It's time to kill off the Individual Development Plan

HFL works with more than a thousand leaders a year, and their experience – when it comes to IDPs – is astonishingly consistent. The vast majority find undertaking annual performance reviews, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, phony or pointless.

The employees don’t take them seriously and don’t execute them, and the leaders are often reduced to cut and paste exercises once a year. At one of our recent networking lunches, most of our guests – senior HR types – lamented that IDPs in their organisations were perceived as negative.
Why IDP is a dirty acronym
Why is something that’s meant to benefit both individuals and their organisations so undervalued by staff and leaders alike? Here are some explanations:

1. The word ‘development’ can be viewed negatively by those who have to complete IDPs - the plans are often perceived as being imposed as an attempt by the organisation (or HR) to ‘fix’ the staff member.

2. The positioning of IDPs can be confusing. Staff who score well in annual reviews question why they need a development plan when they are already good at their job. This is particularly true of individuals who have been in role a long time, technical experts and older cohorts who believe they know their stuff.

3. Managers see IDPs as a bureaucratic nuisance imposed upon by HR – and unfortunately, this is often true.

4. Managers who have had poor or nonexistent experiences with IDPs find it difficult to see the value in properly shaped and aligned action plans – and therefore challenging to encourage their reports to.

5. Managers, despite the best efforts of HR teams to provide excellent briefing materials, are extremely poor at personal growth conversations. Most managers, if asked to write a properly constructed, SMART development plan, would fail a competency test.  This means that when plans are produced, they aren’t as meaningful or measurable as they should be, and this makes the plan easier to ignore and harder to execute.

6. Due to a lack of commitment, most actions are never executed.
Revamping the IDP for today’s workforce
We’re in a world where instant gratification is the norm and new opportunities are around every corner. Many of those who have joined the workforce in the last ten years  are looking for rapid progression and a chance to provide real impact. They’re happy to get their hands dirty and experiment.

So how can we revamp the IDP to make it meaningful for those shaping and actioning them - to make them fit for modern purpose?

We propose the following framework:

1. Call them Personal Growth Plans (PGP) – remove all reference to the word ‘development’. PGPs are to be valued as career drivers. 

2. It’s their path, so employees are responsible for writing and executing their individual plan.

3. Make PGPs discretionary.

4. Help leaders communicate the case for a PGP – how self-improvement is great for job security and feeds the ambition of those who wish to progress.

5. Provide a simple template for both the leader and the employee to use as a record of personal growth conversations and both parties’ intentions. Make sure this template documents the impact the personal growth action is intended to deliver.

6. Include only two or three action areas, ensuring that at least one of these is a positive strength to be built on. Too many action areas lead to a lack of focus, and this negatively impacts execution.

7. Encourage the parties to this personal growth conversation by focusing on impacts, then activities and then measures. Impact is critical. If the employee can’t describe the extra impact or value they wish to deliver, planning the activity is a waste of effort, because it is unlikely to get executed.

8. Advise employees to make plans for the next six months, not a year. This shorter time frame brings actions into closer focus and requires the authors of the plans to reduce the scope of the actions. This in turn makes them more achievable. If a large change is required (that will take longer than six months) break the action into six monthly, digestible chunks.

9. Insist on monthly catch ups, but advise employees and their managers that these need only take 15 minutes, and once a properly documented plan is in place, can take place over the phone if necessary.

10. Encourage employees to make the growth actions part of their daily and weekly work – that is, something which gets changed in the normal course of work, not an extra activity. Few people have spare time for extra activities.

11. Employees need access to trusted others who can help them maintain the energy for execution of their plans.

12. Employees find it exceptionally valuable if they can submit their plans to a trusted neutral for objective, expert feedback.

For a copy of the HFL Personal Growth Plan template, please email

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