The # 1 Reason Most Personal Development Plans Fail

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It’s no secret that most individual development plans fail. I have been in the leadership development industry for over 40 years and I can tell you this statement is true. But after 40 years of teaching, training, observing and testing some of the best and worst leaders in the world, I can also tell you with confidence that I know why so many of them fail.

Since most employees value development and organizations need to develop talent pools, you can expect everyone to have a positive opinion of the IDP process. However, the more I talk about the process with individuals, the more I realize that most see it as a paperless bureaucratic practice with little real value. Worse yet, managers don’t see the process as doing much to really develop talent. For them, this is another check mark exercise that siphons off precious time. But these are not the reasons why these plans ultimately fail.

Some may believe that failure happens because employees don’t have time to meet their goals or don’t have a good follow-up process. Others note terrible development plans. These factors all contribute to the problem, but they are not the root cause.

Development plans fail because they are not led by the individual.

In a recent article, Discover and develop hidden reservoirs of talent, I have discussed the research on this topic in detail. The typical IPD process assumes that the individual will successfully develop a capacity that the employee and manager have agreed upon. But more often than not, this plan ignores the importance of the individual’s personal energy and motivation and is not explicit about the value that the organization places on the development of this skill by the individual.

Most IDP conversations involve the manager convincing his subordinates to develop skills that the manager considers important. They meet the organizational need, but neglect the interest of the individual. This process risks becoming a chore in the mind of the individual.

Many managers fear that if they give individuals the choice of what they want to develop, they are choosing something that has no value to the organization (what I call a “hobby”.) Or tasks or hobbies will not bring much success to individuals or organizations.

How can this process change?

When creating development plans, managers and individuals should focus their goals around three areas: competence, passion and organizational needs.

• Your skills are areas of skill and ability in which you naturally do well.

• Your passion is the things that energize you – those things you love to do, regardless of how well you do them.

• Organizational needs are activities or services that are greatly needed and valued by your organization.

If individuals choose something in which they are skilled but not passionate, their development will suffer. Likewise, if they are assigned to something that the organization needs but are not knowledgeable or passionate about, success will not happen.

We can represent the convergence of these three elements in a Venn diagram with three intersection sets. The result is the “CPO” model, which emphasizes a vital truth about extraordinary performance: it is not just about competence.

It may sound simple, but it is the biggest secret that will determine the success of individual development: People will be most successful if you focus your development on this magical triad – the areas of skill that the individual is passionate about. and there are organizational needs and opportunities.


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