Individual Development Plans: How to Drive Employee Career Growth

Individual development plans: how to drive employee career growth

Employees’ desire to grow and develop is a performance management truth that cannot be ignored. An article by Medium states that 94% of employees said they would stay there longer if a company invests in employee careers. Though every organization may have a different employee engagement definition, those focused on fostering employee career growth and improving retention must incorporate individual development plans to develop strengths, manage weaknesses, and pursue training opportunities.

What is an Individual Development Plan?

An individual development plan (IDP) is a documented career guideline created by employees and managers to help employees grow and reach career goals. IDPs are adaptable and intended to grow with the employee throughout their career journey. 

Employees need to see that their desired future is tangible. A key component to successful performance management is aligning career paths to the mission and vision of the organization. When employees can tie their growth to this anchor, they gain a clear understanding that their strengths and skills will be invaluable in the long term. Individual development plans provide employees with a visual representation of the future they can strive towards.

The Purpose and Benefits of IDPs

Teams have different needs but one thing remains the same: employees need to know that they are valued. Intentionally crafted IDPs show employees that their development is not only a priority but also a core strategy for improving the business’s bottom line. The list below highlights the key purposes and benefits of individual development plans: 

1. Increase Employee Retention

According to the NIH, individual development plans increase interests, challenges, and satisfaction in employees’ current positions and maximize performance in support of organizational requirements. Employees who are satisfied in their roles and feel challenged often are less likely to seek additional job opportunities

2. Improve Employee Engagement

The employee journey matters. Gallup states that the 5 major drivers of employee engagement are purpose, development, a caring manager, ongoing conversations, and a focus on strengths. Here is how the individual development plan tackles each of these:

    • Purpose– When IDPs are tied to the organization’s mission, employees see the direct impact of their professional development. Their work has a deeper meaning and it empowers them to strive for greater success. 
    • Development– The entire premise of IDPs is the development of skills, while identifying training opportunities for the employee to reach their professional and personal potential. 
    • A Caring Manager- Effective IDPs are developed with both manager and employee input. The manager’s responsibility is to act as a coach and invest the necessary time and attention to ensure their employee is flourishing and has the support for future career growth.
    • Ongoing Conversations– Strong performance management consists of continuous, ongoing feedback and the individual development plan is a core aspect. Thoughtful managers will stay accountable for holding development conversations at a consistent frequency. 
    • Focus on Strengths– Effective IDPs are designed to identify and harness the unique strengths of individual employees. It’s one thing to know the talents of your direct reports, but the true purpose of an individual development plan is to empower employees to lead confidently from a position of strength.


3. Improve Business Performance Over The Long-Term

High-performing organizations make investments in employee career growth and development, which leads to sustainable, improved long-term business performance. Emphasizing the importance of individual development plans not only shows employees that their talents matter, but it also guarantees that future leaders are being developed. 

IDPs unveil training opportunities that help employees reach their next desired role and responsibilities. When done well, IDPs inform the leadership succession planning process by highlighting skills that have been primed and are ready to be utilized. Individual development plans expose employee behaviors that are representative of the company’s core values, thereby further validating who is- or is not- ready for an increase in responsibility or a career promotion. 

What is the Difference Between an IDP and a PIP?

Unfortunately, individual development plans are often confused with performance improvement plans or PIPs. In a SHRM article, Timothy Ford, an attorney with Einhorn Barbarito states, “A PIP should be used primarily to facilitate improved performance by identifying deficiencies while providing an opportunity for improvement and success.” In practice, employees know that when ‘PIP’ enters the conversation, it means it is the final effort made before termination. 

Though PIPs are created as a reaction to suffering performance, individual development plans help employees reach career goals. IDPs are a natural fit in the performance management process and should be developed for all employees. PIPs, however,  are reserved for those who are struggling to meet expectations. PIPs discipline poor performance. IDPs cultivate increased performance. 

How to Write an Individual Development Plan

To empower employees to achieve meaningful, continuous professional development, the following list details what should be included in a strong individual development plan. 

  • Target development areas– Development areas may include competencies, job requirements, skills, or system knowledge and expertise. These areas should identify specific growth opportunities for the employee.
  • Success measures– These measures should answer the question, “What does ‘done’ look like?” Whatever the highlighted area is, the success measure defines and helps to crystallize the end result.
  • Tasks– Tasks should answer the questions, “What will you do to get from now to ‘done’?” and “What resources will you need?” These are quantifiable actions the employee must take to grow in this particular skill, such as attending certification training or watching an informative webinar. 
  • Completion date– For optimal accountability, each task must include a completion date with the understanding that IDPs should be flexible, not rigid. 


Best-in-class IDPs will also include a section devoted to talent insight. This should help to elaborate on the employee’s greatest strengths, development needs, risks/liabilities, and their greatest value to the organization. The WorkDove Individual Deveopment Plan app generates a visual snapshot of the individual’s talent profile that grows with the employee along their career journey. 


WorkDove IDP+ app screenshot

In certain cases, organizations may find it beneficial to incorporate a personal improvement plan as part of the IDP. As mentioned earlier regarding PIPs, the inclusion of an improvement plan encourages ongoing discussions surrounding areas of concern, manager observations, and necessary corrective actions. It should be noted, however, that performance improvement plans are only a temporary addition to the individual development plan, if applicable, and not a fundamental component.

Effective IDPs will act as a coaching resource for managers to retain and develop the talent of their direct reports. When written with intentionality, IDPs will align managers and their employees to a plan for continuous employee development. 

How WorkDove's IDPs Elevate Employee Development

WorkDove is passionate about the employee journey and our IDP app turns that devotion into reality. With configurable development plans, talent review cards, and integration into performance check-ins, our tool aligns employee development with the overarching mission. IDP+ acts as a single source of truth for employee growth tracks without the risk of disparate systems or unreliable manual processes. Deepen coaching relationships and get your team members excited about their future at your organization with intuitive individual development plans.