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.
This version is written from the manager’s perspective. For the employee’s perspective, see “The Individual Development Plan and Discussion: The Employee’s Viewpoint.”
If you’re going to help someone else write an IDP, I’d strongly recommend that you have current one yourself. Otherwise, you could come across as a hypocrite (“It’s good for you, but I don’t need one”). Showing your employee your own plan, or referencing your own IDP is being a good role model and sends a message that development is for everyone.
Most organizations will have some kind of IDP form to fill in, or an online version, with instructions. The employee should fill in the form themselves first, but the manager should also review the form in preparation for the discussion with the employee.
IDPs usually consist of the following:
1. Career goals (development can be for the current job and/or for future potential roles). This answers the question “Development for what purpose?” To get better in the current job? This is the time to have a career discussion with the employee, to find out what they aspire to – some other job, either a promotion or lateral move, or if are they satisfied with where they are currently. It’s also a chance to provide feedback on if the employee’s career goals are realistic, or to offer additional suggestions. Good development plans often address both the current job and at least two potential future roles.
2. An assessment of top strengths and development needs (often selected from a list of competencies or from performance review criteria).
While the employee will do their own self-assessment, this is the time to provide your own assessment of the employee’s strengths and development needs. These may be areas that were identified in a performance appraisal, a 360 leadership assessment, or feedback from others.
Don’t forget to take the opportunity to recognize and reinforce strengths. Strengths will often be enhanced and also be leveraged in order to address development needs.
3. Development goals. A brief development goal for each development need. For example, “Improve listening skills,” or “Learn how to lead a product team.”
4. Action plans to address each development goal.
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, read up on the topic.
5. 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 dates will help each of you keep your commitments. Any costs should be approved or not.
The discussion with your employee
Schedule an hour with your employee to discuss. Allow the employee to lead the discussion and go through each section of the plan.
Listen to the employee, ask questions for clarification, probe to find out the reasons why the employee chose a goal, and offer your own development goal if you think the employee missed a critical goal.
Here are some additional dos and don’ts:
- Ask yourself, “Is it really worth it?” before you add your comments.
- Provide clarification or additional feedback.
- Provide additional development ideas.
- Offer to open doors and make connections.
- Be supportive, encouraging.
- Be available for follow-up, keep your commitments.
- Treat this like a performance review.
- Be a know-it-all.
- Insist on all of your own ideas.
- Talk about yourself.
- Be vague when asked for clarification.
- Chicken out and sugar-coat development needs.
When you come to an agreement on your goals and plans, decide and agree on completion dates and follow-up dates. Sign the form, with copies for both of you. By both of you signing the plan, it’s a symbolic two-way commitment.
Support the employee’s implementation of the plan, keep your commitments, and follow-up often
Your follow-up discussions with your employee will help your employee reflect on what they learned, and the two of you will assess progress and come up with any modifications to the plan.
The IDP should be a “living document”, and a catalyst for ongoing discussions about your employee’s development.