Skip to content
Home » Talent Nurturing » How to Write Individual Development Plans
How to Write Individual Development Plans

Individual development plans, or IDPs, are useful tools. You can use them to strategically increase skills in many areas. This includes social skills to management skills to creative and artistic expression.

It’s a tool that helps a person, or an entire company, get from Point A to Point B. An IDP looks at the goal and breaks down the exact steps needed to accomplish it.

What is an Individual Development Plan?

An individual development plan, or IDP, is a simple but strategic personal and career development tool. You can employ them in several circumstances. Although the Human Resource Department most often employs the IDP, it’s an excellent tool for anyone with goals. It’s even a requirement of employees in many federal agencies.

Depending on the goal the team wants to achieve, the IDP can be as detailed or simplified as desired. There are certainly benefits to both extremely detailed plans and more simple versions. The correct choice often depends upon context.

What Are Some Individual Development Plan Examples of Various Uses?

The individual development plan can be academic, professional, creative, or personal in nature. For example, you can use it for:

  • Graduate students to help mold their skills toward their dream job
  • Entry-level or experienced employees looking to progress in their careers
  • Science post-docs seeking the right career path
  • Artists searching for inspiration or enhanced creativity
  • Athletes looking to surpass a previous limitation
  • Someone with personal goals, such as redefining their fashion style or making new friends

In each instance, the IDP starts with the current status quo and the goal. Then, it lays out the exact steps needed to accomplish that goal. It also defines how to measure things like success or goal accomplishment.

Who Should Write an Individual Development Plan?

The short answer is anyone who has goals they want to achieve promptly should write an IDP.

It is a fairly easy process to write an individual development plan. Any organization or individual can use one to meet their goals. It’s not as complex as writing a business proposal. It’s more of an outline format to map your progression with.

As you’re reading this, you may think, “Everyone has goals! I have goals — why would I need to write them into a plan? They’re in my head, and I know exactly what they are!” Well, that’s a great question and point.

A few people can operate at a high level, achieving goals quickly without making an IDP. However, most people who have employed individual development plans have found they can expedite the process of identifying goals and achieving them.

Should You Write an Individual Development Plan?

Think about your current goals.

How long have you had your goals? If you have had them long enough to achieve them — but haven’t, then there’s an excellent chance that you will benefit from an individual development plan.

IDPs can help people stay on track and focus on the current step. This helps people who are overwhelmed by the overall goal. Focusing on the task at hand is a key strategy of individual development plans.

What may appear to be an unattainable goal can be broken down into smaller, more easily achievable steps.

According to a 2018 survey, individual development plans are even more effective when created with a mentor with whom you share a positive relationship.

Should You Encourage Your Employees to Write Individual Development Plans?

Encouraging your employees to write individual development plans with the assistance of your human resources department is an excellent way to accomplish several beneficial company goals.

First, HR can guide your employees in directions where the company needs more talent, which can help you fill new roles opening within the company with your current talent.

Second, employees appreciate when management acknowledges their skills and untapped potential. Regardless of whether an employee is looking to progress in a typical, vertical manner or interested in a lateral, mid-career change, they will be grateful for the opportunity to move in their chosen direction.

Third, IDPs, when properly implemented, are an excellent tool for measuring success, which can be an effective way to calculate bonuses or determine who receives a promotion.

Fourth, even employees who are not interested in “movement” within the company can benefit from an IDP. Some employees may prefer to maintain their current position, and an IDP can help them grow within their role. The goalposts just shift slightly. Instead, you can put the focus on any areas of improvement they can make to help their current position operate at peak performance. The goals can be anything reasonable and measurable, including:

  • Being more welcoming to new hires
  • Having better Emotional Intelligence when dealing with colleagues
  • Being more punctual for meetings
  • Having no more than four errors in their reports
  • Turning assignments in on time at least 90% of the time

The social goals are a bit more complicated to measure but not impossible. You may begin by discussing the status quo and any particular lack of social skills. Then, you can move on to what the employee would and would not feel comfortable with and encourage them to keep a notebook of examples of their efforts.

How Do You Write an Individual Development Plan?

Writing an individual development plan is easy if you have general guidelines or a development plan template to follow.

As previously mentioned, you should generally start with the person’s goals and move through the steps that lead to achievement. There are several components of an IDP. However, you may choose to add or remove specific components if it improves the clarity and efficiency of your plan.

Components of an Individual Development Plan

When setting off to write your first IDP, you should take a moment to consider what your overarching goals are. For example, will this plan serve primarily as a performance appraisal development plan, a leadership development plan template, a promotion plan template, a growth plan template, or something else entirely?

Once you know the general direction your plan is heading, then you can begin to scrutinize the components and decide which ones you will include and exclude. You may also choose to include additional components not listed here.

