Individual development planning: from isolation to inclusion

(Image credit: illustration SmartBrief)

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 chart their goals, learn, and advance the path further.

Standard practice, standard issues

My field research with hundreds of organizations confirms that almost 90% offer an annual exercise process of meetings between managers and employees to plan development actions for the coming year. Yet despite the diversity of organizations’ industries, goals, sizes, and approaches, they share a common challenge with their current practices: development planning is more mechanical than meaningful.

Leaders and employees find that internal programs, systems, forms and deadlines are front and center, in many cases overshadowing the kind of meaningful dialogue the two require. It turns what might just be the most important interaction of the year into an administrative task to complete.

Typical approaches emphasize the document rather than the day-to-day development experience. 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.

And finally, more and more organizations are coming to the realization that development is a relationship that extends beyond 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 planning to collaborative development planning

Inclusive and impactful development planning requires changing the fundamental dynamics of the solitary and individual IDP. This involves opening the door to wider entry and establishing a collaborative rather than individual mentality to employee development.

A collaborative 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 development opportunities — than those they work with on a daily basis.

A collaborative 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

Collaborative development planning is easier than you might think, primarily because it’s largely owned and managed by employees who:

  1. Identify four to six members of the Collaborative Development Planning (CDP) team – colleagues, employees, customers, suppliers, or others who know them and are willing 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 some of 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 confront me – 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, get agreement on their future, and create a draft action plan.
  2. Present the draft plan to their leader to gain buy-in, support, and 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 one person for collaborative development planning for a more inclusive and impactful approach.

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations around the world to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of the top 100 in leaders of Inc. Magazine, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post Best Author”Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want“, you can read more about his speech, training and blog at

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free emails from SmartBrief at TIME, career development and leadership and management, among the SmartBrief over 200 industry-focused newsletters.


Comments are closed.