The Ultimate Guide: Implementing An Individual Development Plan

More and more organizations are turning to Individual Development Plans (IDPs) to help their teams grow.

In this article, we'll unpack what IDPs are, why they matter, and how to make them work in your organization.

What are Individual Development Plans?

Simply put, an IDP is a roadmap for an employee's growth. It's like a personal plan that focuses on their career goals. Think of it as a tool that helps people figure out where they want to go professionally and how to get there.

Why Do We Implement Individual Learning Plans?

Why bother with IDPs? Here are a few reasons.

They encourage employees to take charge of their learning.

  • Empowers employees to identify their own skill gaps and learning needs.
  • Fosters a culture of self-improvement and proactivity in professional development.

They make sure that the learning resources we provide are actually used.

  • Aligns organizational resources with individual needs, ensuring more effective use.
  • Helps in tracking the utilization of learning resources, leading to better resource management.

They help improve individual performance.

  • Directly links learning to performance improvement, making development more goal-oriented.
  • Encourages regular reflection and adjustment of personal goals, aligning them with performance expectations.

They let us know what challenges our employees face and how we can help.

  • Provides insights into common developmental needs, guiding L&D strategies.
  • Encourages open dialogue between managers and employees about challenges and support.

They support career growth.

  • Helps employees visualize and plan for their career progression within the company.
  • Reinforces the company’s commitment to employee career development, boosting morale and retention.

They show that we care about our team’s continuous development.

  • Demonstrates the organization's investment in its people, beyond just their current roles.
  • Builds a culture of continuous learning and development, which is essential for adapting to changing business needs.

But, there's a catch. We don't have solid proof that IDPs work wonders in all these areas. We're still figuring out the best ways to measure their impact. So, we need to be thoughtful about why and how we use them.

Why Don't Employees Use Individual Development Plans?

Despite the clear benefits, sometimes employees shy away from using Individual Development Plans. This could be due to a variety of reasons, frequently originating from a lack of understanding, perceived value, or support. Let's explore the common barriers:

Lack of Awareness and Understanding

Many employees might not be aware that IDPs exist or understand their purpose. Without clear communication and guidance on how to fill them out, these plans can seem intimidating or irrelevant. It's crucial for organizations to not only introduce IDPs but also provide easy-to-follow instructions and emphasize their importance for personal and professional growth.

Perceived Lack of Benefit

If employees don’t see a tangible benefit in using IDPs, they're less likely to engage with them. This often happens when the outcomes of following an IDP aren't clear or when past experiences haven't led to noticeable growth or opportunities. To counter this, it's important to showcase success stories and make the direct link between IDPs and career advancement more explicit.

Previous Attempts Without Visible Change

Employees who have tried IDPs before but didn’t witness any significant improvement in their skills or career trajectory might be hesitant to try again. This points to a need for better alignment of IDPs with actual career paths and learning opportunities within the organization, ensuring that these plans are practical and results-driven.

Perceived as Overly Time-Consuming

The notion that creating and following an IDP is a time-consuming process can discourage employees. This is especially true in fast-paced work environments where immediate tasks come first. To encourage usage, it's important to streamline the IDP process and integrate it seamlessly into the employees’ regular workflow.

Discouragement from Others

In some cases, employees might be actively discouraged from spending time on IDPs, either by their peers or superiors. This can stem from a culture that undervalues personal development or prioritizes immediate work output over long-term growth. Changing this mindset requires a shift in organizational culture, emphasizing the value of continuous learning and development.

Lack of Role Models

When employees don't see their colleagues or leaders engaging with IDPs, they might question their worth. Role modeling is a powerful tool for changing perceptions. Encouraging people to share their IDP experiences and successes can inspire others to follow suit.

In light of these barriers, it becomes evident that IDPs need more than just a standard rollout.

Individual Development Plans: A Product Approach

Like many other L&D initiatives, Individual Development Plans require a strategic, thoughtful approach – much like launching a new product.

