5 Tips for Writing your Individual Development Plan

Many companies have added a formal “Individual Development Plan” to their performance assessment program. Carly is due in the HR online system by the end of the first quarter. It is tempting and common to look at this as simply another requirement to check off in the course of your busy day to day job. In fact, many managers treat it as simply another checklist. However, the development plan can and should be seen as a tool for career growth. Here are 5 tips to help you get in the right mindset for filling out your development plan:


1. Aim High… Or Be Realistic:

We have heard both of these pieces of advice throughout our lives when it comes to setting personal goals. They are clearly contradictory. In this case, it seems best to know yourself and choose the strategy that works with your personality. According to the StrengthsFinder index, both Tony and I are “Maximizers,” and as such, we tend to set audacious goals. This pushes us to achieve excellence, and I find it highly motivating. For others, this may be paralyzing; having goals that seem out of reach or too large to comprehend can cause some to get stuck in the analytical change. Determine what your style is and embrace it!


2. Ask for Input:

If this is your first time filling out a development plan or even just your first time taking it seriously, ask your colleagues what they have had success with in the past. If you’re unsure of how to best achieve a goal, look for resources online. If you can’t decide the most pressing area for you to focus on growing, do an informal (or formal, if you’re able) 360 feedback session. The important thing is making sure that you’re considering several different points of view and are taking a good view at yourself.


3. Devote Some Quality Time:

Set aside time to write up the plan when you will not be interrupted. This is an investment in your career, and you should take 30-60 minutes to write out your vision for the next year. If at all possible give it more than one day. Write a draft, then sleep on it and work on it the next day. If you work on it three or four different days you’ll end up with a much more complete plan that’s not as heavily affected by how you were feeling on one specific day.


4. Treat the Plan as a Living Document:

As the year goes on, revisit the document. Personally, I have a calendar reminder to check in at the end of each month. See if you’ve kept the promises you made to yourself. If you realize in April that the Short Term Goal you set for the 2nd quarter is no longer relevant, replace it with something that is. Even if the HR software your company uses doesn’t allow you to edit it in the system more than twice a year, keep a paper copy or a copy of the document in Word that you can edit or make notes on throughout the year, so that at the end of the year, you can capture everything you’ve done.


5. Be Intentional:

Recognize that this document is going to be saved in your company’s HR database and that it will be a starting point for conversations with your supervisor. Pick goals that are personally meaningful, but that also make sense in the context of your position. They should be goals that serve you in your current role, but that will also help to develop you for your next step.

In a future article we will address how we prepare for development conversations with our supervisors. Leading that conversation is an important part of utilizing this tool to its fullest.


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