Seven steps to writing a good development plan

Apr 27, 2015 | Good Management

A good development plan can really help an underperformer uplift their performance, but it’s not just for use when there is a poor performance issue. Development plans can also give a core performer a renewed focus or inspire a top-performer to develop their skills.

Putting together an effective development plan is easy if you follow these simple steps:

1. Work in partnership with the employee

For an employee to be encouraged to tackle the actions on the plan they must be fully engaged in the process. While some people would struggle to write their own development plan most will have a reasonable idea of their strengths and weaknesses and be able to articulate areas they wish to focus on. By listening to what your employee thinks you stand a much better chance of coming up with a plan that is workable for both of you.

2. Start with a conversation

This could be after an appraisal or one-to-one or it may be more appropriate to sit down and have a specific discussion about areas of development. You should give an employee notice of the meeting so they can fully contribute to the discussion, and you should also come prepared with your own ideas to keep the conversation on track.

3. Keep it brief

Long development plans with many actions can be difficult to manage because they take longer to review and can become more of a burden than a help. Keep the plan short, with between three and five objectives. You can always put a new plan in place once the old one is completed.

4. Be SMART!

For the best results, whatever objectives are agreed should follow the SMART principles below:

Specific – make it clear exactly what the employee is expected to do.
Measurable – if you can’t measure it then it’s not objective. A measure could be very simple such as has the task been completed, yes or no? Or more complicated such as a specific target, for example to achieve an error rate of less than 5% for quarter 3.
Achievable – set an unachievable objective and you will only achieve failure so make sure you are making a reasonable request. Ask: can the employee do this? When will they do this? How much help will they need to do this and can that assistance be provided?
Relevant – ask yourself “is there a point to this?” If there isn’t, don’t do it.
Timebound – it is important that there is a clear deadline by which to have completed the action.

5. Have a clear end date

A development plan needs to be for a specific period to allow for a final review and sign-off. If there is no end date motivation from all parties can wane and the plan becomes redundant.

6. Plan in time to complete the agreed actions

It is demoralising and potentially relationship damaging to promise development and then fail to allow time to meet the objectives. Consider when putting together the plan how much input will be needed from colleagues, management and the employee and if necessary schedule specific times to compete the actions from the plan.

7. Review regularly

Book in your review times when you set up the plan. Depending on the agreed actions you may need to review daily, weekly, monthly or less often.

Do make sure you are reviewing the plan together so that any difficulties can be identified and rectified early and to show that you are interested in the plan which will help motivate the employee. A review should be a two way discussion but does not have to take very long if done frequently.

At the final review meeting you should either agree to sign-off the plan or extend it. Either way, if you have had regular reviews that outcome should come as no surprise to the employee and if you have built a good relationship, put together a sensible plan and offered reasonable support during the process even a failure to sign-off can be a positive experience for the employee if handled honestly and sensitively.

If you would like any assistance or advice on writing development plans do get in touch.