Individual development planning: from an individual sport to a team sport


Many leaders – even those who are deeply committed to the growth of others – find themselves spooked as the annual Individual Development Planning (IDP) season approaches. And they are not alone. Employees often feel a similar sense of dread as they prepare to sit down and re-chart their goals, learning, and path to advancement. With employee retention being a top priority for many organizations, now is the time to shift our thinking about development.

Standard practice, standard issues

My field research of over 100 organizations confirms that almost 90% offer an annual development planning process. In one form or another, leaders and employees come together to plan development actions for the coming year. Yet despite the diversity of organizations’ industries, goals, sizes, and approaches, many share a common challenge with their current practices: development planning is more mechanical than meaningful.

Too often, leaders and employees find that internal programs, systems, forms and deadlines take center stage, in many cases overshadowing the kind of meaningful dialogue they crave. It turns what might just be the most important interaction of the year into an administrative task to complete.

Typical organizational approaches emphasize the document rather than the day-to-day experience of development. In today’s hectic, “check it off my list” climate, it’s no surprise that the IDP form requirements end up producing something that might meet the documentation requirements, but is not a tool. that elicits a steady and ongoing commitment to (and progress towards) the individual’s growth goals.

Finally, more and more organizations are realizing that development is a relationship that goes beyond just the leader and the employee. To hijack an overused expression:

It takes a village to optimize employee development.

And that’s why it’s time to shift the entrenched model and thinking that’s been in place for decades – to transform today’s isolated, individual focus into a more inclusive and impactful approach.

From individual to team development planning

Inclusive and impactful development planning requires changing the fundamental dynamics of the solitary and individual IDP. This involves opening the door to broader contribution and establishing a collaborative rather than individual mindset for employee development.

A team development planning approach assumes that more minds will lead to higher quality plans and greater growth. Because, let’s face it: under the old model, the employee had their own limited perspective. Meanwhile, leaders (especially with increasing spans of control and distributed workforces) often have less day-to-day knowledge of employees — their strengths, their contributions, their opportunities for development — than those they work with on a daily basis.

A team development planning approach also recognizes that day-to-day development requires day-to-day support – something most leaders are unfortunately not prepared to provide. Distributing the planning role is the first step towards distributing the support role to a wider audience, which has the power to exponentially improve the development available throughout an organization.

Cancel the IDP meeting and call a growth meeting instead

Turning development planning into a team sport is easier than you might think, primarily because it’s largely owned and run by employees who:

  1. Identify four to six members of the development planning team (DPT) – colleagues, employees, customers, suppliers or others who know them and are ready to support their development.
  2. Plan the growth meeting with their team, inviting CDP team members to think ahead about questions such as:
  • What is my unique value proposition? What are my greatest strengths, talents and contributions?
  • What is the skill or skill that could most dramatically improve my ability to contribute optimally and why?
  • How are business changes (inside and outside the organization) likely to affect me – either negatively or positively with new opportunities?
  • What could/should I do to grow?
  • What career advice do you have for me?
  1. Call the meeting. Gather perspectives with the team, reconcile them with their own definitions of success, agree on their future direction, and create a draft action plan.
  2. Present the draft plan to their leader to gain their agreement, support and necessary resources.

Think about it. When your organization is faced with a difficult problem, what does it do? Summon the best minds to problem solve and craft a solution. When faced with a product/process failure, what do you do? Gather those who know best to troubleshoot and fix the problem.

So when it comes to one of your most vital challenges – developing your people – why continue to struggle in isolation? Instead, tap into the talent that exists and is positioned to help co-create development plans and support each employee’s growth. Swap individual development planning for a team for a more inclusive and impactful approach.


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