To keep up in today’s fast-paced corporate world, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and have a plan for moving forward. Without this, you’ll remain stagnant because career advancement requires a well-developed understanding of your professional needs and aspirations. That’s where an Individual Development Plan (IDP) is an invaluable tool.
Useful for both young career professionals as well as seasoned managers and executives, an IDP gives you the ability to objectively look at your current career path and plan out your future. But unlike the childish essay, “What I want to be when I grow up,” an IDP is a concrete action plan with individual steps you can take to reach the level of professional development that you desire.
What Is an Individual Development Plan?
An IDP is a simple document that helps you identify and outline your knowledge, skills, and abilities while also providing you with a well thought out path for professional development. Think of it as an annual review of your existing talents that you can then use to prepare for your future. When well-written, an Individual Development Plan can help you improve your performance, sharpen your professional competencies, and strengthen your weaknesses. Created to help you reach both your short- and long-term career goals, an IDP is an organized approach to get what you want.
A successful IDP can be found at the intersection of three key elements: organizational needs, passion, and competence.
Creating an Individual Development Plan
Creating your Individual Development Plan is not something you should do alone. In fact, it’s best to complete at the same time as your annual performance management review with the help of your manager. The goal is to take an honest evaluation of your work, which is best done with an objective viewpoint.
At its core, an IDP is a simple one- to two-page document that sums up your current career and your career goals. The exact outline can be different for everyone, but each IDP should contain a few key elements:
- A list of your critical skills, knowledge, and abilities.
- A list of your key weaknesses/development needs.
- A list of your short- and long-term goals.
- An outline of your developmental objectives, what you need to do to reach your goals.
- A list of the strategies you will use to achieve your objectives.
To ensure that each objective and strategy is obtainable and realistic, you should also include the expected timing for completion as well as the cost of each activity, which could be tangible (cost of a seminar, cost of travel, etc.) or intangible (time spent, opportunity cost of choosing this activity over another, etc.). This will be especially useful for helping you establish a plan for implementing your IDP. You’ll also want to consider changes in technology, new assignments, future staffing needs, service changes, and more. All of these can contribute to establishing your plan.
There are four steps you’ll need to take to create a well thought out IDP.
- Identify Your Professional Goals
The first step to creating an IDP is to figure out your short- and long-term professional goals. To do this, you need to determine what motivates and energizes you at work, and what kind of opportunities you’re most excited about. Your passion, what excites you, will ultimately be what will carry you further into your career because you’ll put more effort into what you’re doing and push further. Your goals should include plans for the future at your current company and in your current position as well as outside of that.
You’ll want to be able to answer such questions as:
- What opportunities exist within your current role that interest you?
- Where do you see yourself in six months, one year, three years?
- What do you want to learn/prepare for in the future?
- What makes you excited and motivated at work?
- Get to Know Yourself
An Individual Development Plan is only as valuable as it is honest. If you don’t know who you are as a leader, manager, and employee, you can’t actively plan for your future. It’s vital that you be able to put your critical skills and development needs down on paper. This takes an impartial knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, more so than what you prepare for an interview or resume.
If you can, sit down with a manager or mentor to talk about your current skills, knowledge, and attributes as well as those functional areas where you need the most improvement. A good way to go about getting to know yourself is to ask “why.” For example, if you feel that you are a good/bad team leader, the “why” is what you’ll want to list on your IDP.
- Plan Your Objectives & Action Steps
Most brainstorming sessions stop at step two and never move onto the action step, but this is one of the most valuable elements of the IDP. An IDP takes big picture items and distills them down to simple, easy-to-follow steps for professional development. This section is all about defining statements of what you need to do to reach your goals—as outlined in step one. Now, it’s time to ask the questions: “What do I need to do to achieve my goals?” and “What can I do to improve my weaknesses?”
For example, if one of your goals is to move up to the next management/executive-level position in your company, this is your chance to outline how you’ll get there. In that case, one of your objectives might be to talk to your boss about a challenging assignment that will allow you to develop and demonstrate your core competencies. Or, your objective might be to lead a small team project and your action step might be to present a new client project to your boss. Whatever it takes to make your goal obtainable.
- Get Specific
The key to an IDP is to be as specific as possible. Don’t just write, “I want to be a better team leader” and leave it at that. Go into detail about your leadership development plan including:
- setting up monthly, one-hour phone calls with your team,
- scheduling regular performance reviews,
- attending a leadership development course
You also want to get specific when it comes to how you’ll carry out your Individual Development Plan. As much as possible, list dates, timelines, costs, and specific requirements to achieve your plan. The more you know about when things will happen and what it will cost—whether it’s just time or the price of a course—the more likely you’ll be to carry out your plan.
Implementing Your Individual Development Plan
The final step is acting on your plan. Once you have a completed IDP (Yale offers a few samples on their website), you need to implement it. To do this, make sure you keep your plan in front of you at all times and cross off items as you accomplish them. This will help you keep track of your progress. Hold to your scheduled timelines and make adjustments as necessary.
And don’t be afraid to share your IDP with your manager. It’s their role to help you secure the resources and opportunities you need for career advancement.