Individual Development Plans (IDPs) Are Worthless….

…if no action is taken.
I take a lot of pride in helping people write “Individual Development Plans”, or IDPs. Thousands of people have stumbled upon Great Leadership searching on this topic, and I’ve probably helped write over 1000 of them as part of my day job.

When working with a leader or aspiring leader, I’ll follow this process:

We usually have a great discussion, and the leader leaves energized about what they are going to do to develop as a leader.

Yes, I’ll tell you, I’ve helped write some beautiful IDPs. I should start a portfolio; maybe publish one of those big coffee table books, or frame them and hang them in my office.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid many of them are worthless pieces of paper. They are fairy tales, complete fabrications, and boldfaced lies.

How do I know this? Because when I check in with the leader (or leader’s manager) 6 months later, more often than not no action has been taken. That’s of course if they can even find the plan.

These are not slackers that I work with. These are high achievers – A players. Heck, I just pulled my own IDP out and realized there were quite a few things I never did. Why not? They sure seemed like great ideas at the time – I was committed, motivated, and had my manager’s enthusiastic support.

This lack of IDP follow-up is a nut I’ve been trying to crack for years. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how well intended people are, development will always be neglected unless some sort of process is put in place to follow-up. That’s why people struggle so much to lose weight on their own. Weight loss programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig work best when you have to weigh in once a week and talk to your counselor, track your progress, and face the consequences or reap the rewards.

The same thing happens after a training program. Participants leave all excited about putting their new ideas and skills to use, and within a few weeks, without follow-up, it’s right back to where they started.

It’s not all doom or gloom. IDPs can and do work. Here are a few ideas to make sure those plans just don’t sit in a drawer gathering dust:

1. Make a public declaration.
Share your IDP with your manager, employees, coworkers, significant others, whatever. Let them know what you are working on and ask for their support. Once a goal is made public, you’ll feel more accountable to make it happen. As an added bonus, research has shown that managers that share their development goals with others receive higher follow-up scores on surveys than those that don’t.

2. Schedule regular reminders on your calendar.
Granted, this one’s kind of weak, and won’t work on its own, regardless of what the people who sold you your new Learning Management System (LMS) told you. However, at least it helps keep you plan front and center.

3. Get an “accountability partner”.
Find someone who can help hold yourself accountable. It could be your manager, a peer, a coach, a friend, or a family member. Make an agreement to call each other at a regular interval and check in on each other’s progress. Marshall Goldsmith, one of the worlds’s most sought after executive coaches, actually talks to his partner at the end of every day! They ask each other a series of yes/no questions for every goal, covering all aspects of life (development, business, fitness & health, spiritual, personal).
This process works great when it’s implemented at the end of a training program.

4. Track and measure your progress.
Try to make your goals measurable, and keep a log of progress. Aubrey Daniels uses this technique as a part of his performance management system. Then, establish your own rewards, or positive consequences, for when you hit key milestones along the way.

You put a lot of effort in that 360 assessment, training program, or book. You wrote a great individual development plan that’s designed to help you build the skills you need to achieve your goals. Don’t let it all go to waste! Put a system in place to ensure follow-up and you’ll beat the odds.