7 Steps to a Great Individual Development Plan

Creating a great individual development plan (IDP) will help you focus and accelerate growth in your career – whether that means improving performance in your current role or building the foundation for a future role. Here are a few best practices.

1. Clarify where you want to go with your career.

What ideal role(s) are you targeting long-term? Mid-term? Next? If you’re not clear about the title or specific role (e.g., CEO of a small company, technology executive, market research manager), focus on what you are clear about. E.g., you may know you want to stay current and close to technology and have lots of autonomy while leading a team in a large global organization.

2. Identify the key skills, experiences and relationships that will help get you to your ideal role.

If you don’t know, do some research. Review job postings for roles to which you aspire. Search LinkedIn for people who work in these roles and look at their profiles. Conduct brief ‘informational interviews’ with people in fields or roles that interest you; ask them about their career paths and what it’s taken them to be successful.

3. Assess objectively where you are now.

Evaluate your own skill proficiencies, experiences and relationships against what you’ll need to be effective where you want to go. Seek feedback from others who know you and who have recently seen you in action. Your boss and senior leaders are great potential resources. A 360-degree assessment where multiple colleagues in all directions provide their anonymous feedback about your performance can also be hugely helpful.

4. Identify the most important goals or focus areas for the coming year.

Choose up to three focus areas – the fewer the better – where significant progress would make the most difference in your effectiveness. You may want to fine tune a strength. Or you may choose a skill area where you are weaker but need to improve because it has or will become increasingly important. Consider others’ feedback but choose a focus area(s) that is meaningful for you. Here are some examples: be viewed as a business leader and not just a technology leader. Demonstrate more confidence, poise and assertiveness with senior leaders. Improve collaboration with cross-functional business partners.

5. For each area of focus, clarify what success looks like.

How will you and others know that you’ve made significant progress? What will people ultimately observe and say about you in relation to this focus area? What milestones will you cross on the way there? How can you measure success? E.g., If you want to improve collaboration with cross-functional business partners, success may mean interacting regularly with John from human resources, Maria from finance, and Eun from marketing. Success also may involve them rating you and your team’s service and collaboration highly.

6. Choose your next steps.

Get specific about one or two actions you will take to move forward in each goal or focus area. E.g., choose to contact John, Maria and Eun this week to schedule 30 minutes with each one before the end of the month. Set a meeting agenda that addresses not only the tasks at hand but also your goal of building a more collaborative relationship. And ask them in 3 months to rate how well you and your team are serving and collaborating with them.

7. Get ongoing support to implement your plan.

Share your plan – whether with your boss, a mentor, a trusted peer or all of the above – and ask for ongoing feedback as you work your plan. I recommend at least a quarterly check-in. A leadership coach can also be a great resource in developing your IDP and providing support, focus, ideas and encouragement as you implement it.

It’s on you to be intentional and strategic about your career development. Creating a strong individual development plan is key.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As an executive coach and leadership consultant, he has guided hundreds of leaders and aspiring leaders in creating and successfully implementing individual development plans to grow their effectiveness and success. Contact him at jbaker@people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.