Professional Development Plan Template & Examples For People Leaders
Professional development plans are one of the most powerful retention levers companies have at their disposal. But it takes more than just a learning stipend to get professional development right.
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Ryan Baum remembers the moment he realized his employer wasn’t investing in his professional development as a content marketer. “I wanted to sign up for a discounted course package, and I made a really strong case for how the courses were going to help me bring value to the company as a marketer. The answer from my boss was basically a hard no.”
Ryan, new to his profession and keen to level-up, ended up paying for the $1,500 course pack himself - “the largest purchase I had ever made in my life.”
The frustration of that experience, compounded by a companywide lack of support for professional development, eventually led Ryan to quit the job for an organization where “investment in employees is a priority.”
Ryan’s story is far from unique. Even before the Great Resignation started, 70% of US workers said they’d consider leaving their current employer for one with better professional development opportunities. Post-pandemic, loyalty to employers who don’t invest in growth is at an all-time low.
But there’s a disconnect going on somewhere. While employees feel that their professional development is unsupported, 98% of employers claim to have professional development plans or programs in place. This misalignment costs employers money in low productivity and high team turnover.
Pernille Hippe Brun, founder of executive coaching company Session, is familiar with the disconnect. “What HR and L&D professionals think is needed, and what is actually needed, are not always the same thing. Very often, companies feel that if they just provide courses, or give access to individual coaching journeys, then they’re doing professional development right. But that's not what I hear people say they want”
To offer meaningful professional development planning, HR and People teams need a process that brings in key stakeholders (like managers), creates frictionless feedback loops, and incorporates regular check-ins in which honest conversations happen with managers.
We put together this resource to help you build and implement meaningful professional development plans for your team. In it you’ll find:
- Eduflow’s free professional development plan template, designed to help you build, customize and run a professional development plan process
- Real-life examples of professional development plans from different kinds of companies
- A 4-step implementation plan to get your professional development plan process up and running
- Advice from Pernille Hippe Brun on building a process that works for all stakeholders
To download and use the template right away, create a free-forever Eduflow account. For everything else, keep reading.
📖 Professional development in a changing world
💭 Who inspires you?
Get 360-degree feedback
✍️ What have you been up to?
🏷️ Select your team
🙌 Give feedback
🤔 Read your feedback
Your professional development plan
🧗 Create a professional development plan
👀 Reflect on your feedback
✍️ Submit your final PDP
💪 Assess your goals
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Professional Development Plans Explained
A professional development plan (PDP) is a living document that lays out an employee’s baseline skills and knowledge, their goals, and the necessary steps to reach those goals.
Professional development plans don’t require any fancy formatting or software. Most of the real examples we’ve collected together below are formatted as spreadsheets, embedded tables, or shared documents. Eduflow’s template includes the following PDP structure, which provides a space for:
- Goals: Consider your own reflection and peer feedback to create development goals. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
- An action plan: That describes how you plan to achieve your goal.
- Resources: Tools that you will use to enable your action plan. This can include specific workshops, books, or online courses.
- Measurement: Finally, since your goals are SMART, you should think about specific ways that you can measure whether you have achieved your goal.
Effective professional development plans are bidirectional. The outcomes of the PDP should positively impact both the team-member and the company, and should explain how the employee and employer will work together to further the employee’s career goals and skills.
PDPs form part of the wider performance management and employee development cycle, along with 360 reviews and objectives and key results (OKRs). People teams should consider setting an annual cadence for 360 reviews and performance conversations, and a quarterly cadence for professional development conversations, along with OKRs.
While PDPs and performance management both fall under employee development, PDPs shouldn’t be linked to performance. “When the managers have personal development plan conversations,” says Pernille, “those conversations should solely be about the growth of the employee, not linked to their performance. Because performance conversations are very often linked to pay rises, and whether the team member should get higher pay. Therefore, it becomes hard for the honesty needed for the personal development plan.”
Who’s Involved in Creating Professional Development Plans?
People teams or L&D teams are responsible for the design and implementation of a companywide professional development plan process. Managers and team members are responsible for writing individual professional development plans and updating them every quarter. Company leadership will likely want to be informed about people’s goals and growth. Breaking those responsibilities out into a RACI matrix will help everyone stay aligned:
We’ve broken out the roles and responsibilities in more detail below.
Employees & Professional Development Plans
PDPs are most impactful when the employee is responsible for the document. That means that the employee suggests their own professional development goals, assesses their own baseline skills and knowledge, and, along with the manager, proposes steps towards achieving the plan’s goals.
Managers & Professional Development Plans
Managers are there to support the employee in creating a realistic professional development plan that benefits both the employee and the company. They’re accountable for:
- Creating time for professional development conversations
- Helping the team member set challenging but attainable goals
- Finding assignments or projects that will help the team member hit their goals, while furthering the company’s goals
For Simran Dhupar, Learning & Development Specialist at Deloitte USI, managers play a “pivotal role” in the creation and implementation of professional development plans. “We have discussions with [managers] to understand what skillsets are needed for the roles to ensure they're all included in the professional development plans. We also involve them in development and performance discussions, and coach them on how to translate those results into visible actions for their team.”
Managers may need help in structuring professional development conversations in the right way, and finding resources to support their team’s growth. That’s where People teams come in.
