Individual Development Plan (IDP) Overview

NOTE: For a downloadable PDF version of the Overview, Instructions, and Forms referenced in this article, click here.


An individual development plan (IDP) is defined as:

A tool to assist employees in career and personal development. Its primary purpose is to help employees reach short and long-term career goals, as well as improve current job performance. An IDP is not a performance evaluation tool or a one-time activity. It should be looked at like a partnership between the employee and the supervisor. It involves preparation and continuous feedback.

                                                                                                                            Source:  U.S. Office of Personnel Management


The IDP process discussed here is based on the following model:

Adapted from The Six Readiness Factors for Planning, Changing, or Advancing Your Career by Donald Whiteside
© 2016 Used with permission.

This IDP process model consists of five sequential phases:

I. Identify/Update Career Goals Identify and clearly articulate career or development goals.
II. Research & Identify Required Qualifications Identify the qualifications necessary to attain the goals or level of development as they relate to the areas of Education, Experience, Skills, and Credentials.
III. Assess Current Readiness Level Assesses the current state of readiness for each required qualification.
IV. Identify & Perform Actions Necessary to Achieve Readiness Identify and perform the action(s) necessary to meet the qualifications.
V. Actively Pursue & Achieve Goals At an appropriate level of readiness, actively pursue and attain the identified career or development goals.

Time Frame

The overall time frame required for attainment of goals will vary based on the unique characteristics of the career involved and the degree to which an employee may already have some preparation.  It would not be uncommon for an IDP to span approximately three to five years. Of course, the time frame may be adjusted to that which is realistically needed and mutually agreed upon by the employee and supervisor.  However, in order to avoid creating an overly complex and lengthy IDP, goals involving more time (e.g., five years or more) may be better served by utilizing a successive series of shorter-term IDPs.

It is recommended employees and supervisors meet at regularly scheduled intervals consistent with the needs of the IDP.  Quarterly meetings may be helpful to discuss progress, resolve any issues, and are opportunities for open dialogue.

Special Notes for Supervisors

  • IDPs, by definition, develop employees so they may reach their career goals.  Supervisors may find it uncomfortable to realize an employee may eventually need to leave the work area in order to realize his or her goals.  The idea of “training someone just so they can leave” may seem counter-productive.  However, a supervisor has a responsibility to develop human resources for the purposes of organizational sustainability.  In order for an organization to survive, it is critical to have well-prepared human resources ready and able to potentially fill future job openings or leadership positions.  Additionally, an immediate benefit to supervisors is that current employees who see themselves being developed may be more motivated and have higher morale.  Knowledge and skills gained through an IDP may also translate into improved on-the-job performance.
  • The goal of an IDP is development.  Therefore, the focus of developmental activities should not be limited solely to those useful to an employee’s current position. Exception: Some employees are sincere in their desire to not seek advancement, promotion, or to change careers.  For these individuals, identifying mutually agreed upon developmental activities which expand or enhance the knowledge and skills needed for their current positions would be both appropriate and beneficial.
  • An employee who is uncooperative and adamantly opposed to participating in an IDP should not be forced to do so.  However, such an attitude may be a symptom of other problems which need to be addressed.
  • An IDP should not be included as part of an employee’s job performance review or evaluation.
  • An IDP is not to be used as any part of a disciplinary process to correct poor job performance, or for corrective or remedial skill development.

SMART Guidelines for Goals

Any goal, whether a developmental or career goal, must meet the following criteria in order to be effective (commonly known as “SMART”):

Specific – The goal must be stated clearly; avoid general statements.

Measurable – Progress toward goal completion must be able to be measured, and it must be possible to determine when the goal has been met.

Attainable – Adequate resources (time, funding, opportunity, equipment, etc.) must exist and be available in order for the goal to be realistically attainable.

Relevant – The goal must be directly relevant to and consistent with the development of the employee.

Time-BasedGoals must have a realistic time frame for completion, and a target completion date must be stated.

For more information about SMART, be sure to read our posting on this topic by clicking here.

NOTE: For a downloadable PDF version of the Overview, Instructions, and Forms referenced in this article, click here.

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