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An Individual Leadership Development Plan: Where Training Can Help

by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.

“Isn’t everyone supposed to have a development plan that gets updated annually?” asked Tim, my internal client, as he sat down next to me at lunch.

I took a breath. Yes, development was much talked about in our organization, and even though performance evaluation time supposedly also was development planning time, the truth was many of our managers were lucky just to get the appraisal done by the deadline. There really was little opportunity for them to put together a thoughtful development plan with the employee being evaluated.

Tim’s question was a good one, and one that is made by increasing numbers of employees, especially as the ranks of millennials in the workforce swell. Many employees are still waiting for that magical conversation about development with their manager, and too many managers are wondering how to go about having that conversation.

But if we hope to keep managers like Tim with us, and support others who hope to become managers, it is up to us to put together a process by which every current or potential leader has opportunities to develop as well as to contribute.

Here’s where support and facilitation from training and development can make a difference.  In some organizations, all supervisors receive training in how to help employees with their development plan. In others, the trainers work with supervisors one-on-one. Either way, the organization reaps the benefits of more engaged employees with increased capacity.

Six Key Elements in a Development Plan:

  1. Preparation and gap analysis
  2. Supportive structure
  3. Conversation(s) and agreement
  4. Sponsorship
  5. Action and encouragement
  6. Follow up and documentation

Examples of the Role of Training and Development

  • Your role may be as concrete as providing a sample development plan format that Tim and his manager could use.
  • Or you may simply outline the steps they can follow and let them take it from there.
  • Or you may design a training session for supervisors so that they know the six key steps and how to navigate through them, including practicing how to have development conversations with employees.
  • Your role could be to provide assistance to the manager, the employee or both.
  • You may also be involved in giving guidance to a third party, such as a leader or a mentor who is essential to the employee’s development in some way.  For some leaders, and in some organizations, the involvement of a high level sponsor ensures that the development activity takes place and that it leads to future career opportunities.

Step One: The Biggest

A solid development plan hinges on Step One: Preparation and Gap Analysis.  First, is there feedback about this individual from the talent review or performance evaluation processes that could help to shape a development plan for the future? Is there an organizational view about what level he or she could possibly reach? What do we know about the individual’s goals and plans for the future? His or her knowledge, skills and abilities, both their current state and their potential, needs to be taken into account. How do the employee’s capabilities match up to the organization’s expectations of its leaders? These factors, many of them known by the manager or by past managers, need to be assembled in order to create a meaningful development plan. When Step One is done well, the development plan is on a firm foundation.

Your role as an advisor could be to provide some of the data for Step One, pulling together information so the manager and employee have a starting point.

You also may need to help the manager prepare for the conversation with the employee about developmental needs and interests.

Getting Underway

Let’s say the employee and his manager do have that development conversation, and together determine that for the employee to advance, he needs greater financial acumen.  (You concur, believing this to be a realistic goal.) Besides a project assignment that will build those skills, he also needs tutoring in the specific areas of project estimating and budget management. But what if the manager doesn’t feel particularly skilled in this area and would like to involve a key finance staffer to help the employee? This is a great example of where additional resources and sponsorship can help make development take place. It takes a “village,” or in this case, more than one department’s efforts, to develop a leader. Your role may be to enlist others to offer support, and to remind Tim and his supervisor to continue progress toward their goal, so they don’t get bogged down.

Hopefully the employee and his manager have agreed on not just what skills he will work to enhance, but also in what timeframe, and with what support. Generally a development plan has a cycle to it, a period of time in which it is to be completed. Then the process begins again, and new goals are developed.

In this stage, you may be involved in evaluating whether Tim is making progress on the goal or whether more resources are needed, more time devoted to it, etc. At a minimum you can help ensure that Tim’s progress on or completion of the goal is part of his next annual performance review.

Regardless of whether you are designing and conducting training sessions for managers, demonstrating how to work with employees on development planning, or working one-on-one to support the process, it is critical work to the organization and essential to its future leadership. Best of luck!

About the Author

Sue Plaster, M.Ed. has invested more than 30 years of her career in the diversity and cross-cultural communication arena. Her consulting work focuses on assistance to small and large organizations with diversity and cultural competence, as well as succession planning that take diversity into account.  Sue also serves individual clients as a career transition and mobility advisor.  Sue’s industry experience includes health care delivery, health care manufacturing, controls manufacturing, and secondary education.   Sue holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota, with a focus in leadership development. Her undergraduate degree is in English, Speech and Education from Saint Catherine University.  Sue has been an instructor in Internal Communications for the University of St. Thomas Master’s in Business Communication and presents at numerous local and regional conferences. You can connect with Sue through Writing Assistance, Inc. at  www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com.