Development Action Plans can be one of the most important tools in employee development. Successful realization of behavior changes or skill improvement requires not only solid coaching and communication, but a clear plan to make the necessary behavior changes or skill improvement come to fruition. The plan should be used in the 'W' phase of the IGROW Model as well as a tool implemented after coaching has occurred to plan the next steps that will be taken. Keep in mind Development Action Plans are only meant for use in coaching scenarios. If you are working with a counseling scenario, a Development Action Plan will not be your best resource as the employee is not working to make a behavior change or skill improvement but is making a choice not to perform. You can learn more about the difference between Coaching and Counseling in an additional article.
While often times, managers and coaches look at planning for development as associated only with opportunities, the Development Action Plan is best utilized as a more proactive tool. Since employee development should be occurring continuously, instituting a Development Action Plan to improve upon strengths will only increase its value when a need arises to use it for opportunities as well. Take a minute to consider how having even your top performers spend time focusing on skill improvement could have a positive impact on their individual performance and the overall team's performance.
A Development Action Plan can be formal or informal, but it is always recommended to be in a documented format. This ensures that while focusing on employee development, both the coach and the employee have a reference tool and a guide to improvement. We will focus on the more formal approach and will leave it up to you to tailor this tool to your needs.
An important factor to keep in mind is to ensure that the employee, rather than the manager or coach is the one to develop the plan. Having the employee take ownership in crafting and documenting their Development Action Plan will ensure that they are engaged and are willing to put in the effort to make a skill improvement or behavior change. This does not mean that the manager or coach should not collaborate with the employee as they are crafting their Development Action Plan, as the coach's feedback will be crucial in the 'O' phase of the IGROW Model that provides an input to the plan.
To provide an example to work from we will use the scenario of Brian, a people manager in a manufacturing company. Brian has been struggling with his communication skills as evidenced by feedback from his direct reports and peers. During an employee development coaching session, Brian and his manager discuss using a Development Action Plan to focus on the needed behavior change.
Now, let's get started!
Each Development Action Plan should begin with an objective statement. This statement should fully encompass the result that is expected upon completion of the plan, referencing the desired skill improvement or the behavior change that is expected. A good example of an objective statement for Brian might be "Improve communication skills through applying direct communication, active listening, and responsive body language." This objective statement is not only clear in the overall goal of improving his communication, but it also outlines some of the behaviors that contribute to his opportunity as identified in the 'R' phase of the IGROW Model.
Next Brian and his manager identify the behaviors or skills Brian will be working to change. You want to outline these in a clear and visual way so that it becomes apparent what the end result will be. A best practice to identify these behaviors or skills, is to ask the employee to picture someone that exemplifies the skills they wish to master. Ask the employee how that person demonstrates the skill. What does it look like? The better they can describe the behavior or skill the better directed their action steps will be. In Brian's case, the behaviors and skills are documented as "1. Communicate in a manner that gets to the point and provides clear behavioral examples 2. Demonstrate active listening by asking clarifying questions and restating key points to ensure understanding 3. Focus on leaning in to show interest, keeping body language open (no crossed arms), and facially displaying interest." In this example, the behavior changes Brian is focused on are clear and specific allowing him to better plan his next step, the actions he will take to improve.
Now that we have determined the focus of our Development Action Plan, we must outline the actions we will take to achieve our objectives. The action portion of our plan encapsulates the steps that the employee will take while developing their new skill or behavior. This section should be broken into 3 distinct areas: Learn, Practice, Feedback.
Development Action Plan - Learn
In the Learn section, the employee should outline the steps and resources they will use to learn the new behavior. Since the Development Action Plan is being used to improve upon a strength or to develop an opportunity, it is key that the employee use resources and tools outside themselves. In Brian's case, he chooses to use a number of tools to learn to improve his communication skills. Earlier when he was asked to picture another person that embodied the communication skills he wished to attain, he was given the idea of spending some time peering with this person to observe their behaviors in various types of interactions. Another resource Brian chose to use was a book that many of his colleagues had recommended but he had yet found the time to read. While Brian chose only two resources, in many cases, employee development will require a number of tools in the learning phase of the plan. Since the Development Action Plan is a road map to employee development, like any good plan a timeline to accomplish each step should be documented. This will give Brian a deadline to focus on and his coach will know when to follow up on his progress.
Development Action Plan - Practice
In the next step of the action phase, Brian will have the ability to practice the new behaviors and skills he has learned. This is a time to focus on applying the skills and behaviors without the pressure of being perfect but in a way that allows for continuous learning. Brian chooses to conduct some role play sessions with both his mentor and his manager, allowing him to practice his new skills prior to applying them with his team. He also chooses to act as a note keeper for his manager's team meeting. This activity allowed him the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and to ensure that he was on the same page with the rest of his peers in the meeting regarding what was discussed or communicated.
Development Action Plan - Feedback
The last step in the action phase is one of the most important: feedback. Now that Brian has had the opportunity to learn and practice the new skills and behaviors, he needs to receive feedback on how he is progressing in making a behavior change and overall skill improvement. Without this constant feedback loop, Brian would not know if he was truly improving or what areas he still needs to focus on. Documenting some avenues for feedback up front will establish how the employee wishes to receive feedback and will also ensure that they are seeking it out. Brian plans to solicit feedback from his mentor and manager during their role playing sessions. This will allow him to make immediate behavior changes and to repeat the practice step. Keep in mind that immediate feedback is crucial to consistent behavior changes.
Now that we have discussed how to set up the action portion of our Development Action Plan, we need to discuss how we will measure success. This step is imperative to establish up front so that both the coach and the employee have a clear target they are working toward. In production environments this is often an easy step to document, but when the strength or opportunity being addressed is more focused on a soft skill, coaches and employees can often struggle with determining how to measure the improvement. For Brian, he does not have a hard metric to apply as a success measure such as dollars collected, percent to goal, quality scores, etc. Brian instead must focus on more creative ways to measure his behavior changes and skill improvement. Some examples of how Brian could implement a measurement would be by conducting a pre and post team survey on his communication skills, improved competency or review ratings from his manager, or increased productivity from his team based on his more direct approach in delivering feedback.
Once the success measures have been identified you have a Development Action Plan that fully outlines the challenge or opportunity, the path the employee will take to accomplish their goal, and the way in which success will be measured. This should provide a clear road map for increased performance and employee development.
Need a template to get you started? Download the Development Action Plan Template.