L&D or HR Teams & Professional Development Plans
People teams have two main areas of responsibility for professional development plans:
- Designing a process that’s easy to follow and use
- Supporting stakeholders, especially managers, to play a meaningful role in professional development plan.
We suggest using Eduflow’s professional development plan template as a jumping off point for designing the process. The template has built-in mechanisms to help the employee gather feedback and development suggestions, and quarterly self-reflection prompts.
To support managers, Pernille recommends “helping the manager have development conversations in a way that means people will actually feel heard and understood and valued and, and really, that someone cares about the growth. When the company manages to do that, that's when they really feel that the company is actually giving them an opportunity to learn.”
Professional Development Plan Examples
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on what an employee’s professional development plan looks like. Below, we’ve gathered together real-world examples from a variety of organizations.
Eduflow’s Professional Development Plan
Eduflow’s free template has an example of what a typical professional development plan might look like:
Axelerant’s Professional Development Plan
Agency support service Axelerant uses two types of professional development plans with their team—role-focused professional development plans, and transformational professional development plans.
Role-focused (Axelerant calls them ‘rotational’) professional development plans focus on employees on the first four rungs of Axelerant’s career ladder, and aim to get these individual contributors progressing through the roles.
Transformational professional development plans enable meaningful internal mobility, giving employees the opportunity to transform their career and make lateral moves at the company.
You can read more about how Axelerant runs professional development plans here.
Clara Agency’s Professional Development Plans
Professional development planning is often overlooked in fast-paced environments like agencies. But SEO agency Clara prioritizes development for both employees and freelancers.
Co-founder Rebekah Edwards uses a Notion document to share growth opportunities, wins, and article-specific feedback with her freelance writers:
“It’s a lot of work upfront for freelancers,” says Rebekah, “but we’ve found that doing that work at the beginning means our editing workload goes down by about 75% long-term, because we’ve helped our writers develop.”
Like Ryan Baum, Rebekah felt unsupported by her previous employers when it came to professional development. When she co-founded the agency, she was committed to the idea that “no one else should be kept in the dark about their growth and progress.”
You can duplicate the Notion template Rebekah uses here.
Session’s Professional Development Plans
Session, the online coaching company that Pernille founded, formats their team’s PDPs as tables. Interestingly, Session deliberately focuses on the person’s strengths in the PDP, leveraging those strengths as ways to overcome barriers to growth.
The Session PDP also asks team members to predict possible obstacles, and commit to giving themselves small rewards when they hit a growth goal.
Steps in the PDP Implementation Process
Establishing professional development plans across a team involves an upfront time investment from HR and L&D teams. Once the system is up and running, however, People teams can reduce involvement and play a supporting role to managers and employees.
Step 1: Identify Baseline Skills for Each Role
The HR team’s first job is to map the baseline skills of the roles that will create professional development plans. This helps team members understand how to grow in their current role, as well as thinking about how to grow beyond that role in the future.
Over at Deloitte India, Simran uses the company’s in-house assessments, plus her experience garnered from previous jobs and projects, to define baseline skills for each role. “The professional development plans we develop are based on assessments, so they are scientific and have space for customization as well.” If you don’t have in-house assessments to lean on, Simran recommends using “the skills identified in a Job Task Analysis to see which skills are essential for the role and how you could have professional development plan’s defined for them”.*
*Simran's views are her own and not representative of Deloitte policy
Step 2: Design the Process
Next, outline what you want the professional development plan creation process to look like for both employees and managers. This might mean defining:
- The format and structure of the company’s professional development plans
- The frequency of professional development conversations
- Feedback and self-reflection mechanisms, including how people will ask for and receive feedback on their progress
- Training for managers in how to have fruitful development conversations
- An internal communications plan for the project
If you use Eduflow’s template, then most of the points above are already set up for you. The template walks employees through the process of soliciting feedback, reflecting on their goals and progress, and checking in with their managers.
The template can be duplicated and customized according to varying company and team needs. There are also tagging features that allow you to show different content to different users, making the template easy to scale across diverse teams and roles, while keeping all documentation in one central location.
Step 3: Create Resources to Support Development Conversations
Successful development conversations don’t always happen naturally. Some managers may need guidance in how to ask the right questions, and provide appropriate learning resources or opportunities.
Have those resources ready to go before launching the professional development plan process, says Pernille. “Tips for open and honest conversations, information on what resources are available, and the option to bring in external resources like coaching. So when there’s something in a professional development plan in which the manager doesn’t have expertise, that’s an opportunity to bring an outside resource in.”
Step 4: Follow Up to Make Sure Check-Ins Happen
Create a clear expectation by establishing a 3-month cadence for development check-ins. To do this, you can simply duplicate Eduflow’s professional development plan template for the same team members, and ask them to repeat the process. The template has a self-reflection module built in, prompting team members to look back on progress over the last 90 days.
Make Professional Development Work, For Employees & For The Company
Successful professional development isn’t about stipends or spending, but about setting up a scalable process that puts the employee at the centercentre of their own growth, and provides adequate support. Ryan Baum, the guy who left his job because of lack of development, says “even just something as simple as bringing a subject matter expert in for a lunch-and-learn, or finding resources to support the team, means everyone benefits and grows.”
Ryan’s now at a job “180 degree different” from the one he left, in which he feels like his development is prioritized. Building a professional development process that helps employees feel invested in is a key step on the road to team retention and growth. Get started with Eduflow’s free template right now.