The Power of a Written Individual Development Plan

I’ve always been a strong proponent of the importance of having a written individual development plan (IDP) for leadership development. That is, identifying:

– What you want to get better at
– How you’re going to do it
– When you’re going to do it

I have one. I make sure my employees have one. And I try to encourage all employees to have one, not just managers.

The idea is often met with resistance. I hear things like “I’m developing all the time, why do I need to write it down?”, or “I don’t have time to do that”, or “That’s just some form HR makes us fill out… it’s worthless”, and on and on.

There’s some truth to all of these comments. Perhaps at one time you were forced to fill out a form, or maybe someone even wrote one for you. Maybe it was the last page of a performance appraisal.
There was little substance, little buy-in, and it really was just extra work that no one has time for.

When I conduct workshops on how to develop as a leader, or am coaching a leader, I usually get pretty good buy-in until we get to the point where it’s time to put it in writing. The moment of truth, time to make a commitment. Then, for some, picking up that pen is met with staunch resistance.
I heard a story that convinced me of the power of having written goals that I often tell to try to get people over this hump. It turns out I’ve had a few of the facts wrong, but it’s been close enough to often make the point and change some minds.

The Harvard Business School Goal Story
In the book What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack tells a study conducted on students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program.

In that year, the students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Only three percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a whopping 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

Ten years later, the members of the class were interviewed again, and the findings, while somewhat predictable, were nonetheless astonishing. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals? They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

While this story is about financial goals, the same concept applies to leadership development goals.

You can sit back and float though life hoping you’ll get better as a leader. And if you’re lucky, you will. Development will come to us.

But why not increase your chances of success ten times simply by putting your development goals in writing? Do it. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.