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Preparing Meaningful Individual Development Plans

A key role of supervisors is training and developing employees. Establishing an individual development plan (IDP) for each employee:

  • Focuses the investment of training resources where they will have the greatest impact on organizational performance.
  • Demonstrates to employees the organization’s interest in their growth and development.

In Washington State, the IDP is usually included in the Training and Development Section (Part 2) of the Performance and Development Plan (PDP).

Research suggests that high-quality individual development plans can increase an employee’s potential for promotion by up to 38%.

Strategies for Success

  • Connect training to business goals. Ensure that all learning activities contribute to achieving business goals. Supervisors should help employees understand the business plan and deliverables, and how their work impacts organizational performance.
  • Create SMART development goals. The SMART acronym stands for specific, measurable or observable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-oriented. Goals that meet these criteria will be clearly understood by both the supervisor and employee. SMART goals clearly outline:
    • Key developmental objectives for increasing an employee’s current or future performance.
    • Specific actions that the employee should take to accomplish those objectives.
    • A timeline for completion of each objective.
    • Ways to measure successful achievement of each goal.
  • Focus on a few key development areas. Select two or three areas of knowledge and skill the employee should concentrate on building.
  • Focus on both the current job and career development. Develop knowledge and skills that are relevant to current job requirements, anticipated future assignments, and possible promotions. If a succession program exists, integrate related training and competency development with those of the program.
  • Focus on training that can be immediately applied. Adults are experiential learners by nature. Employees should have the opportunity to put training to use before the new knowledge or skill fades.
  • Include a variety of development opportunities. Both training and experiential learning should be included on the IDP. Use a mix of formal classroom training, job shadowing, mentoring, e-learning, assignment to a project team, cross-training, temporary supervisory assignments, and rotational assignments.
  • Provide supervisor training. Teach supervisors how to identify and/or create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills. This is especially important for new supervisors.
  • Monitor and review performance plans. Monitor the completion of IDPs, and report to senior management. Provide feedback and coaching to supervisors on the quality of IDPs. Take corrective action against supervisors who don’t meet expectations.
  • Use 360 degree tools. Consider soliciting input from peers, managers, customers and other stakeholders about an employee’s development needs and opportunities.
  • Develop the IDP in collaboration with the employee. Employees should have a vested interest in their own development. They also have unique insights into their personal developmental needs and career aspirations.

Potential Challenges

  • Poorly developed IDPs. When employees think their development plans are vague, unrealistic, or unsupported, they disengage and grow skeptical.
  • Lack of executive commitment. Senior executives who openly commit to employee development foster growth and generate huge returns in employee engagement. Conversely, senior executives who ignore or fail to support individual plans generate apathy and disengagement.
  • Failure of supervisor follow-through. Chronic failure to make time for agreed-upon learning opportunities breeds cynicism and reduces employee potential.

Original: January 5, 2008
Last update: February 17, 2010

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