The 6 Steps of Individual Development Planning for Employees

Developing the talent, skills, and leadership potential of your top employees is an ongoing process that involves self-reflection on the part of the staff member, guidance and encouragement from management, and open communication between both parties. 

As long as the plan reflects the actual goals and aspirations of the employee, an individual development plan has the potential to be highly successful. With many organizations looking to replace or supplement the once-a-year performance review with something more impactful, the individual development plan (IDP) has been gaining increasing popularity in the workplace.

In addition to employee commitment, ongoing involvement of managers is a crucial element in the success of the plan. According to Gallup, there’s a direct connection between the frequency of managerial feedback and the extent of employee engagement. Based on surveys that Gallup conducted employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.

It also found that 71% of employees who believe their boss can identify their abilities are more engaged and enthusiastic at work. That level of rapport, communication, and engagement is the starting point for creating a relevant individual development plan.

Managers who take the time to sit down with team members to develop short- and long-term goals accomplish two key objectives:

Employees feel supported, guided, and encouraged to make the most of their talents, abilities, and interests. This creates a foundation for self-belief, motivation, and commitment.

A detailed action plan that highlights an employee’s strengths and aspirations provides a clearly defined process for helping them succeed in the organization.

Prior to meeting with their manager, employees typically fill out an individual development plan form that provides a snapshot of their goals, perceived strengths and weaknesses, and the type of training they might need or want in coming months.

Those initial thoughts and ideas can then be discussed in depth when the employee meets with their supervisor or HR manager. Developing a specific plan for training, skills development, and job mastery can then be used as a point of reference in progress discussions and performance reviews. 

Two professional women smiling and reviewing documents together in a modern workspace.

What is an Individual Development Plan?

A carefully crafted individual development plan provides a valuable roadmap for an employee’s career path in an organization. It has the dual objective of developing staff potential and helping to position the company for growth. Although it’s not primarily intended to be used as a performance evaluation tool, it does help employees perform their jobs more effectively and reach career goals. 

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the development of a career action plan should be looked at as a partnership between an employee and their supervisor. In addition to helping employees progress in their jobs, the OPM says the plan should align employee training and development with the organization’s mission, goals, and objectives. 

The federal agency recommends that individual development plans include short- and long-term career goals, estimated and actual completion dates, and specific training opportunities. It lists a variety of job training and career development ideas, including the following:

  • Formal classroom training
  • Web-based training
  • Rotational assignments
  • Shadowing assignments
  • On-the-job training
  • Self-study programs
  • Professional conferences and seminars

Yale University provides this concise definition of the individual development plan process: An IDP is an action plan of realistic steps the employee can take to help them build a desired skill, better use their existing talents, or prepare for a career goal. It also encourages staff members to work with their managers to identify strengths, talents, and passions, and determine ways to incorporate them into their jobs.

Prior to meeting with their manager to begin formulating an IDP, employees should give some thought to their strengths, areas that could use improvement, and things they are passionate about. Writing down responses to thought-provoking questions can help employees come up with innovative ideas for designing an inspiring IDP. 

In its career planning manual, the U.S. Department of Commerce suggests that employees give some thought to the following self-awareness questions to help clarify goals, talents, and interests.

  • Of all the things I have done in the last 5 years (work and non-work related), what specific activities and functions have energized me the most? What developmental activities—work experiences, learning, skill building—would help me grow in or increase these energizing functions?
  • What knowledge, skills, or abilities are important for increasing or maintaining the quality of my performance in my present assignments?
  • What knowledge, skills, or abilities would help prepare me for opportunities or roles I might have in the future?

Benefits of Individual Development Plans

Taking the time to discuss career goals, training needs, and timelines for achieving them creates a framework for making it happen. Goal-oriented employees tend to be more motivated, engaged, and organized than those who lack action plans and the support of management.

Helping staff envision a progressive career path in the organization produces a range of desirable outcomes, including employee retention, job satisfaction, and the creation of an in-house source of qualified, promotable leaders.

Every employee who expands their expertise through a training and development plan can also help train other employees and share their acquired knowledge with the team. A company culture that revolves around recognizing and cultivating the talents of all staff members generally has a positive effect on morale, efforts to create an inclusive work environment, and the organization’s overall reputation.

6 Steps to Create an Individual Development Plan for Your Employees

Creating an individual development plan encompasses the principles of “SMART” goal achievement, which means that the goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Below are the six steps for creating a realistic and effective IDP:

Schedule a meeting with each staff member to formulate individual development plans. Aim for a time period when the employee’s work schedule is not too hectic, so that they will be able to completely focus on the planning process and devote their attention to setting meaningful goals.

List goals and objectives. Create a list of business objectives that the employee can help to achieve, and have the employee create a list of job-related goals that they would like to pursue.

Compare the two lists and develop specific, achievable goals that the employee would like to include in an Individual Development Plan. To enable staff members to envision the outcome of their efforts, managers should define how success will be measured and what it would look like when achieved. This will help staff visualize the attainment of our goals and clarify what they need to do to get there.

Prioritize goals and assign a target date to each one. This step will help employees set priorities, plan ahead, and begin organizing activities around the pursuit of those goals. Conducting a “skills gap analysis” is an efficient method of identifying training needs.

As another one of our blog posts explains, identifying where skills training is needed can benefit several facets of HR management, including developing a training budget, hiring personnel with the right skill sets, and saving money on outsourcing.

Identify possible obstacles and discuss ways to overcome them. By anticipating potential difficulties and being prepared to respond to them with an alternative approach, overcoming setbacks will be a lot easier. On the other hand, if an employee feels blindsided by an unexpected problem or delay, they might feel discouraged and give up on their IDP.

Research any necessary training or professional development opportunities. Whether you’re considering classroom training, seminars, or online video courses, there’s a wide range of options available for cultivating employee potential.

Individualized Development Plans Motivate Staff to Excel

The value of creating individual development plans for employees is immense, especially when you consider the cost of recruiting, onboarding, and replacing top talent. Working with staff to set job goals, expand relevant skill sets, and help the organization achieve its objectives gives employees a feeling of involvement and “ownership” in their career progress.

Prior to being hired, every member of your staff has undoubtedly answered the interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” They’ve already given a lot of thought to that question and would welcome the chance to advance their careers and move up in the organization. 

By providing staff with ongoing guidance to help them realize their goals, managers are creating a satisfying and rewarding experience for employees. As satisfied employees, staff will be more likely to stay with the company longer, work harder, and speak favorably about you and the organization, even after they have moved on to another job.

Strategies for Bringing Out Your Staff’s Highest Potential

In addition to creating individualized development plans, there are other strategies for motivating employees to pursue their goals and those of the organization. Our series of video tutorials on “Leading a Motivated Workplace Culture” provides managers with valuable insights on providing opportunities for growth, autonomy, and a clear direction for achieving career success.

Although individual development plans are separate from performance evaluations, there are points at which they converge. Managers who know how to evaluate employees and write meaningful feedback reports are in the strongest position to inspire, engage, and guide team members along the path of career development.

Our series of video tutorials on Evaluating Employee Performance provides practical tips and techniques for managers on encouraging accountability, personal development, and continuous improvement goals.

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