Build ninja employees with a focused employee development plan (includes how to screen shots and an example plan in PDF)

Quick Summary

photo of engaged employeesWant to avoid the overwhelm of one-size-fits-all employee development plans that don’t engage employees? 

The better way to improve employee performance is to customize a tight employee development plan from a bucket of proficiencies. 

There are several benefits to refocusing your individual development plans this way, including:

  • A plan focused on job proficiencies increases employee buy-in and engagement, because they work on factors they can control
  • Large annual plans have become an exercise in CYA (cover your ass) for both employees and managers; a tight quarterly plan holds both parties more accountable
  • A plan that is job-role focused makes it easier to measure employee performance metrics each quarter

This article guides you with step-by-step instructions and screenshots to set up an innovative employee development plan that gets results.

Includes free employee individual development plan examples in fillable PDF & Excel

You can use these Free employee development plan templates to model and deploy to your employees right away.

In this article, Build ninja employees with a focused employee development plan (includes screen shots and an example plan in PDF) you will discover:

Why one-size-fits-all employee development plans fall massively

Most employee development plans fail massively because they are huge, standardized HR wish lists designed to please the employer’s corporate mandates. 

Instead, they should be customized to one objective: building and measuring the performance growth of the employee. 

Many corporations are confused about this objective. 

They build out expansive, annual career action plans instead of a simple quarterly employee development plan that develops employee skills and leadership. 

In order to include every possible contingency, and add every possible wish list, many organizations end up building these huge, sprawling, bloated, unworkable 🦁 beasts:

From this small sample of the approaches to individual employee development objectives, you can see the wide disparity about what exactly employee development is. It’s everything to everyone.

To cover for this confusion, many HR teams build a huge scope to the plan, which makes it a burden for everyone. 

This is the one big mistake many organizations make, that I see in the field. They try to mix corporate development goals with personal development goals. 

Unfortunately, this confuses the key objective of employee development.

Rather than a lean tool to build ninja employee performance and job skill growth, a “corporate citizen” oriented development plan will fail to build performance because:

  • It does not build buy-in from the employee, who is overwhelmed and distracted with the huge scope of the plan, and ends up just filling it out because it’s mandatory
  • It asks employees to focus on corporate factors that are outside of their control, creating anxiety and confusion
  • It does not build buy-in from busy managers or directors, who often have multiple employees to manage – they can’t stand to oversee these bloated development plans – so they also mechanically complete them just to CYA 

Stop wasting everyone’s time with career development objectives that have too large a scope

If you have your employees chasing a corporate ‘wish list’ of development goals that are not urgent, you are wasting everyone’s time and energy. 

Worst of all, you are dissipating their focus to areas they can’t control or improve.

There are just too many variables for an employee to manage with a “one-size-fits-all” skills development plan. 

It’s like giving employees a Rubik’s cube to solve!

photo of a rubik's cube

Do your employee development plans have too large a scope?

Especially if you mix corporate HR goals, community outreach, and DEI goals along with employee development goals. It doesn’t make sense and is shown to cause overwhelm. 

Plus, it increases the complexity of getting a handle on employee performance metrics.

Yet many businesses try to do just that. 

In an attempt to maintain consistent, uniform corporate performance standards across the board, many managers and HR often end up throwing everything under the sun into the development plan.

Ultimately and sadly, this ends up giving the same set of development goals to every employee! 

This creates growth flatline, mediocrity and does not increase employee growth or effectiveness in their specific job role. 

As a career development coach, I know the focus needs to be on the employee’s job role, not the vast, all-encompassing company goals.

So I designed this innovative career plan development template to do development plans right.

Building a lean and organized employee development plan template by limiting its scope

You will be relieved to discover this lean and organized employee development plan template below.

I designed it to help both managers and employees to avoid the overwhelm of the sprawling development plan, by limiting its scope to the employee job roles.

Using a super easy and innovative process, you can quickly build a reusable template in three steps: 

  1. Manager builds a one-time bucket of desired proficiencies from the employee job description; (once these templates are set up, they take less than 15 minutes to template each quarter)
  2. Employee and employer sit down (or zoom) to rate and rank development proficiencies together using the simple checklist template 
  3. They agree on development plan action items together for the quarter, and sign off on a quarterly summary they can refer to regularly

This keeps you to a tight, workable scope of professional development that has buy-in from both parties. 

PS: For corporate leadership development or long-term career path action plans you need to devise a separate plan. This way you don’t conflate short-term performance improvement with long-term career path objectives. 

