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How to... write a good career plan

HR is increasingly being called upon to use career planning as a means of retaining and developing key employees. Managing the talent pipeline in this way can also help to deliver the business strategy. Diane Gallacher explains how HR can write a career plan that produces results for the individual and the business.

1 Open conversations

Have an open and frank conversation where you can encourage the individual to challenge their own thinking and not just quote the career aspirations they think they should have. Give them time to reflect on their most successful and enjoyable roles so far to understand what really makes them tick. Reassure them of confidentiality and act as a sounding board.

2 Build in flexibility

Once you have established the individuals aspirations, push them to identify a number of target roles and different routes for getting there. There may be times when the organisation requires them to take on roles that are outside their career plan. By keeping timescales and target roles flexible, unexpected events can easily be built into the plan.

3 Be realistic

A good career plan specifies where the individual is now and what needs to happen for them to reach their goals. Timescales should be realistic and you should take into account whether the route they are suggesting is one that has been taken by others. If nobody has done it before, explore why not. Also consider how long the person has held their job and the likely shape of the future business. Changes in the market can create opportunities, but may mean that some roles will no longer exist.

4 Match skills to aspirations

Honest assessment of skills and potential is important. Try to define a career plan that capitalises on the individuals strengths. Different sources of information can help someone to assess their potential, such as 360-degree feedback and appraisal information. Ensure the plan complements -rather than duplicates- other organisational development processes.

5 Encourage ownership

Be practical and motivating. Describe actions in terms of input rather than just outcomes, so the individual can focus on what they can influence. Identify tangible steps that not only lead to development, but also have a positive business impact. Work with the individual to identify activities and experiences that really excite them and that strike a balance between being challenging and achievable.

6 Align the plan and business strategy

Career planning can drive business performance by ensuring the workforce is developing skills and capabilities for the future. The business is much more likely to support development that helps deliver the strategy.

7 Recognise career stakeholders

Stakeholder maps are often used in project management, but individuals rarely consider how to manage the stakeholders in their own career progression. Making the most of supporters and building a strong network can make the difference between a career plan coming to fruition or not.

8 Get the language right

Lastly, keep HR jargon and terminology to a minimum. Encourage the individual to write their plan in their own words in a way that they find useful.

Key points

- Keep the plan simple and motivating
- Take into account the business environment
- Challenge traditional thinking
- Make the individual accountable and ensure that their line manager supports them
- Pay attention to networking