5 Questions Employers Should Ask to Craft Meaningful Development Plans

By TERRA Staffing Group

Posted on February 11, 2021

Female employer creating a development plan with male employee.If you’re a manager, HR professional or any kind of team leader, you know it’s important to give your employees the right tools to reach their potential. One great way to help your team members achieve growth is to craft professional development plans with them. 

Development plans are valuable in ensuring your employees are on the right track. A good plan should leave your staff with actionable steps to achieve their professional goals. It should help you make certain that your employees are growing. 

Jennifer Bouman-Steagall, founder of Red Kite Employment Law, trusted HR business partner and expert in team cohesion, shared some great development plan insight in her presentation “Crafting Meaningful Development Plans” as part of TERRA’s HR Hotspot webcast series

In this webinar, Jennifer uses her passion and expertise to guide team leaders through the many questions they should ask their staff in order to craft successful development plans. Jennifer divides those questions into five categories and walks her listeners through SWOOP analysis.

Watch her webinar below.

Don’t have time to watch? Don’t worry! We’ll share some of Jennifer’s development plan best practices with you. 

But first…

What is SWOOP Analysis?

Unfamiliar with SWOOP analysis? It’s Jennifer’s answer to the more commonly known SWOT analysis, a planning technique used to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats a person or organization might have. 

While useful, Jennifer believes SWOT analyses have a little too much negativity in them. She approaches the concept with more optimism and the belief that everyone has an inner super hero within them, ready to swoop in. It emphasizes the importance of passion and reframes threats more positively as obstacles. 

Her aptly named SWOOP analysis stands for:


Jennifer uses SWOOP to structure the development plan process. We’ve highlighted 5 of the most important questions she recommends employers consider when developing their employee’s plans. Each question will fit within one of the five categories of a SWOOP analysis. 

It is important to note that these questions are not meant to be immediately answered by employees. As a matter of fact, you may not get answers at all. These questions are meant to help employees think more deeply about their goals and what might be preventing them from achieving them. 

5 Questions to Ask When Creating Development Plans:

If you had $100M, what would you do for work?

According to Jennifer, this is one of the most important questions to ask your team members. It’s also one of the first you should ask. It might seem silly, but this question will help you figure out what your staff is passionate about. 

Knowing what drives your staff may help you translate some of that passion into the workplace. Keep in mind that you might not always be able to do so, but you can at least find out why your employees are passionate about something.

This will help you discover what your team loves, what resonates with them, what motivates them, and can help you make their job more meaningful. 

It’s also worth noting that an employee that feels like their employer has an interest in them on a deeper level is more likely to do great work.

What do you do better than anybody else? 

Jennifer explains that this question is a way for you to “empower your team member to celebrate what makes them different, special and unique.”  This is their “time to shine!” 

But you don’t want to put them on the spot. Be sure to give them some time to reflect and think of an answer. If they want to share their answer with you, that’s great. But if they don’t, that’s also OK. 

The purpose of this question is to help them become familiar with their skills and strengths. If your staff is fully aware of what they’re good at, they may think more deeply about the value they bring to the table and how they can translate that to the job.

And who knows? They might have skills you didn’t know about, possibly bringing a whole new skillset to their job. 

What personal resources can you access?

There are an infinite number of resources out there. If you help your employees think about what’s available to them, you’re empowering them to take advantage of those resources. 

For example, does your staff member have access to education? Can they get professional training, attend conferences, or even access books that can help them learn? 

Resources can also be more personal. Does your employee have a support system, people they can confide in, outside of work? Or at work? If they do, it’s good for them to remember they have people they can lean on. 

Essentially, you want to make your employees aware of resources, whether educational or personal, that they might not have previously considered, which could help them grow professionally. 

What tasks do you usually avoid? 

This is not a fun question for anybody to think about. But it is important for a few reasons. First, by asking that question of your staff, you can help them identify potential areas for improvement. 

You’re not trying to make them feel bad about themselves. You’re providing a non-judgmental space in which to think about developmental opportunities. As Jennifer puts so well, “People tend not to experience their full potential when they are avoiding things.”

As a bonus, this question helps you identify if there are any common elements about the job or workplace that your employees dislike. This knowledge can lead you to recognize opportunities to improve or streamline processes as well. 

A development plan should help set your employees up for success. It’s important for them (and you) to know what they avoid so that you can figure out possible solutions together. 

Are there any internal or external factors that are affecting your attitude or your work? 

Of course, you can’t expect your employees to fully divulge their personal issues with you. But, that’s not what this question is about. This is about empowering employees to reflect on what might be stopping them from growing. Jennifer says it best: “We can’t grow if we’re stuck.”  

It will require a lot of self-honesty on their part but it will ultimately be good for your employees to be aware of factors at work or in their personal lives that are potentially impeding their growth. Hopefully, it will prompt them to take positive action.

Now, while you can’t ask them to share personal information, it would be helpful for you to know what might be affecting them. This way you can help your team members remain focused and productive instead of being distracted by what is frustrating them. 

Try to create an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. 

Development Plan Takeaways

So, there you have it. There isn’t a perfect recipe to craft the perfect development plan. But if you start by asking your staff those five questions, you’re on the right track! 

And if you want more guidance, make sure to watch Jennifer’s full webinar!

Be aware, however, that crafting a meaningful development plan takes time. Don’t rush through the process. If you want to get the right results, you need to give your employees time to ponder the questions you ask them. Jennifer suggests that your employees have at least a week to fully think through their answers.

If you found her advice helpful, check out these other HR HotSpot webinars presented by Jennifer Bouman-Steagall, spanning a variety of topics:

If you are looking for a development plan in action, check out our article about the Best Employee Development Plan Examples.

How TERRA Can Help

TERRA Staffing Group is a leading staffing agency, headquartered in the Pacific Northwest. Our monthly HR HotSpot webinars provide guidance, solutions, and best practices for HR professionals and business leaders.

These free webinars feature insight from industry leaders and experts on a wide variety of topics related to today’s workplace, including talent development and engagement, diversity and inclusion, HR management advice, and much more. 

And if you find yourself needing staffing support, don’t hesitate to reach out to TERRA. Our expert team of recruiters is eager to be a resource in your talent search.

Categories: Employee Development, HR and Management Advice, Professional Development Resources

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