Ninja performance levels – what is most urgent for the employee to develop this quarter?

In my employee development coach role, I’ve learned that the best employee development plan templates are daily action steps. This helps increase mindfulness by helping them to concentrate on the now, over a quarter (in rare cases, monthly.) 

This concept uses the principle known as Kaizen: focusing on small, simple improvements consistently, to generate ninja performance levels. This is possible for any employee.

Small daily improvement action steps work because the short-term steps automatically add up to accomplish long-term career growth over time. It works like a savings account.

By adhering to only the proficiencies in their job descriptions, the employee masters what is important for success in their role.

The key difference between career action plans vs. employee development plans that every manager seems to miss

One BIG problem with employee development plans is they are confused with Career Action Plans, which have different objectives. 

Action plans are intended to cover way more ground and scope. Treating a development plan like an action plan allows sprawl and mission creep to bloat what should be a simple objective. 

And there is some disagreement in career development theory on what they even are!

Let’s clear this difference up right now:

A Career Action Plan is a mid-term to long-term career path management plan

  • It starts with a long-term or ultimate career goal of 1 to 3 years out
  • It is achieved by working backward through mid-term proficiency goals, short term goals, and daily action steps

Career Pathing is more of a leadership development plan, 3 to 5+ years out, wider in scope than an action plan, intending to groom employees to senior management

  • It may include a position growth path, working in multiple departments or roles, gaining additional education, executive mentoring, travel between locations, skills development, etc. as needed

An employee development plan (EDP) is a focused, short term performance growth plan

  • It is a recurring quarterly growth tool that enables the employee to master a bucket of job role skills masterfully and permanently
  • It focuses only on a few urgent growth priorities at a time
  • It is short-term, quarter by quarter performance improvement, and growth plan
  • It maintains employee performance metrics
  • EDP includes management input, guidance, and engagement
  • It’s built on a shared consensus between employee and manager

The gist of the EDP is to maintain concentration on employees’ performance development and growth into their role. This is accomplished with short-term objectives. 

The employee development plan is not the place to focus on serving the entire career path function. 

Yes, the employee development plan may include objectives to prepare employees for a larger future role. This is done through employees’ skills development in their current position. 

If they grow to be superstars in their current position, that is intrinsically readying them for the next step up their career path ladder.

Developing employee’s individual strengths

Every employee has different strengths, and different proficiencies in need of development.

Even two employees in the same role can have differing proficiency requirements. (For example, one salesperson may handle inbound leads and another outbound. It’s the same sales role ‘on paper’ yet it is two different sets of skills to develop.) 

So a manager’s ultimate goal in any EDP is to prioritize focus on where each individual’s performance needs growth. To bring the employee up to master best practices for their role.

The three simple steps to build the ultimate employee development plan

You can build this focused employee development plan in three simple steps as follows:

  1. Develop a bucket of proficiencies from employee job description
    • Break out job role proficiencies into three job role modules: job role, support role, and soft skills
    • Keep the plan employee-centered to avoid overwhelm and complexity
    • Avoiding loading up plan with long term career path goals or ‘corporate citizen’ goals – create an annual plan for those
  2. Employee and manager rate and rank which skills to prioritize development, then they agree to a final shortlist together
  3. When done with prioritizing and agreeing on quarterly goals, manager creates a summary sheet of quarterly goals so employee can refer to them daily & weekly

The result is a simple, clean focused plan that is a partnership between employee and manager, focused only on increasing employee’s effectiveness and growth. 

Once it is set up, it can be administered in a 15-minute meeting each quarter and the employee is self-motivated from there.

Who can benefit from this individual career development template?

This template concept can be used by all levels of management, including: 

  • Dept. Managers: Any department manager who wants to raise the standards of the entire team by growing each individual employees’ proficiencies
  • Business Owners: A small business owner or manager who has minimal HR resources but has key employees who need accountability to role and skill development
  • Individual self-improvement: This template concept works as an individual self-growth plan for any individual who wants to do-it-yourself to crush personal improvement goals or professional goals for work
  • Directors: Corporate C-level directors who want to tighten their focus to motivate key employees to high levels of productivity and maximize labor ROI for the corporation

No matter what management level you are at, this innovative model works wonders to engage employees, and best of all you are keeping things simple and low maintenance.

Before we get down to developing the three steps of this EDP, let’s talk about staying focused.

