Work-life balance, salary, and culture all contribute to the retention of your top employees. But at some point, as many careerists will tell you, ambition may tempt your most talented assets to search elsewhere when internal opportunities run dry. At such times, career development action plans (CDAPs) are a useful way to channel employees’ ambitions into their current roles. What is more, the University of California, Berkeley suggests that CDAPs work best as a collaborative effort between an employee and their manager(s).


Retention is all about motivating your staff to stay with the company. As one of the most effective motivational tools available, employers cannot afford to neglect the potential of a well-managed CDAP.


Begin with Ignition

Human resource theorist, Zorlu Senyucel, summarizes the essentials of motivating others as ‘ignition’, ‘direction’ and ‘maintenance.’ These elements can form the basis of highly motivating CDAPs. Ignition, as you have likely guessed, is linked to the earliest stages of a CDAP. The evocative terminology is perfect because CDAPs should be so much more than vague goals discussed during annual performance reviews. Similarly, CDAPs are not passive—managers should not wait for their best people to instigate their own career plan. Instead, astute managers will be aware that the department’s overachievers already know their worth and are ready to act on it.


So schedule a meeting. Ignite a spark. Tell the employee that they have earned a CDAP. Untapped potential that is recognized in-house will become motivated to focus its ambitions on internal opportunities.


Follow Through with Direction

CDAPs are not just a call to action for the employee—they should motivate managers too. So dig deep when you formulate a CDAP with your direct report. Ask the employee how they see would themselves working in an ideal world. Then formulate a series of actionable instances that will build a bridge between their current role and their ideal role. Direction is more than just delegating your responsibilities to ambitious junior employees. It is about empowering a careerist with the chance to enact their ambitions.


This may mean changes to the individual’s job description, periods where their regular duties are relieved while they spearhead a one-off project, or even paid leave to pursue continuing education. Context will decide the content of your direction. What is essential is that the vote of confidence and the practicalities originate with you, the manager. Make it crystal clear that the organization sees this person’s potential to transmit their earlier successes into their ideal successes. Nothing is more motivating than clear-cut instructions to do exactly what you hope to do.


Show Your Commitment with Maintenance

Secondments are temporary reassignments to other roles until the incumbent returns or a new face assumes the position permanently. A secondment can feel like a promotion (without a pay rise), followed by an inevitable demotion to familiarity of yesterday’s challenges. Managers beware, do not allow ignition and direction to mutate into a secondment—CDAPs demand maintenance. Yes, there may be no internal vacancy for your superstar to pursue right now, but a CDAP that is not maintained will often backfire. Facilitating an employee’s ideal duties, only to hang those ambitions out to dry afterwards, will simply confirm that they can succeed in a more difficult role. Such an oversight will make retention of this employee all the more difficult going forward.


Ignite. Direct. Repeat. Maintenance is a manager’s ongoing commitment to a CDAP.


Everyone Benefits from a Well-Executed CDAP

The time may come when your exceptional employee gets a shot at an attractive role in your organization. Not only will a thoroughgoing CDAP demonstrate evidence of their superior candidacy, it will make your managerial savviness equally apparent. And, of course, the entire organization benefits by retaining its best talent and instilling a culture that doesn’t just encourage, but motivates career development.