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Avoid these mistakes when creating staff development plans

By Cheryl Toth bio

For nine consecutive years, “lack of career development” has led the reasons why employees quit. To reduce the costly turnover that results from these resignations, many practice managers are looking for ways to develop and enhance the skills of their team.

A straightforward way to approach this is to create a professional development plan for each employee. These plans support staff career development by identifying training needs, providing resources, and laying out timelines to achieve professional growth goals.

Here are 7 common pitfalls to avoid as you create development plans for your team. 

  1. Setting too many goals.

Enthusiastic staff and high performers often set too many goals, creating a plan that’s unfocused and difficult to achieve. A high performing nurse administrator I coached listed 14 goals she wanted to achieve within 12 months. I helped her get that number down to five.

As you establish development goals with each staff person, keep them focused by setting three to four major goals that each have specific steps and a clear plan for achievement.

       2. Overlooking people as development opportunities.

Connecting staff with a mentor or sponsor is a great way to learn and develop professionally. Working with people who’ve “been there” provides insights that help staff reach their goals faster.

Yet, fearing that people will say no or be too busy, many employees hesitate to ask colleagues, organizational leaders, and others for help.

As part of designing their development plan, ask staff to identify people in their personal and professional networks who could support them with guidance or mentorship. Then help them design an “ask” that they feel comfortable with, and encourage them to connect. 

  1. Failing to include soft skills.

Sure hard, role-specific skills are important. But soft skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, communication, creativity, and resilience are what enable employees to work effectively and achieve success. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report showed that 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that soft skills are just as important–or more important–than hard skills.

When designing each staff’s development plan, identify soft skill gaps, and choose at least one soft skill to improve.

    4. Skipping the low hanging fruit.

There are many simple and free ways to help staff grow professionally. A few examples:

  • Distribute and discuss articles from healthcare industry journals, Harvard Business Review, or business publications like Fast Company or
  • Ask staff to subscribe to blogs that cover topics that aren’t necessarily in their job role, but that get them to expand their thinking about business or problem-solving. For example, IDEO’s Octopus. Or, blogs that cover something in their job role, but from a different industry perspective. For example, your staff who oversee the web site might benefit from subscribing to The Moz.
  • Suggest TED Talks or assign a TED playlist on a particular topic.
  • Suggest staff subscribe to podcasts such as Adam Grant’s WorkLife or read articles by Simon Sinek, both of which offer fresh perspectives about work.
  • Subscribe to Linked In Learning. For a small monthly fee your team has unlimited access to an array of business topics on video.

You can also get creative about how you share knowledge. The practice of one manager I worked with has created a book club for the leadership team. Physicians, managers and supervisors read a different business or personal growth book each month, and discuss it in their leadership meeting. A summary of relevant points is distributed to staff. 

  1. Making the plan too rigid.

Resist the urge to lock an employee into one career path. It can create blind spots to future role opportunities. Instead, grow staff’s technical and soft skills in a way that allows flexibility for them to go in one direction or another with their development. Think of a professional development plan as a guide rather than a rulebook. 

  1. Underfunding it.

While certainly there are many low cost and free resources available (see #4 above), some training courses, conferences, and subscriptions have a fee.

Balance the need to be budget conscious with the recognition that investing in staff development will result in higher employee engagement, better performance, and ultimately practice success. A good rule of thumb is to budget 1-3% of an employee’s salary for their training and development each year. If you choose 2%, that would be $800 per year for an employee making $32,000 annually. 

  1. Not following up.

So many great plans get forgotten because people get “too busy.” Schedule periodic check-points to follow up on staff progress and schedule calendar events for them 12 months in advance so you don’t forget. Such check-points give you a way to ask staff what they have learned and how they are applying it – as well as areas they find they need additional training or resources.

When done well, staff development plans can build skills, empower employees, and engage staff to achieve goals. If you don’t currently develop such plans in your practice, here’s a free guide to creating them.











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