Focus: Identify personal development goals from a bucket of proficiencies

The innovation of this template is you can now customize each development plan quickly from a bucket of proficiencies derived from employee’s Job Description. You only have to build out the bucket of proficiencies one time.

These proficiencies are organized into three modules for easy organization and priority.

Remember, you are not laying out a laundry list or wish list of every single area the employee ‘should’ develop. Especially soft skills wish lists.

Your goal is to focus ONLY on key employee development areas that are pertinent to the best practices of the job position, as derived from the job description. 

The beauty of this bucket approach is that all employee plans are held to the same uniform corporate standards, but each with different customized proficiencies, specific to their roles. 

Note on corporate required proficiencies: For some of the more professional development plans, you may need to draw up a permanent bucket of mandatory/required corporate proficiencies. These are found in corporate governance, sustainability, or operating model documents. 

For example, all employees are expected to follow the same job site safety and technology security protocols. 

Keep these corporate development proficiencies to the minimum, or better, set up a separate process or plan

Ok, let’s get to the three steps to build ninja employee performance, using a lean development plan.

Step one: Identify the three modules of job role proficiencies to build the development plan

This is the most important part of developing your employee development plan: building out the list of job role proficiencies from the employee job description and position requirements.

To keep this process clear for manager and employee alike, I’ve found that the best way is to break out the bucket into three modules of job role proficiencies.

  • Module One: Job role functions
  • Module Two: Job support functions
  • Module Three: Job role soft skills. 

This three-way breakout maintains focus beautifully because you are not mixing support functions and soft skills together with the most crucial job-role skills.

Module one: Job role functions

  1. Identify the universe of all job-related functions into a bucket, the “best practices” for the role:
    1. all role-specific functions for main job role of employee from job description and job requirements
    2. industry and company-specific proficiencies
    3. technology platform-specific
illustration of the individual employee development plan example 2

Example: Job role proficiencies module

  1. Module Two: Assess what support functions need development in order for employee to be most effective in their job role.
    1. time management
    2. skill in working with other departments
    3. cooperation skills
    4. composing emails
    5. customer service best practices
    6. safety protocols in how every employee operates
    7. security measures that all employees adhere to
    8. concise phone calls
    9. accurate & on time reports
    10. morning arrival, lunches and breaks kept on time
    11. brand building
    12. reducing theft, shrinkage or spoilage
    13. etc.

Illustration of Job Support Proficiencies chart

Example: Job role support proficiencies module

  1. Module Three: assess what ‘soft’ areas need development or to be minimized
    1. patience
    2. respect
    3. tact
    4. courtesy in dealing with staff
    5. listening skills
    6. etc.

Illustration of Office soft skills list

Example: Job role support proficiencies module

Once built out, this is a one-time process that you can refer back to indefinitely, each quarter. 

Note: When you break each of the job role areas into specific proficiencies, get as granular and detailed as possible. 

For example, a job role support proficiency can’t be “Compose more prospect emails per day.” It is better to be stated as specifics such as “Shorten the amount of time it takes to compose emails by 50% this quarter.”  Or “Work on emails only from 9 to 10 am, and 3 to 4 pm.”

Now that you have identified the permanent bucket of specific development proficiencies, organized in three modules, you are ready for step two. 

Step two: Self-rating and ranking areas of employee development by both employee and manager

The EDP is presented to employee, where they and manager go through a simple checklist in each module of the plan worksheet. It can be emailed ahead of time.

Employee self-rating column: employee self-rates proficiencies and ranks the most urgent ones for development this quarter  

  • First, the employee breezes through a uniform list of the proficiencies for their career role. They self-select the areas of growth they feel they are in need of, using a self-rating scale of 1 to 10 to assess their competence in each proficiency
  • For each self-rating, employee then ranks the urgency of need for improvement, like an A, B, or C, A being most urgent
    • For example, a self-rating of 4 in the number of customer contacts per day has much more urgency than a rating of 4 in email compose time 

Manager rating column: manager rates and ranks each proficiency in need of development  

  • The manager goes through the same list of proficiencies as employee
    • Manager double-check rating and ranking of each chosen proficiency for accuracy and agreement
    • Mgr. can assign their own rank and ratings of proficiencies

illustration of the individual employee development plan example 3

Example: Rating and Ranking urgency of proficiencies development by employee and manager

Agreed on areas to improve column: employee and manager discuss and agree on which proficiencies to prioritize.

The manager has final say on which proficiency is a priority to develop over this next quarter. This is where the innovation of this plan reveals itself.