  1. What’s the goal of this 'product'? The goal of IDPs should be clear and measurable. It's not just about creating a plan; it's about fostering real, tangible growth and development for each employee. Ask yourself: What specific outcomes are we aiming for with these IDPs? How do these align with our broader organizational objectives?
  2. How will we know if it's working? Measuring the effectiveness of IDPs is crucial. Consider both qualitative and quantitative metrics – from employee feedback to changes in performance metrics. Reflect on: How will we track progress? What indicators will show us that the IDPs are making a difference?
  3. Who are we making this for? IDPs should be tailored to meet the needs of your employees. This requires understanding their unique career aspirations, habits, desires, mindsets, and challenges. Consider: Who are our primary 'users'? What do their career paths look like, and how can IDPs be customized to support these paths?
  4. What’s the journey like for the person using this 'product'? The employee experience with IDPs should be engaging and beneficial. It’s important to map out the journey from the employee’s perspective – from initial introduction to the plan to ongoing support and adjustments. Ask: What steps will the employee go through in this process? How can we make each step valuable and user-friendly?
  5. How do we spread the word about it? Effective communication and marketing are key to the adoption of IDPs. This includes creating awareness, generating excitement, and providing ongoing support. Reflect on: How will we inform employees about the IDPs? What channels and methods will we use to keep them engaged and motivated to participate?
  6. How will we collect feedback about IDPs to iterate the "product"? Continual improvement is key to the success of any product, and IDPs are no exception. Establishing a system for gathering feedback from employees who are using the IDPs is crucial. Think about: What methods will we use to collect feedback – surveys, focus groups, one-on-one meetings? How often will we review this feedback, and who will be responsible for implementing changes? Additionally, consider how you’ll communicate any updates or improvements back to the employees, reinforcing the idea that their input is valued and acted upon.

By considering these elements, L&D professionals can transform IDPs from routine tasks into dynamic, impactful tools that employees are eager to engage with. This product-oriented approach ensures that IDPs are not just created, but are effectively rolled-out out, and iterated, based on user feedback.

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What Not to Do When Implementing Individual Development Plans

When it comes to implementing Individual Development Plans (IDPs), even the best intentions can lead to common pitfalls. Avoiding these mistakes is crucial for the success of your IDP initiative. Let’s take a closer look at each error and understand why they can be harmful.

Fundamental Errors:

  1. Not knowing why you’re using IDPs. Without a clear purpose, IDPs can become a mere formality. It's essential to define what you aim to achieve – whether it's skill development, career progression, or performance improvement. Ask yourself: Why are we really implementing IDPs? What do we hope to achieve?
  2. Not measuring their effectiveness. If you can't measure it, you can't improve it. It’s important to have metrics in place to evaluate the impact of IDPs. Consider: What are the key performance indicators for our IDP program? How will we track and assess progress?
  3. Not having a marketing plan for IDPs. Effective marketing of IDPs is crucial for both initial adoption and sustained engagement. It’s about more than just the first announcement; it involves continuous communication and promotion of the program's benefits. Initially, consider creative ways to launch IDPs to capture attention and interest. Then, think about ongoing strategies: How will we keep IDPs visible and relevant in the organization? What regular updates or success stories can we share to maintain enthusiasm? How can we use different channels, like internal newsletters, meetings, or intranet portals, to keep the conversation going? A robust marketing plan ensures that IDPs remain a focal point of your organization’s learning culture, not just a one-time initiative.
  4. Not thinking about how people will access and get support for IDPs.Accessibility and support are critical for the uptake of IDPs. Ensure that employees know where to find their IDPs and whom to approach for help. Reflect on: How easy is it for employees to access their IDPs? What support system do we have in place for guidance and assistance?

Advanced Errors:

  • Rolling them out to everyone without considering department readiness and the adoption curve. Each department in an organization can be at a different point on the adoption curve, which represents the varying levels of readiness and enthusiasm for new initiatives like IDPs. Some departments might be early adopters, eager and ready to embrace IDPs, while others may be more hesitant or resistant. It’s crucial to assess where each department falls on this curve and tailor the IDP rollout accordingly.

Consider questions like: Which departments are most likely to embrace IDPs readily? How can we use these early adopters to demonstrate the benefits and encourage others? For departments that are slower to adopt, what additional support or information might they need? Tailoring your approach based on department readiness and the adoption curve ensures a more successful and less resistant implementation of IDPs across the organization.

  • Launching without a plan for getting people on board.Adoption doesn't happen automatically. It’s important to have a strategy to encourage and motivate employees to use IDPs. Consider: What incentives or motivations can we offer? How can we make IDPs appealing and relevant to our employees?
  • Discontinuing IDPs After the First Iteration Without Considering User Feedback and Further Iterations. In the world of L&D, it’s common to roll out new initiatives like IDPs, but it's equally common to drop them prematurely without fully exploring their potential through iterative improvements. This practice can be a significant misstep. The first iteration of an IDP program is rarely perfect and often requires refinement based on user feedback. Before deciding to discontinue, it's crucial to gather insights from the users – the employees.

Consider questions like: What did employees like or dislike about the IDPs? What suggestions do they have for improvement? Are there noticeable trends in the feedback that point to specific areas needing adjustment? Embrace the concept of continuous improvement. Remember, it’s often through the second and third iterations, informed by real user experiences and feedback, that programs like IDPs truly begin to thrive and show their value. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of IDPs but also demonstrates a commitment to evolving L&D practices based on employee needs and experiences.

