Step-by-Step Guide to Creating an Executive Development Plan

BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT, EXECUTIVE EDUCATION   |   4 minutes  |   October 23, 2019

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Are you finding that your executive staff have become stagnant? Is the industry moving faster than your company can? Or perhaps you simply want to stay one step ahead of the competition? Whatever the motivation to grow your business through learning and education, an executive development plan (EDP) may be what you need.

An EDP is a strategy for short- and long-term training methods to motivate and build your executive team.1 EDPs are more intensive than general leadership training, as they are more personal and specifically allow executives to have a broader perspective, giving them the power to be able to grow their own departments and identify future leaders within their teams.2

Ways to conduct training include: face-to-face learning, online learning, or blended learning (a mix of face-to-face and online learning that supports the same development plan), which work to deliver a holistic and engaging learning experience.3 However, deciphering what kind of plan needs to be implemented for your business to thrive is best seen as a five step process.

The 5 steps to creating an Executive Development Plan

1. Define your goals:

  • Defining goals helps you as a company understand who you are and what drives you. It’s important to understand from the beginning that a development plan needs to incorporate goals from two different parties: a) the company, and b) the individuals.
  • SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals are always a good place to start. This means weighing every goal against the SMART criteria, by asking yourself if this goal is specific, measurable, achievable and time-bound? A good example of a SMART goal is: By 1 January 2020, we will improve sales conversion rates by 20% for Solar Energy Implementation within the public sector.5
  • It’s vital to define both short- and long-term goals.You may immediately require your staff to understand and implement new policies like the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPI), but over a longer term you might want to develop your executives’ systems analysis skills.
  • While short term goals are generally easier to define because they grow out of immediate concerns or motivations, long-term goals are just as important. One way to have this view into the future is to consider specific leadership gaps that your company may have. Do you have anyone coming up to retirement or maternity-leave? How will their departure affect the company and which skill-sets will be missing? What opportunities does this allow for?

People with written goals are 50% more likely to achieve than people without goals.4

2. Recognise potential for development:

  • Potential leaders could be found anywhere in your company, but identifying them isn’t always easy. Focusing only on top-performing employees is a mistake, because you want to be developing your team beyond those already showing results. Good performance also does not especially denote leadership qualities — soft skills (i.e. communication, efficiency, delegation) are more revealing of leadership potential than hard skills.7
  • Employees who collaborate easily, are able to delegate when necessary, have an eye for system efficiency and are excellent at communication are the ones worth taking note of.8 If you find a lack of these soft skills in your workforce, then developing these should form a part of your goals and executive development curriculum, as they act as the foundation of your leadership performance.9

Leaders can be nurtured and developed, but not manufactured.6

Bob Half, the founder of the recruitment specialist firm Robert Half

3. Create a self-supporting plan:

  • It’s completely acceptable to get training on how to build a training plan, or to outsource parts or all of your training. Even when you outsource your training, you can still choose to be actively involved in the building of the curriculum.
  • A balance of both formal and informal leadership strategies are necessary for a self-supporting plan, as each support the other in attaining their goals and together provide a more holistic learning environment.11
  • Formal leadership strategies might include elements such as classroom training (such as MBA programmes), executive education short courses and structured online courses.12 Formal education is generally a good base for a development plan by giving fixed outcomes and by being far easier to outsource, which then allows you to support your goals with more flexible informal strategies.13
  • Informal leadership strategies are usually implemented to support formal strategies in achieving an organisation’s goals.14 They might include elements such as peer mentoring, job rotation or job shadowing, and conferences.15
  • An EDP works best when participants are supported with ongoing feedback and coaching or mentoring, developing both the mentee and mentor.16

Ninety-three percent of managers feel they need training on how to coach their employees.10

4. Encourage learning before, during and after:

  • Conceptualising and implementing an EDP is not enough to ensure that your executive team will learn.18 An EDP will be far more effective if you adopt an ongoing learning organisation culture.
  • A learning culture results in an organization “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole (reality) together”.19
  • A learning culture requires a constant re-working and learning from the stream of data all around you. This is because it is an iterative process where there is no end goal, but rather an ongoing process of reframing.

High-performing learning organisations are 92% more likely to innovate and are 17% more likely to be their market share leader.17

5. Measure and optimise:

  • After you have your goals in place, and know what kind of programme you can implement to achieve your goals, you will need to decide how you will measure the success of your development plan.
  • To be able to measure the impact of your plan, it’s recommended to capture hard statistics (such as financial metrics and the number of participants who completed the programme)20 and soft statistics (such as employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and growth of leaders).21
  • Once your EDP is running you can collect this data and use it to optimise your plan and goals as you move forward.

Implementing an executive development plan could be seen as both an employee retention strategy and a leadership longevity strategy. It helps you to identify potential leaders and nurture current leaders.22 Keep your goals in mind as you build a development plan, and understand from the very beginning how you will analyse its success. Make sure to focus on creating a learning culture within your organisation even before you implement any formal executive development so that you the rewards are optimised.

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  • 2 (Nd). ‘What is an executive development program?’. Retrieved from Learn.org. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 3 (Nd). ‘A guide to writing an executive development plan (EDP)’. Retrieved from US Department of Labor. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 4 (Nd). ‘18 Facts about goals and their achievement’. Retrieved from Goal Band. Accessed on 15 May 2019
  • 5 Handrick, L (May, 2018). ‘20 Best SMART goal examples for small businesses in 2018’. Retrieved from Fit Small Business.
  • 6 Half, R. (Mar, 2017). ‘How to create a successful leadership development program’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 7 Half, R. (Mar, 2017). ‘How to create a successful leadership development program’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 8 Andriotis, N. (Jun, 2018). ‘6 soft skills to teach your leaders’. Retrieved from eLearning Industry.
  • 9 Andriotis, N. (Jun, 2018). ‘6 soft skills to teach your leaders’. Retrieved from eLearning Industry.
  • 10 Payne, S. (Mar, 2017). ‘Survey: 93% of managers need training on coaching employees’. Retrieved from Workhuman.
  • 11 Oesch, T. (Oct, 2018). ‘The value of executive education: blending formal and informal learning for senior leaders’. Retrieved from Training Industry.
  • 12 Half, R. (Mar, 2017). ‘How to create a successful leadership development program’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 13 Half, R. (Mar, 2017). ‘How to create a successful leadership development program’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 14 (Nd). ‘A guide to writing an executive development plan (EDP)’. Retrieved from US Department of Labor. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 15 (Nd). ‘A guide to writing an executive development plan (EDP)’. Retrieved from US Department of Labor. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 16 (Aug, 2017). ‘Reach the executive level with these 17 leadership development tips’. Retrieved from Forbes.
  • 17 (Nd). ‘Leading in learning’. Retrieved from Deloitte. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 18 (Nd). ‘A guide to writing an executive development plan (EDP)’. Retrieved from US Department of Labor. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 19 Lannon, C (Nd). ‘Learning organizations from invention to innovation’. Retrieved from The Systems Thinker. Accessed 14 March 2019
  • 20 Oesch, T. (Oct, 2018). ‘The value of executive education: blending formal and informal learning for senior leaders’. Retrieved from Training Industry.
  • 21 Half, R. (Mar, 2017). ‘How to create a successful leadership development program’. Retrieved from Robert Half.
  • 22 Florentine, S. (Feb, 2019). ‘How to improve employee retention’. Retrieved from CIO.