The Individual Development Plan: The Employee's Viewpoint

Employee discussing her development plan with a manager
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An individual development plan (IDP) is a tool that helps facilitate employee development. The benefits of IDPs are: 

  • They are a commitment between the employee and manager on what the employee is going to do to grow, and what the manager will do to support the employee.
  • They are a catalyst for dialog and idea sharing.
  • When something is put in writing, it’s more likely to get done.
  • They provide a framework for how to develop.

The following is an outline of creating an IDP from the employee’s perspective, not the manager's viewpoint.

Preparing an IDP

Most organizations will have some kind of IDP form—whether on paper or online—to fill in, with instructions. The employee should fill in the form first. IDPs usually consist of the following:

Career goals: This answers the question, “Development for what purpose?” To get better in the current job? Or do you aspire to some other job, either a promotion or lateral move? Good development plans often address the current job and at least two potential future roles.

An assessment of top strengths and development needs: These are often selected from a list of competencies or performance review criteria. While there are limitations to self-assessments, do your best to pick your top three to six strengths and top three development needs. If you’re new in a role, these will most likely be the unfamiliar job duties or skills with which you’ve had little prior experience. They may have been identified in your performance appraisal, a 360 leadership assessment, or feedback from your manager or a coach. In order to prepare for a new role, you’ll need to identify the required competencies for that new role that you don’t yet have. Your strengths will also often be enhanced and leveraged in order to address development needs.

Development goals: Write a brief goal for each development need. For example, “Improve listening skills," or “Learn how to lead a product team.” Then create action plans to address each development goal. Bring a list of ideas to discuss with your manager on how to achieve each development goal (action plans). Here are the most common development actions, listed in order of developmental impact:

  1. Move to a new job.
  2. Take on a challenging assignment within your current job.
  3. Learn from someone else (your manager, a coach, a subject matter expert, or role model).
  4. Get educated on the topic: take a course, create a reading plan.

A section for follow-up dates, status updates, and signatures: Select dates, costs, and who’s responsible for what. This part will be filled out during the discussion. The date will help you get specific and keep your commitments. Any costs need to be approved by your manager. While you’ll be responsible for most of your plan, your manager may have a few things they commit to doing to support you.

The Discussion With Your Manager

Although it’s possible to have your own plan and not involve your manager, it’s much better to get their feedback, involvement, and support.

Schedule an hour with your manager to discuss. Go through each section of the plan, first presenting your ideas, then asking your manager for feedback and ideas. It’s important to listen and be ready for feedback that may surprise you. Again, self-assessments are usually inaccurate, so your manager may have important information about your strengths and weaknesses that you haven't considered.

Your manager may also have development action ideas to add to your plan as well. Or they may need to approve or modify the ideas you came up with. When you come to an agreement on your goals and plans, decide and agree on completion and follow-up dates. Sign copies of the form for each of you, solidifying your two-way commitment.

Implement, Follow Up, and Reflect

Keep your plan in front of you at all times. As you check off those items you complete, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Think about what you did, what you read, and what you learned. What were the lessons? What should you incorporate as a permanent part of your repertoire? What should you reject? What did you learn about yourself? Your follow-up discussions with your manager will help you uncover those “V8 moments,” and the two of you will assess progress and come up with any modifications to your plan.

The IDP should be a “living document," serving as a catalyst for ongoing discussions about your development. Make a habit of revisiting it regularly.