It’s often said that any organization’s most valuable asset is its people. If you prioritize retention (a top area of focus in today’s labor market), it’s not enough to focus on just getting people in the door. Researchers are consistently finding that a strong career development program is one of the top benefits employees are looking for. If you’re looking for a meaningful way to begin emphasizing employee growth, individual development plans (or IDPs) are a strong place to start.
IDPs were traditionally used to coach poor performance, but they’re becoming increasingly more common in the workplace. It’s a good idea to offer them to everyone at your company. You can integrate IDPs into your performance review process or one-on-ones.
What is an individual development plan?
Giving your employees feedback is a multi-part process — but not everyone follows through on all the stages. First, the area for growth needs to be identified. Secondly, it has to be brought to the employee’s attention. Then the need for change should be made clear, along with the benefits of it. An action plan should come next, followed by consistent review and adjustment.
What is an individual development plan?
An individual development plan, or IDP, outlines an employee’s development needs and career goals. While typically used to coach underperforming employees, IDPs are excellent tools for career planning and tracking skill development.
An IDP measures an employee’s current job performance against the expectations of their role. It highlights their current skills, as well as development opportunities. If they’re interested in moving (either up or sideways) into a new position, an IDP can help them chart the core competencies needed to get there.
How do individual development plans support employee growth?
In many ways, IDPs take the best parts of a performance review and a career conversation and put them into one action plan.
Giving feedback has many benefits — among them increased productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. But a key part of making the most of feedback is having a plan in place to implement it and follow up. IDPs aren’t meant to be punitive, and companies that only use them in that way are missing out on huge growth opportunities.
A thoughtful IDP can:
What goes into an individual development plan?
At a minimum, IDPs should be a list of personal and professional development goals. However, if you’re creating an IDP template (for yourself or your organization) it’s a good idea to include the following components:
- Key milestones to date
- Any area for development
- New skills to focus on
Steps to write an individual development plan
Your organization should have a formalized individual development plan template in place. If they don’t, it’s a good idea to create one to standardize the growth and feedback process. Because people tend to associate feedback with deficiency, singling out a person or team to complete one can feel like implicit criticism.
A good practice is to follow every performance review by revisiting the IDP. While you don’t have to spend the bulk of your time going over every line, it should serve as a place to record areas for improvement and short-term goals. Here are 3 steps to take for every performance development plan should have:
1. Note the date and review period
This may seem simple, but SMART goals are highly dependent on the time frame available. Make a note of the date that you’re implementing the plan and set a time to revisit it. What kind of growth do you expect to see within the next week? Month? Quarter? Year? If the time frame is longer than a month, set interim action steps to keep you on track.
2. Current expectations and performance
In order to get someone on track for their professional goals, you need to have an understanding of where they currently are. While this isn’t a full performance review, you should make a high-level note of the expectations for their role and how they currently measure against them. This is true even if they’re exceeding expectations. Remember, an individual development plan tracks action steps needed to go to the next level. And even if you’re doing well, there’s always a next level to go to.
3. Set goals
Together, the employee and manager should brainstorm goals for the next period (likely a month or quarter). These should be SMART goals: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. You might include a certain number of finished tasks, projects, presentations, or sales calls. You may also want to focus on results, like increasing sales by a given percentage.
There are an endless number of goals that could go in this blank, but the important thing is that they address the specific area of improvement. To be effective, goals need to be anchored in feedback at one end and an objective at the other. Put another way, if you don’t know where point A and point B are, you have no idea if you’re on the right road.
Individual Development Plan for [Employee Name Here]
Date: October 2022
Growth Period: Q4 (October 2022 – December 2022)
[Employee] is an associate account manager with the goal of soon becoming an account executive. They are performing well in their role, with ratings of ‘meets expectations’ in the last three performance reviews. [Employee] has exceeded revenue goals this quarter. However, the employee’s customer response rate is below average.
In order to become an account executive, [Employee] needs to gain more experience with identifying new business opportunities. Here are the steps we will take over the next quarter:
- Increase revenue goal by 5%
- Increase customer response rate to 100%
- Assign and meet with a mentor on the account executive team
- Enroll in and complete sales coaching program
- Identify one potential business opportunity and create a plan for approaching them
Measuring the success of an individual development plan
When the goals are clear, it should be easy to review the success of an IDP. That’s why it’s critical to start with measurable objectives and expectations. Both managers and employees should work together to create the IDP. This kind of buy-in at the start reinforces it as a developmental (rather than a punitive) process.
The IDP process is an important tool for performance management, but it’s an equally valuable part of leadership development. These types of initiatives help employees feel valued and supported in their growth. Ultimately, it’s an investment in building the individuals who can move the organization forward.