Traditionally the new year is a time for reflection and goal-setting for the future. You may have done this for yourself, it’s important to also plan for your company and your employees. A recent Gallup study showed that lack of career advancement opportunities was the most common reason for employee leaving organizations, being cited by 32 percent of respondents. So if you want to motivate engage and develop your top performers you must engage in good quality career development, the basis of which is a properly executed employee development plan.

Begin by considering your company’s goals for the new year. What training or skills would help you and your employees reach your business goals? To get started, design a development plan that outlines the goals you have in mind for your company and your employees—after all, goals clearly direct attention and effort toward action. Here are a few ways you can set development goals for yourself or your employees.

1.  Consider your business goals

Before you set objectives for employees, you should try to align their development plan with your company’s needs. Consider what your long and short-term business objectives are. Then identify the necessary skills, knowledge and competencies that support those objectives.

2. Talk to your employees

Don’t just presume you know your employees’ skill level and career aspirations. If possible, have a face-to-face discussion with each of your team members to get a better understanding of what their career goals are and how they think they can accomplish them. You should also talk about any challenges they’re having in their current position. Have your employees do a self-assessment of their work. In what areas do they struggle the most? Would they benefit from additional training or mentoring?

Some of your employees may already have a career path in mind. But many times, they don’t know how to get started. By talking to them, you can work together to figure out what role your business plays in this plan as well as what opportunities you can offer them.

3. Develop your training plan

Once you’ve looked at each of your employees’ abilities and experience, as well as your company’s needs, it’s time to decide exactly what skills each person needs to acquire. Be sure to your employees’ goals are specific and timely. It’s much more difficult to measure an employee’s progress when their objectives are vague or broad.

4. Create an action plan

Now that you know what the objectives are, it’s time to figure out how your employee will go about achieving them. Developmental programs can include a combination of activities such as formal training with an organization like NorthStar360, reading, working directly with subject matter experts, one-on-one coaching and mentoring. Once you’ve identified some specific learning opportunities, create a plan.

5. Apply the new skills in the workplace

You’re spending a considerable amount of time and possibly money on helping your employees improve their skills. To get your greatest possible return on investment, your employees need to be able to put those new skills to work in your company. Set up some opportunities where your employees can quickly apply the new skills to the job and get feedback. This will help them reinforce and refine their new skills. If you’re working directing with a training and development organization, focus on applying this new knowledge as a key part of the development plan. If they don’t use the new knowledge when it’s fresh, they’re likely to lose it.

Creating a development program not only helps you make your workforce more effective and knowledgeable, but it can also improve employee satisfaction. And when your employees are happy, they’re less likely to go looking for work elsewhere. Let’s keep that 32 percent engaged and high performing.