Some components of IDPs are:

  • Employee profile
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Objectives
  • Strengths, talents, and skills
  • Resources Required
  • Costs
  • Training & Development Opportunities
  • Action Plan
  • Measurement
  • Target Date
  • Signatures

Including these components would make for a complex individual development plan and isn’t necessary. For example, if you’re making a personal IDP goal, there’s no good reason to make yourself sign it. Although, arguably, it solidifies your intent.

Employee Profile

An employee profile is most useful for an IDP when used in large corporations or academic institutes. It is useful for the person reviewing the IDP to quickly remember who this employee is and can include a headshot or picture for reference.

Individual Development Plan Example: Someone making an IDP to become healthier may list what their weekly diet typically consists of, along with activity data from their smartwatch, weight, and health metrics from a recent medical check-up. They may include data like, “can currently walk one mile in 12 minutes, but cannot run a mile,” or “can complete 18 pushups in a row.”


The objective is like the mission statement and relates directly to the goals. This is the long-term goal of the entire IDP. The objective may be difficult to measure. However, it can be broken down into various goals that are measurable.

Individual Development Plan Example: If your objective is “to be healthier,” you might break that down into the following goals:

  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Run a 5k without stopping
  • Lose one inch around the waistline
  • Eat three servings of green vegetables per day

Goals and Aspirations (Short-Term and Long-Term)

The goals and aspirations component is perhaps the most important component of the individual development plan. It’s important to break the objective into both short-term and long-term goals to have benchmark achievements throughout the process.

Individual Development Plan Example: Bob is a fresh employee who suffers from a lack of independence and self-esteem. Bob feels the need to ask his supervisor permission for every task, taking little initiative on his own. After meeting with HR for his IDP, one of the defined objectives became “increased independence.”

Bob’s HR professional broke this down into several measurable short-term and long-term goals:

  • Bob holds his questions until the end of the workday and meanwhile tries to find answers on his own.
  • He restricts his questions to his supervisor to those which are unique with no clear company guidelines.
  • Bob successfully finds answers to his questions without his supervisor’s assistance.
  • He utilizes his peers as resources for his queries.

The longest goal here is the main goal of “increased independence.” But increased independence is difficult to measure in and of itself. The result becomes both more measurable and more easily achievable by breaking it down into smaller, more detailed goals.

Asking Bob to “exert more independence” would likely be met with a blank stare. However, breaking the same sentiment down into the above four measurable goals shows Bob exactly how he can exert more independence and alerts him to the measurements that will be employed to check his progress.

The chances that Bob will meet his goal when it is broken down for him are much higher. It is also more probable that management sees and acknowledges Bob’s efforts when they witness him striving toward meeting his short-term goals, which can provide encouragement.

Strengths, Talents, and Skills

It’s important to play to the individual’s strengths throughout the IDP. It can be easy to put too much emphasis on the skills that are lacking without acknowledging the person’s best traits. However, a skillfully devised IDP will find ways to use the person’s strengths to accomplish their goals.

Individual Development Plan Example: Bob has an excellent background in research. HR asks him to document every time he successfully researches his questions and finds the answer. HR also recognizes that he may not be able to answer every question and encourages him to schedule a meeting with his supervisor when the need arises. They also encourage him to include a short description of the issue and a brief overview of what avenues have already been explored.

Resources Required

Some goals may require additional resources that the individual doesn’t yet possess. It could be a book, a training guide, a laptop, a cell phone, or running shoes. But to be successful, the individual must be equipped with the proper resources. It’s important to list those resources when making the IDP.


Some goals may have costs associated with them. If the goal requires a person to pass a course, there will most likely be fees associated with it. Some offices have stipends in place for continuing education, which is an excellent time to discuss related options and opportunities.

Training & Development Opportunities

Does your office offer opportunities to shadow or train in other departments? This is a good time for HR to discuss these options with the individual and list them in the IDP.

Action Plan

The action plan lists the detailed steps to achieve the specific goal. This could be reading a book, taking a course, or exercising for 30 minutes every other morning.


By what criteria will your success be measured? It’s important that the goals can be measured.

Individual Development Plan Example:

  • Objective: Get healthier
  • Goal: Lose weight
  • Action Plan: Eat fewer calories per day
  • Measurement: I lost 1.2 pounds this week — SUCCESS!

Some measurements, such as feelings, can be difficult but not impossible to measure.

Beware of measuring goals like “to feel like a more integral part of the team.” While not impossible to measure, it can be difficult and may leave the person feeling the process is biased.

Target Date

The target date is the date by which the goal should be achieved. In the above example of getting healthier, the overall target date might be three months, with end-of-week target dates for short-term goals.


Anyone involved in the IDP should sign after having reviewed the information thoroughly. The signature is a symbol of each person’s commitment to actively strive toward achieving all of the goals laid out in the IDP.

Individual Development Plan Takeaways

IDPs are valuable tools that can be implemented in both your workplace and personal life. Taking the time to plan them out will lead to a greater chance of achievement and success.

And remember, no matter who you are or who you want to be — scientist, artist, military personnel, or academic — a well-crafted IDP can help you realize your goals more efficiently.