Why IDPs (Individual Development Plans) fail and what you can do about it?

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IDPs (Individual Development Plan) are crucial for any growth oriented person and companies spend a lot in getting their people assessed on the desired competencies and IPDs developed for them. Yet, more often than not, we see them being converted into a useless, ‘nice to have’ kind of document with no practical benefit for the employee or the organisation. This article is for those who are making their IDPs (the employees) or who are helping their people to plan out their development (managers) and I am sharing here what I have seen as differentiating factors between a ‘just-another-IDP’ and ‘really-useful-IDP’.

Following are the biggest reasons of IPDs not serving their intended purpose:

1. Loosely defined objectives: A senior-manager in a technology company who identified “Interpersonal Effectiveness” as an area to work on as his developmental need for the year, defined his development plan like this:

I will try my best to be more sensitive to people and listen to them more carefully.

He selected this because his work was becoming more and more ‘people-oriented’ and he was often noticing that he was not able to get the desired support from his colleagues at work. All with good intentions and a genuine willingness to learn. But it failed.

2. Focus on ‘school-type’ leaning : Here is another IDP statement from a ‘first-time-manager’ who was given the feedback to work on his “Global Thinking”.

Read articles and books on global strategic management and other relevant articles.

Any experienced manager knows that this never works. It sounds right. It starts well but it never gives the desired result. Again, from my personal interaction with this young and smart guy, I know that he had genuine intension to learn and develop but it did not work. Mere intensions are not enough.

3. Defining open ended objectives: Most failed objectives I encountered during my consulting work were open ended. No mention of any planned date by when those objectives are supposed to be met. Open ended objectives give a false sense of planning but they never work on ground.

Here is what I suggest to people I work with for creating and IDP which works:

A. Select not more than 3 competencies to focus on in a year: The lessor, the better here. In, fact, if you can focus on just one – the most important one for a year, it is going to give far better results.

B. Define objectives which answer the question ‘Who will Do What and When?’ : If any of these 3 are missing, it has a very low possibility to yield any noticeable change. Some examples of development objectives:

By end of the 2nd trimester of this year, I will identify 3 area of improvement in our design process and discuss it with at least 3 colleagues and my immediate supervisor.

C. Make sure that objective is very much aligned with your daily routine: If the objective is something which will require you to take special time out to do that, it is less likely to work. For example, if ‘team working’ is the area of development, an objective situated in daily routine at work is likely to be far more effective that one that requires attending special team-building program. An example is given below:

By the end of this quarter, I will have shared with at least 5 people the ‘design document’ that I am working on and get at least 5 different suggestions on how to improve it.

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