“We don’t have a concrete plan in place for every employee,” said John, the president of a manufacturing company. But when I asked him, “What about Chris, whom we just met?” he told me, “Chris is one of the most promising salespeople on our staff, really going places; we’ll probably offer her a promotion next year.”

The point of that story is that John did have a plan in place for Chris – at least, a plan in his own mind. But why was he keeping it a secret? Why wasn’t he telling Chris that she could expect a promotion in a year? Wasn’t he afraid that by the time he got around to telling Chris about her promotion, she would have already become dissatisfied or maybe have quit?

Those are all interesting questions. But perhaps not as interesting as this one: Why haven’t you sat down and created a career plan with every employee in your organization?

By “every employee,” I don’t mean temporary or short-term employees. I mean employees you would like to stay around for the long term. Why not sit down with each of them, discuss their ambitions and create an individual career plan – a roadmap they can use to succeed in your organization? What is the point of having a plan but keeping it a secret, like John did?

Using Individual Career Plans to Transform Your Company

Individual career plans are powerful tools to inspire, engage and retain employees. Here are some best practices that I have used, and seen work, in companies I have led:

  • Start early. Meet with new hires and discuss their career plans. You will be taking an important step toward cementing their loyalty to your organization.
  • Discuss your employees’ interests, skills and ambitions. What would they most like to accomplish – both for your company and for themselves? What responsibilities do they like the most? Where would they like to be in their career in one year, in two years, and in five or more years?
  • Talk about the skills, behaviors and accomplishments that your organization values. Are your most valued employees those who build strong customer relationships, who are great team members, who think like entrepreneurs or who do something else? When employees can say, “I know what it takes to get ahead in this company,” they feel that they know the ropes and can succeed.
  • Find creative ways for your company to help employees reach their goals. Perhaps an employee who loves working with social media can take on a leadership role in that area. Or maybe an employee who would like to become a manager can enter your management training program.
  • Consider creating a mentoring or coaching relationship for every employee. These programs are a powerful way to show employees that you believe they have a future with your company and will support them every step of the way.
  • Schedule check-ins to keep the plan vital and moving forward. A plan will only motivate employees for as long as you continue to discuss and develop it. Make sure to schedule regular meetings between employees and their manager or mentor in which they review the plan and revise it as needed to keep moving forward.
  • Invest in great training. Training empowers employees to take the steps that you have formalized in a career development plan. When a company invests in its employees, they understand that they are valued and have a future with your organization.

A Special Note About Millennial Workers

I have noticed that millennials value having individual career plans that show them how to move ahead in the companies where they work. When they understand what they must do to succeed and prosper, they are happier, contribute more and stay longer.