas for development by sharing their strengths and weaknesses. Doing this can create a safe and trusting space for onward discussion.

Here are some questions to help employees start their self-assessment:

  • Are there any areas of your job that take more time or that you no longer do?
  • Which parts of your job do you enjoy the most? Which are the least enjoyable tasks?
  • What are three things you did well within the last three months? Why do you think you were successful?
  • What career growth or professional goals do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months?
  • What support and resources can the company offer to help you achieve your goals?
  • What specific skills would you like to develop next, and what timeframe would you expect?

Set goals

The self-assessment provides all the information you need for the next step: setting goals.

Make professional development plans manageable by breaking goals into smaller chunks. Set SMART goals that are easy to track and simple to update when achieved.

  • Specific. When goals are vague, a PDP can lack focus and leave room to lose track of what employees actually want to achieve
    • Non-specific: I want to get a better job
    • Specific: I want to land a promotion to Senior Marketer
  • Measurable. Goals need to be measurable so that employees can see tangible evidence along the way. For example, setting a specific date: 
    • Non-measurable: I will get a promotion soon
    • Measurable: I want to receive a Senior Marketer job offer in writing by December 2023
  • Achievable. Reflect on how to win that promotion. Encourage your team to work backward and think about the steps they’ve already taken in anticipation of their goal.
    • Non-achievable: I want to increase my salary by 100% by next week
    • Achievable: I want to increase my salary by 20% by 2023
  • Relevant. In this example, promotion to Senior Marketer is the next step on the career ladder. Employees may already be job shadowing to extend some skills, so identify other steps to further their prospects.
    • Non-relevant: I want to learn more about managing staff
    • Relevant: I want to job shadow senior marketers to build my confidence and learn more about their roles
  • Timely. Set a realistic time frame and have your goal be something to aim for
    • Not timely: I will land a promotion by next week
    • Timely: I want to job shadow senior marketers for one day per week for six months to help me get my promotion

Read more: How to Create Professional Development Goals That Work

Develop strategies

Now that your employee has set realistic goals with a clear time frame, the next step is to develop the strategies needed to achieve these goals.

Ask your employee to think about how they can accomplish each objective. For example:

  • Reading more articles on the latest research
  • Surrounding themselves with empowering people who believe in their success 
  • Attending industry conferences with an experienced team member to expand their network

Regardless of the roadmap you support your employees to execute, include a variety of approaches, from learning from other people and learning through doing. It can help under-confident team members find L&D opportunities that keep them on track. 

Gather your resources 

A personal development plan would be meaningless for employees without identifying the tools needed to reach their potential. 

Encourage employees to use L&D materials that are already accessible to them. If your organization has a series of online learning modules, for example, ensure they understand how to access this information—particularly if they’re new hires. Otherwise, it will limit the range of resources available to include in their PDP.

Similarly, a mentor could offer employees the skills they need to achieve their goals. For example, an employee may have a goal of wanting to become a manager, and working with an established manager can help build their leadership skills. Similarly, a new hire could benefit from working with an experienced team member on organizational culture and values.

Track the impact of previous learning programs by giving constructive feedback—it can influence decision-making with any future training. If an employee has recently improved their digital skills, for example, they may now want to extend their skills by honing in on a particular software or communication platform.

Create a timeline

Timelines keep everyone on track and help them pivot to find alternative resources when needed. In addition, you’ll identify roadblocks ahead of time, such as limited funds to pay for external training while waiting to set budgets. Finally, it’ll give you enough time to set expectations with your employees and show they’re valued.

Not only that, a robust PDP showing a timeline for each goal will set out tasks in manageable steps. It’ll prevent your employees from feeling overwhelmed with how much progress they’ve yet to make towards their big-picture goal. 

Track your progress

With self-assessment completed, goals, resources, and timeline identified, now’s the time to track the progress and agree on regular review dates. 

Track progress as your team members work through their PDPs. Seeing progress can increase employee self-confidence and self-motivation. Employees can gain confidence simply by taking action toward their goals, even if they don’t accomplish them within a specified time limit. 

Above all, be prepared to revise a PDP with your employee. A PDP isn’t a static document; it’s a work-in-progress framework that must adapt depending on your employees’ priorities.

Use a learning management platform for professional development plans

WorkRamp is an All-in-One Learning Management Platform where you can create and store the training identified in a PDP in a single, easy-to-use platform.

Share training materials across your team and monitor learning and development for individual employees—perfect for reviewing the progress of a PDP. Managers and employees can consolidate learning and track outcomes using simple dashboards and CRM integrations.

PartnerHero used WorkRamp to create engaging experiences, complete training to decrease ramp time and learn the knowledge and skills they need to be effective leaders. Using WorkRamp, PartnerHero created 340 new guides in just a few months.

“WorkRamp gives our employees ongoing learning opportunities,” says Robyn Barton, PartnerHero’s former Global Director of Talent Development. “It’s our primary platform for enabling employees to really embrace growth–one of PartnerHero’s core values. Creating self-service skills libraries, WorkRamp enables learners to choose sources that fit their needs.”

An effective learning management platform makes learning easy. It can provide a great user experience and help employees achieve learning goals in their PDP–motivating, inspiring, and building confidence.


Develop a personal development plan with confidence

A PDP is a valuable tool for managing and shaping employee performance, motivating your team, and inspiring personal growth. 

A personal development plan helps companies to develop the skills that make the overall business and its employees future-ready. Organizations that create a learning environment where their employees can reach their goals will succeed in the future of work

WorkRamp is an All-in-One Learning Platform that can help you create a culture of learning for your company. Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.


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Elise Dopson

WorkRamp Contributor

Elise Dopson is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies. She’s also the co-founder of Peak Freelance and mom to an adorable Spaniel pup.

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