Many organizations encourage their employees to create an individual development plan (IDP), also know as a professional development plan (PDP), alongside setting annual performance goals. Typically, employees create these plans to list skills and expertise they need to develop along with tactics to acquire the skills by a specific deadline.

IDPs have been around a long time and were used as a performance improvement tool when they first started. They have continued to morph over time to help learners think longer-term about their career aspirations and where their skills and experience gaps might be. These plans have turned into career action plans to help someone get from their current role to a future role.

The Best of Both Worlds

In times of severe talent shortages, disengagement, resignations and self-discovery, the IDP can be an excellent way to achieve “the best of both worlds” or, in other words, what we in talent management have been trying to find for years — the middle of the Venn diagram where the employee’s skills and career aspirations also fill organizational needs.

The trouble with IDPs of the past is they squarely focused on the needs or weaknesses of the individual to perform better in their role. Today, organizations need people with specific skill sets and mindsets they may struggle to find in the open market. We need to consider both sides of the Venn diagram to build engagement, productivity and inspire retention.

The actual IDP is not complex; it is the output of a development conversation between a manager and a team member. This should be a standalone conversation focused on what roles, skills and experiences the organization needs, where the employee wants to take their career and the gaps the employee needs to fill to get there.

Several factors should be defined to ensure individual and organizational needs are aligned before the IDP conversation happens, including:

  • Key roles, current skills and experiences.
  • Key skills, experiences, future skills and experiences.
  • Development, movement opportunities and a desire to learn and grow.

Organizational Considerations

To help employees know where the company is going and what the organization needs in terms of talent, learning leaders should consult with the business and identify key roles and needs that leaders see now and in the future that will help the company succeed.

“Key roles” is a term that is open to interpretation; the term generally applies to not only those roles that are critical to success but those that may fall into one or more of the following categories:

• In high demand.
• In short supply.
• Current staff has critical knowledge only in their heads.
• Existing staff are vulnerable due to retirement, poaching or departure.
• No or little bench strength or back-ups to current staff.

When you work with leaders to identify roles, it is a very short walk to then identify the skills and experiences needed to operate those roles successfully – our second organizational factor. Researching and articulating what successful people have in terms of skills, knowledge and experiences within these roles today will give you a clear picture.

In addition to knowing the skills and experiences needed for key roles, there may be other future skills an organization may need and not have in their current talent to grow market share and clients, expand geographically, take on new services/products/offerings, acquire other entities and more.

Typically, organizations focus on future skills in the technology realm, such as artificial intelligence (AI), data and digitalization. However, other future skills can include product marketing, content marketing, human behavior/cognitive sciences, storytelling, problem-solving, design thinking and others. Identifying the organizational strategy, the work to be done to support that strategy, key roles and then skills (in that order), will help in syncing employee development options.

Finally, the organization needs to provide opportunities for employees to prepare to move into key roles and acquire key skills and experiences. These opportunities can be in the way of internal training, shadowing, rotation programs, mentoring programs, external training or certifications, externships, professional boards and memberships, or even cross-functional projects or gigs where they get exposure to different areas or work on a team to solve a specific business problem.

Employee Considerations

The other half of the Venn diagram is the employee. Employees should drive their career paths, but the organization needs to build the roads to drive on. Development plans should be created by having a conversation between employees and managers to determine one’s current skill set and where they want to go. Often, employees want to know the direction the organization is moving to help inform where they want to go. Growing in place and growing within a current organization can be a way to reengage on the job if someone feels stuck or ready to leave.

Determining current skills can be done through observation, 360-degree feedback, self-assessments and even empirical assessments if desired. Reflecting on past work should help someone identify where their strengths are — those skills they are good at and enjoy doing — along with simply asking others for their thoughts. Personally, I have always found that I learn more about myself when I ask others their impressions and feedback about me, my style and my work product.

Based on the role the employee wants and the organization’s needs can help build the path from Point A (where the employee is today) to Point B (where the employee wants to be in the future). Knowing those key roles and key skills and experiences can lay the blueprint for what an employee may be missing, which directly informs a development plan to close the gaps.

It is also critical for managers and employees to be aware of the development opportunities available from the organization and other external providers to help create that aligned IPD.

Lastly, the desire to learn and grow must be there for the employee. This may be taken for granted, but I have spent some time in my career with people who were content where they were, and there is nothing wrong with that. For those employees who crave growth, managers can spend their time in development conversations and creating IDPs to fill the needs of the organization and the team member. Aligning development to a bigger vision helps create engagement and a little loyalty.


Syncing up an employee development plan and business objectives isn’t hard work. However, I often find we miss the organizational side of individual development planning. For employees to feel valued and feel like they have a path and a future with the organization, we need to ensure managers know where the organization is headed, the key roles and skills, and what opportunities for growth and movement exist.

As someone who has been a leader in people departments for most of my career, marketing, branding, and awareness of programs and resources cannot be underestimated or underdone. One email or one intranet post doesn’t work. Help your managers understand how to sync their people’s desires with the organization’s.

You will have greater success with alignment by focusing your efforts on building an awareness of your strategy, skills development initiatives and opportunities for growth.