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Individual Development Planning: From One-on-One to a Team Sport


individual development planning

Many leaders – even those deeply committed to the growth of others – find themselves cringing as the annual individual development planning (IDP) season approaches. And they’re not alone. Employees frequently feel a similar sense of dread as they prepare to sit down and plot out their goals, learning, and advancement trajectory yet again.  With employee retention a top priority for many organizations, the time is now to shift our thinking about development.

Standard practice, standard problems

My field research with more than 100 organizations confirms that nearly 90% offer a process for annual development planning. In some form or another, leaders and employees meet to plan development actions for the upcoming year.  Yet, despite the diversity of the organizations’ industries, focuses, sizes and approaches, many share a common challenge with their current practices: Development planning is more mechanical than meaningful.

Too frequently, leaders and employees alike find that internal programs, systems, forms, and deadlines are in the foreground, eclipsing in many cases the kind of meaningful dialogue both crave. This transforms what could very well be the most significant interaction of the year into an administrative task to be completed.

Typical organizational approaches place their focus squarely on the document rather than the day-to-day experience of development. In today’s fast-paced, “check it off my list” climate, it’s not surprising that the requirements of the IDP form end up yielding something that might meet the documentation demands but fails to be a tool that drives a regular and ongoing commitment to (and progress toward) the growth goals of the individual.

And finally, increasingly organizations are coming to the realization that development is a relationship that extends beyond just the leader and employee. To hijack an overused expression:

It takes a village to optimize employee development.

And that’s why it’s time to evolve the entrenched model and thinking that’s been in place for decades — to transform today’s isolated and individual focus to one that’s more inclusive and impactful.

From individual to team development planning

Inclusive, impactful development planning requires changing the fundamental dynamics of the lonely one-on-one IDP. It involves opening the door to broader input and establishing a collaborative rather than individual mindset to employee development.

A team 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 possessed his/her own limited self-perspective. Meanwhile, the leaders (especially with expanding spans of control and distributed workforces) frequently have less day-to-day knowledge of employees — their strengths, contributions, opportunities for development — than those with whom they work day-in and day-out.

A team development planning approach also acknowledges that day-to-day development requires day-to-day support — something that most leaders find themselves woefully unprepared to provide. Distributing the planning role is the first step toward distributing the support role to a larger audience, which has the power to exponentially enhance the development available throughout an organization.

Cancel the IDP meeting and convene a growth gathering instead

Turning development planning into a team sport is easier than you might think, primarily because it’s largely owned and managed by employees who:

  1. Identify four to six development planning (CDP) team members — coworkers, employees, customers, suppliers, or others who know them and are willing to support their development.
  2. Schedule the growth gathering with their team, inviting CDP team members to consider in advance such questions as:
    • What is my unique value proposition? What are some of my greatest strengths, talents, and contributions?
    • What’s one skill or competency that could most dramatically enhance my ability to contribute optimally and why?
    • How are business changes (within and outside the organization) likely to affect me — either negatively or positively with new opportunities?
    • What could/should I be doing to grow?
    • What career advice do you have for me?
  1. Convene the meeting. Gather the perspectives with the team, reconcile them with their own definitions of success, gain agreement on their future focus and create a draft action plan.
  2. Present the draft plan to their leader to gain agreement, support, and resources as required.

Think about it. When your organization faces a tough problem, what does it do? Convene the best minds to hash out the issues and develop a resolution. When you face a product to process breakdown, what do you do? Bring together 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 the talent that exists and is positioned to help co-create development plans and support the growth of each employee. Trade individual for team development planning for a more inclusive and impactful approach.

A tool for jumpstarting collaborative development planning

In my soon-to-be-released book, Promotions are So Yesterday, I introduce the Multidimensional Career Self-Assessment. Using this assessment can help start a conversation with your team about their development priorities. (You’ll find the complimentary assessment here.) Invite employees to complete the brief online assessment. Then during a team meeting, encourage them to share what they learned about themselves and explore how they might support one another as you turn development into a team sport.


  1. 1078 was 44 years ago! That was my last year in corporate America.

    During my time there, the company generally dictated the discussion topic. I remember one year where the question to our group was “what do you aspire to be?” The only correct answer was president. I am not even president of my family, so how could I have that aspiration?

    In our small business, our questions evolved around What can you do, or your department do, to improve customer satisfaction. It involved all of us…
    Inventory management
    Shipping Follow up
    Customer visitations

    To us, we all had the same purpose… focus on what makes a satisfied customer. Over time, we were recognized as:
    * Resourceful
    * Reliability
    * Integrity
    * On time, or early delivery
    * Fair and reasonable pricing

    We even provided them with accurate reorder points to assure that all the players in the process were engaged and going to make their part happen. That included the customer. We became friends because they knew they could trust us to meet all of obligations, not because we were good golfers, bought the best steaks, and so on.

    These commitments applied to all customers… Army, Air Force and Navy, and it did not matter where they were, in the USA or overseas.

    Our mission statements…

    Make it Happen (internally)
    Mission Ready (customer)

    My thoughts about today is that employers should enable discussions prior to outlining missions. Let the underlings state their positions and roles to see how close management was to the worker bees. Then assess. Then, make a plan.
    Then, execute!

    Probably too out of date, but that’s why i am not there anymore!


    • Thanks so much for sharing this information about your (very successful) organization. It seems that you cracked the code on engagement and empowerment even before it was in the news regularly. Your idea about engaging employees first feels right on… especially since the employee experience has such a profound and direct effect on the customer experience. From where I’m sitting, there’s nothing outdated about that! Really appreciate your generosity in sharing your experience and wisdom.


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