A guide to creating a successful individual development plan
Employee development is most helpful to your employees when it’s intentional and carefully planned. In fact, Culture Amp research found that employees who don’t feel they have access to clear development opportunities are 41% more likely to leave their current company.
This is where individual development plans (IDPs) are especially valuable. These detailed plans clearly outline an employee’s career goals along with the tangible steps the employee can take to achieve their goals.
In this blog, we explain what an individual development plan is, why they’re important, and how to create one. We’ll also give you individual development plan examples and a template so you can build your own and start prioritizing employee growth today.
What is an individual development plan?
An individual development plan, also known as a personal development plan, is an actionable document used to guide employee development. It defines an individual’s long-term career goals, highlights their current strengths, lists areas of improvement, and shares an action plan detailing how the employee can invest in their skills and make their career aspirations a reality.
An IDP is typically a collaborative document created by an employee and their manager. These plans are often put together following professional development conversations, which are typically held complementary to, yet separate from, a company’s formal performance management process.
Why are individual development plans important?
IDPs are a crucial part of employee development. Aside from helping employees define the next steps in their careers, individual development plans also:
- Guide employee growth: IDPs outline the steps employees can take today to reach their larger career goals tomorrow. They provide clarity and direction while breaking larger goals into attainable tasks. They also empower employees to take ownership of their growth and development.
- Inform managers: Managers that know their direct reports’ long- and short-term career aspirations are equipped to be better coaches and advocates. IDPs give each manager a detailed account of employee strengths, goals, and action plans to support direct reports throughout their career journey.
- Boost loyalty: Showing employees that your business is invested in their development can inspire loyalty and trust.
- Increase productivity: Working towards a tangible goal can keep employees motivated and productive.
- Improve retention: When employees can imagine a future with your business, they are likelier to pursue their career goals within your company.
A step-by-step guide to making an IDP
While an IDP has a few different components, these plans aren’t difficult to make. You can help an employee create an individual development plan in just four steps. Here’s how:
1. Complete a self-reflection
To start, have the employee fill out a self-reflection. The reflection should touch on three key areas – the employee’s:
- Motivation and strengths
- Long-term career vision
- Short-term objectives
Together, these criteria give employees a better understanding of their career goals and the skills and experience they will need to achieve this level of success. An honest and open self-reflection will guide the rest of the IDP process.
2. Build an actionable individual development plan
With the information from the self-reflection in hand, your employee is ready to start building their individual development plan. Walk them through these three steps:
- Review your plan objective: This will most likely be the short-term objective from the self-reflection or what the employee will work towards following the creation of their individual development plan.
- Identify growth areas: Work with the employee to determine the skills and behaviors they need to learn or strengthen to achieve their objective.
- Build development goals: Lastly, encourage employees to set realistic, measurable goals that will help them improve the identified growth areas and bring them closer to their overall objective.
Let’s see what this looks like in practice. Here’s an individual development plan example for a sales account executive aspiring to become a regional sales manager:
- Objective: To be promoted to a regional sales manager next review cycle
- Product knowledge
- Leadership and coaching
- Sales forecasting
- Hit or exceed quota for the next three quarters
- Receive a manager net promoter score of >70 during the following engagement survey
- Improve internal awareness of my team’s performance by sharing a monthly recap email with senior department leaders
Using this detailed IDP, the employee will clearly understand the actions they need to take today to work towards their promotion.
3. Review the plan together
This step can go before or after step two, depending on your organization or employee preferences. Wherever you choose to place this step, just know that each employee and their manager must meet to discuss their self-assessment and proposed IDP. This ensures both parties agree about the employee’s strengths, areas for improvement, interests, goals, and organizational requirements.
During these conversations, encourage managers to ask lots of questions and work to understand each employee’s career aspirations. Managers can provide a business perspective and shed light on how they see business priorities evolving in the coming months. This will help employees envision how their career aspirations can align with changing business needs.
4. Implement the plan and evaluate outcomes
Now it’s time to get to work. While the employee pursues the training and development identified in the plan, meet with them frequently to help track progress, share feedback, and evaluate their performance. These continuous manager check-ins, or 1-on-1s, provide an external perspective, remove obstacles and barriers, and help employees reach their goals more efficiently.
Individual development plan template
Here’s a closer look at what to include in your IDPs as well as an individual development plan example to guide your creation.
1. Employee details
At the top of your plan, start with the key details – who the plan is for (employee name), their position/job title, their manager, and the creation date. This will help you keep track of the IDP and remember when it was made.
In the following examples, we’ll be creating an IDP for a content marketing specialist. Here are her employee details:
- Employee Name: Jane Doe
- Job Title: Content Marketing Specialist
- Manager: John Smith
- IDP Creation Date: January 15, 2023
2. Career goals
Next, document the individual’s specific job-related developmental goals, both immediate and long-term. In this example, our content marketing specialist wants to pivot her career to event planning. Her overarching goals might be:
- Be an integral part of the company’s conference planning team
- Advance into a role specializing in event planning
These goals will act as her North Star for the rest of the IDP creation process and influence what skills and experience she needs to develop to successfully complete her career pivot.
3. Strengths and development areas
Pulling from the employee’s self-assessment, jot down any skills, strengths, and developmental areas. For the aspiring event planner in our example, this might look like:
- Organizational skills
- Time management skills
- Communication skills
- Building strong interpersonal relationships
- General event planning knowledge and skills
- Familiarity with negotiation and budgeting
- Learning how to use the company’s event software
- Creative problem-solving
Now the employee has a clear picture of the strengths she can lean on as well as areas she needs to focus on in order to grow professionally and achieve her goal of becoming an amazing event planner.
4. Action plan
This section describes how the employee plans to acquire the knowledge and skills outlined above. At this stage, try to be creative by using various learning strategies and activities. Employees can learn and grow in many ways, including:
- Classroom or online training programs
- On-the-job training
- Stretch assignments
- Professional certifications
- Job shadowing
- Mentorship programs
However your employee decides to improve their development areas, work with them to create a detailed, measurable action plan. Break down their overarching career goal into attainable steps they can start taking today. Include specific KPIs you and your employee can use to track progress and understand the impact.
To revisit our content marketing specialist example, her action plan could be:
- Assist with the planning and execution of the company’s annual user conference (stretch assignment)
- Work closely with the Event Manager to better understand her role and expertise (mentorship)
- Complete “Event Planning 101” and earn a certification (online training/certification)
While these steps may be detailed enough for some individuals, it never hurts to tie specific KPIs to action plans to help assess progress and evaluate success. Our employee might decide to use feedback from the event planning team post-conference to assess her contributions to the event. She could also set up a recurring 1-on-1 with the Event Manager and track meeting occurrences to measure the effectiveness of her mentorship. Her last action is more cut and dry – if she completes the class and earns her certification, this can be regarded as a success.
5. Time frame
You’ll also need to define the timeline the employee has to execute this action plan. Is it a week? Month? Quarter? Year? Be sure to document how long the employee has to complete the action plan, so you can hold them accountable and help track progress along the way. Managers and employees should meet regularly throughout the time frame to share feedback, discuss roadblocks, and touch base on how things are going.
Lastly, leave space for your results. After the specified time frame elapses, complete this section with the employee as a way to reflect on performance and assess success.
Inspire and motivate your employees to grow
Make it easy for your people to define clear growth plans that balance business needs with their personal aspirations. By building individual development plans into your wider strategy, you can inspire and motivate your people to develop and grow with an actionable path to reaching their goals.