Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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.


Gwyn Teatro said...

This is a great reminder that just because you write it down doesn't mean it's going to get done.
I particularly like points 1 and 3 of your recommendations. If nothing else works, making a public commitment and engaging someone to hold you accountable for doing what you say you're going to do actually does. It worked for me and I am particularly adept at procrastination!
Another great post, Dan. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Regarding the IDP, how do you make them own the IDP and take interest in acting on it. What would be your value proposition for them to act on it?


Will Lukang

Mike Chitty said...

This is one of the reasons why we set up Progress School.

It provides accountability partners, provides monthly reminders about the importance of development, provides for a public declaration of the progress you intend to make and helps you to track and measure progress.

It also serves to let you look at development planning in a whole person context, allowing the integration of both personal and professional development into a single framework.

Find out more about Progress School at:

Unknown said...

During my playing years of football a new coaching regime was coming in and the old coach was stepping down. The old coach met with each of us separtely and mapped out a plan of what we were going to do to make ourselves better. Quite frankly, no one brought it up later on, and I do not think there is any recollection of that event the following year. It is true accountability and reminders are important this is why this example failed. However, I do believe IDPs can work, obviously following through and taking action but also it is really ip to the individual. A honey do list is always around, it is the action of the husband to do. Just like losing weight, or getting stronger, smarter or whichever. The strength of the person's brain power and individual moral help the IDP succeed.

Dan McCarthy said...

Gwyn -
Thanks. Yes, it's easier to put something off when no one but you knows about it.

Will -
You're right, "WIIFM" is important. Ownership starts with awareness of the need. That somethimes happens through self-assessment, more often through feedback. The value prop is greater success and acheivement.

Mike -
Sounds interesting. Thanks.

Alexander -
Great story and example, thanks!

BomiM said...

We unfortunately cannot cure obesity by reading books on dieting. Nor can we develop ourselves or others by writing "development plans". That's one of the reasons why developing individuals requires a good coach to act as the “accountability partner” as you put it. The good ones will help convert insights, gained through conversations, to actions for learning. ;-)

Tim G said...

I'm a big believer that execution is one of the most neglected competencies in many workplaces. It's not that people don't have good intentions, it's simply that many people don't know how to execute - or perhaps, they do know, but they don't know how to prioritize in a way that enables them to execute on what is most important.

IDPs often suffer when this is the case.

I'll often recommend to people: choose ONE thing - just one! - that you're going to improve over the next 6-10 weeks. Focus on that, and hit it from several different directions (reading, coaching, trying new behaviors - heck, even take a class). After this becomes a habit, take on a second area.

davidburkus said...

You're on to something with the coffee table book. I'm hardly an empirical study, but I often noticed that the pretty a statement of goals...the less likely they are to get done.

anna smith said...

I would love an ipad/phone app that lets you level up and earn badges every time you complete ssomething on your IDP. And if you don't check in often enough, your skills wither and you have to start all over again. You can earn bonus points by helping other people out. The goal is to reach SUPERvisor, Master Manager or Greatest Guru status...

Coach Scott said...

Talk is cheap. There's not point in setting a goal if you have no intention of accomplishing it. It's smart to set reminders in your smart phone so you don't even have to think about it. Hiring a coach would be a good move because they would both keep you accountable and track your progress.

Dan McCarthy said...

Bomi -
Good to hear from you again. Thanks for the comment.

Tim -
right, I've tried the "one thing" approach too. Posted about it here:

David -
hmmm, could be. thanks.

Anna -
Right, sounds like those tomagotchi pets my kids used to have.

Coach Scott -
How about a coach app? (-:

Benjamin McCall said...

I agree that IDP can be worthless especially when there's no personal reinforcement. If you want to develop as an individual then you should be committed as an individual to that plan!

Dan Zaccagnino said...

This is a great topic. I think getting in groups and talking about plans and goals are a great way to get business ideas across. However, it is always up to the individual to pursue and take action. Like the old saying goes "If you want something done the right way, you have to do it yourself." I am particularly an infamous procrastinator, so I am always making lists or else things never get done. I think suggestions 1 and 4 will be another way for me to achieve personal development. Thanks for the post Dan.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

I enjoyed this blog post. It is a good reminder to me to pull out my goals. What I was surprised with was how many of them were not important to me! I was either doing them for someone else or was no longer motivated to take action. The biggest challenge for me is accountability. For some reason, it is not enough for me to be accountable to myself. I need a coach, friend, etc. to push me along. This morning I read a message board where a woman had lost 96 lbs. the 100+ positive posts celebrating her achievement were a huge motivation. I am inspired by people who "tweet" or post small goals to FB. Granted, I don't want to see them everyday, but I do like to hear a small goal, how they are occassionally tackling it and the end result. Helps me as I move down my own path to success.


Carla said...

This is a great reminder, Dan. I agree that Individual Development Plans can be valuable to document goals that you, as a professional, have for yourself. However, as you indicated, even those that are tremendously motivated, tend to put aside their IDP goals, with intentions to go back to it.
Oftentimes, I find my colleagues pulling out their IDP to assess their accomplishments for annual merit increases, and struggle last minute to complete their goals. Oftentimes, the tasks are executed in a rushed manner and the individual is left with not completing the task to their initial standards.
So, reminders focusing on dedicating time to accomplish goals on Individual Development Plans are extremely beneficial.

Thank you.

Sachin said...

I have to admit that I have walked out of IDPs enthused and ready for a new me, but just as described the fire was gone in a few weeks. Personal development is so difficult in our careers and personal lives. The tip you provided about making a public declaration is great. It gets people you know on your side and helps motivate the changes you want to see. I agree with you that everybody means well, but some checks and balances after the initial motivation are still needed.

Dan McCarthy said...

Ben -
You're right, and a few reminders along the way sure do help. Thanks.

Dan -
Thanks, I'm glad it might help you and the rest of the procrastinators out there.

Casey -
Thanks, that's a good reminder that priorites can change - sometimes development goals are not pursied because they really shouldn't be.

Carla -
Right, rushing so that you can check them off at review time is a worthless drill too. Thanks.

Sachin -
Thanks, I hope it works for you too.