  • Not trying IDPs because you're stuck on finding the perfect technology or template. Perfection can be the enemy of progress. While having the right tools and templates is important, it shouldn't halt the initiative. Think about: Can we start with a basic version and improve over time? How can we balance the need for quality with the need to get started?

By steering clear of these fundamental and advanced errors, you can set a strong foundation for your IDP program, ensuring it is impactful, sustainable, and well-received by your team.

Individual Development Plan Overlook The Human Nature

Implementing Individual Development Plans (IDPs) goes beyond distributing templates; it's about engaging with the human aspects of motivation, mindset, and habits. Each employee brings their own set of challenges and perspectives to the table, which can significantly impact how they interact with and benefit from IDPs. Let’s explore these aspects and their solutions:

  • Motivation: It's one thing to set goals, but quite another to stay motivated. To maintain this drive, it's helpful to incorporate reflective questions into the IDP process. Questions like Can I do it?, Will it work?, and Is it worth it? help employees assess their confidence, trust in the process, and the value they place on their goals. This self-awareness can be a powerful motivator.
  • Mindset: Our beliefs and past experiences can either propel us forward or hold us back. Regular mindset sessions can be instrumental in addressing these barriers. In these sessions, employees can share limiting thoughts and collaborate on strategies to overcome these mental blocks and achieve their objectives.
  • Habits: Often, there’s a disconnect between setting goals and understanding the daily habits needed to achieve them. By providing resources and tools for habit formation, such as webinars, articles, or workshops, employees can learn how to align their daily actions with their broader development goals. Encouraging them to map and reflect on their current habits helps in making necessary adjustments to support their IDP objectives.

By addressing these human elements in the implementation of IDPs, we can greatly enhance their effectiveness and ensure they are more than just a formal exercise, but a meaningful path to personal and professional growth.

An Implementation Plan for Individual Development Plans

As we’ve established already, creating a successful Individual Development Plan program involves a series of strategic steps. This implementation plan synthesizes the insights from this article, providing a step-by-step guide to roll out IDPs effectively in your organization.


This phase sets the groundwork for your IDP program.

  1. Define Your Objectives and Goals. Start by setting clear, measurable goals for the IDP program, aligned with your broader organizational objectives.
  2. Establish Measurement and Feedback Mechanisms. Implement systems to evaluate the effectiveness of IDPs, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. Plan for regular feedback collection from participants.
  3. Design the Employee User Journey. Map out a clear, supportive journey for employee engagement with their IDP, from initial introduction to ongoing involvement.
  4. Develop a Tailored IDP Framework. Create an adaptable and user-friendly IDP template suitable for the diverse career paths in your organization.
  5. Develop a Communication Plan. Craft a comprehensive plan for how you will introduce and continually communicate about the IDP program. This plan should outline the messaging, channels, and frequency of communication.


In this phase, you introduce the IDP to the organization.

  1. Pilot and Evaluate Readiness. Start with a pilot in a ready department, using feedback to refine your approach before a wider rollout.
  2. Iterative Rollout and Adaptation. Gradually expand the program, tailoring the approach for different departments based on readiness and feedback.

Advertise & Support

This ongoing phase ensures the IDP program remains relevant and effective.

  1. Communicate and Market the IDP Program. Continuously promote IDPs through diverse channels, highlighting their benefits and successes.
  2. Train and Support. Offer training (make sure to cover motivation, mindset, habits) and ongoing support for both employees and managers to maximize the benefits of IDPs.
  3. Review and Iterate. Regularly assess the program's impact, making necessary adjustments based on feedback and performance metrics.
  4. Sustain Engagement. Keep employees engaged with regular updates, success stories, and reminders, fostering a culture of continuous personal and professional development.

Individual Development Plan Examples

Individual Growth Plans at GitLab

Individual Development Plans at Blinkist

Career Development Plans at Juro

Professional Development Plans at Deeson

Personal Development Plans at Learnerbly

Career Development Canvas by Arielle

Individual Development Plan at The Mintable

Agile Growth Plan from People Storming

Career Growth Planning Template by Vicky Furlan

Coaching Tips for Managers by Natasha Schön


To wrap up, IDPs are powerful tools for employee growth and organizational development. But they need to be implemented thoughtfully. Remember, it’s about more than just filling out a form. It’s about motivating, guiding, and supporting your team on their growth journey.

Lavinia Mehedintu has been designing learning experiences and career development programs for the past 9 years both in the corporate world and in higher education. As a Co-Founder and Learning Architect @Offbeat she’s applying adult learning principles so that learning & people professionals can connect, collaborate, and grow. She’s passionate about social learning, behavior change, and technology and constantly puts in the work to bring these three together to drive innovation in the learning & development space.

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