This is the partnership in action. The manager and employee are both engaged, rating and ranking employee’s proficiencies together. 

If the manager sees proficiencies in need of improvement where employee may have a blind spot, they can rank and rate those differently than employee, and then discuss. The manager has the final say of which 3 to 5 proficiencies development is most urgent this quarter (bright yellow column).

illustration of the individual employee development plan example completed 2

Step Two: Three proficiencies identified and agreed upon, with final say by manager

Caution: To avoid overwhelm in your individual development plan, keep it employee-centered!

The goal here is to prioritize focus on those 4 or 5 urgent areas most in need of improvement, not have employee work on the whole bucket of proficiencies each quarter.

Please keep the development plan employee-centered. 

This means avoiding the temptation to throw in a ton of deliverables. Choose only 3 to 5 proficiencies out of all three modules.

No employee can be expected to work on 10 or 15 urgent development initiatives in a quarter, much the less an entire bucket of proficiencies. Otherwise, they will get paralyzed with overwhelm. 

Corporate goals, long-term career path goals, DEI, etc. should be addressed separately.

Out of the entire 3 modules bucket of job proficiencies, support proficiencies, and soft skills, you need to identify at most 3 to 5 urgent specifics to develop. This allows the employee to get deeply invested in those. a 

This limited focus of 3 to 5 proficiencies is how you create permanent kaizen growth and improvement.

Note: If you feel you need to cover more than 5 proficiencies for improvement, you may want to address soft skills, corporate goals, long-term goals, etc. monthly instead of quarterly. 

For crucial job role proficiency development, a month is typically too short of a time period to make a permanent job role change.

Note: Many managers struggle with this narrowing down process, because of course they (or corporate policy) want employees to excel in everything. Have the patience and trust that less is more here 

Stay present-focused: Focus only on this quarter, don’t look at the next cycle

You want deep employee focus to be on NOW in the PRESENT: improving performance this quarter. 

If you have urgencies for the following quarter, keep notes on them in a separate place. No need to bring them up this quarter.

Step three: Summarize quarterly employee development goals in a goals summary, so employees can refer to them daily

Once the final set of proficiencies is rated, ranked, and agreed upon, the worksheet is complete. 

But the development plan is not.

To maintain employee ninja focus, these final proficiencies are transferred to a one-page summary sheet.

The employee can save it in tasks, calendar, or hard copy to refer to it daily.

  • For the most powerful employee development results, I strongly suggest you have employees schedule 15 minutes per week to review progress, to ask for help, to work on specifics, research and continue tightening proficiencies

Adding rewards and recognition to reinforce employee engagement motivation

Recognition, awards, spiffs, or other rewards, helps build special motivation for employee to exceed development plan performance goals.

I include a schedule of rewards with many examples in my Employee Development Plan Template Kit, which is now available. This article is an excerpt from that publication.

Here are your free employee development plan templates in PDF and Excel, with completed examples

Includes instructions. Simply customize these templates for your immediate use with your employees. 

Note: This article is an excerpt from the Employee Development Plan Template Kit.

These free downloadable templates in this article do not include instructions and templates for the Quarterly summary, Daily goals summary, Manager Review, and Rewards & Awards templates.

The complete EDP Template Kit does. It gives you a step-by-step guide to creating a customized plan, quarterly summary, instructions for manager review, and putting the plan on quarterly auto-pilot.

It includes:

  • PDF eBook with complete instructions and plenty of examples and screenshots on how to set up a lean kaizen development plan to build ninja employees
  • How to administer your quarterly employee development plan ongoing on auto-pilot
  • Innovative 4-page plan template that is customized from employees’ job descriptions and job requirements
  • Advanced employee-management partnership concept that takes input from both employee and manager
  • Daily development goals reminder for employees to refer to each day
  • Customizable employee development plan templates in fillable PDF as well as MS Excel spreadsheets – for easy employee file management

If you want to boost employee performance by keeping them engaged and focused on their job roles, get this innovative EDP Toolkit now. 

About the author

Larry Lafata

Larry LaFata is a Career Development Coach and founder of defineyourcareer.com.

His new publication is coming soon: How to use Rewards to Motivate Your Team

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Larry Lafata

Larry LaFata is founder of defineyourcareer.com and the world’s only Career Destiny Coach. He is dedicated to help you discover your Career Destiny, regardless of your background, education or experience. His innovative courses include Define Your Career Destiny one week home study course and Career Destiny Workshop for Besties.

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