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How to Write a Good Development Plan

development-planI often hear managers and employees say that their organization does have a process in place for reviewing employee performance and setting career goals for the year ahead, but that they are not following it! Or, if they are following it, it seems that they are doing so, not for the benefit of the individual, but because the process dictates that they have to do it. What a shame!

A process will normally have been put in place because someone wants to help us implement a new habit or follow a best practice, but we can easily misunderstand their good intentions and feel that they are imposing a new process – and red tape – on us!

Unfortunately yearly reviews and development plans can easily fall into this misunderstood category.

Managers and employees are already strapped for time and aren’t looking for more administrative tasks to add to their list. In that spirit, it’s unfortunate that reviews and development plans are being down prioritized, as it can be a fantastic tool for opening up a conversation and focusing both manager and employee on the individual’s career development. But you don’t have to let that happen to you!

If your manager hasn’t asked for a development plan, take the lead and instigate the process. This is about your career, meaning that you need to be in the driving seat.

In this post I will help you take charge and complete an impeccable development plan that will stretch and challenge you. If it is well written, not only will it have a positive impact on the things you want to achieve in your career, it will also increase your confidence and give you a greater sense of fulfillment.

What is a Development Plan?

Let’s first of all look at what a development plan is. An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a tool that helps facilitate employee development. These days IDPs are mostly conducted online as a two-way commitment between the employee and their manager on what they are going to do to grow and develop the employee’s career.

The IDP is often the second step after a year-end review has taken place. The first step is a review of the employee’s performance during the previous year; discussing everything the employee did well and not so well. The second step is to write the IDP, which focuses on what needs to happen to improve the employee’s performance and increase their professional growth.

When IDPs are well written and taken seriously, they really do work. They can help an underperformer uplift their performance, give a good performer a renewed focus or inspire a top-performer to really excel and expand into new territory. But it does require that managers and employees take time out to have meaningful conversations about performance and aspirations and that the plan is monitored on a regular basis. When that happens the IDP becomes a measure of progress, and a commitment to invest in the individual’s professional development from both sides.

What are the steps and tips for writing a good development plan?

If your company doesn’t have a formal process or tool for creating IDPs, don’t worry, as you don’t need an online tool. Below we will look at the practical steps involved in composing an IDP, simply and effectively.

But let’s first consider the backdrop for the development plan, i.e. what the circumstances are for completing it. Which of the following scenarios are true for you?

  1. Your company has an end of year process where your performance is being reviewed and as part of that process you now need to complete an IDP.
  2. You are new in your job and need to define your role in greater depth.
  3. The organization you work for doesn’t have a formal review process, but you are keen to take matters in your own hands, as you want to improve and expand the remit of what you do.
  4. You don’t currently have a job, or a formal line manager, but you are curious about how a development plan can help you formulate what you would like to achieve in your career going forward.

Irrespective of the backdrop, completing a development plan can help you move forward. If you are developing the IDP at your own initiative your challenge may be to “sell it” it your manager. If, on the other hand, you have been asked to develop it by HR or your managers, your challenge may be to personally find the motivation to fully support it. In that case, consider that this isn’t just a process but that it’s a tool, which can do wonders for your career. You just need to be open to opportunities and willing to give it a go.

What is your goal?

Stephen Covey taught us the important principle that we should always “begin with the end in mind”. The same is true when it comes to IDPs. Ask yourself where you would like to be in your career 12 months from now – and why? What would you like to have achieved and what would you like other people to say about you? What could give you more meaning and purpose in your job and in which ways can you amplify those aspects going forward? In addition to specific skills and achievements, also ask yourself which attributes you would like to have acquired in the next 12 months, such as becoming a confident presenter, a good listener or an empathetic manager.

If you are unsure about your goals and the direction you feel you should be going in, consider who your role models are. Who do you generally admire and look up to and why? What do they have that you would ultimately like to have as well? Examining your role models can be an excellent way to ascertain what the direction of your own goals might be. As you reflect on your goals, also consider any feedback you have received from managers, peers and clients in the past – positive as well as negative. What strengths can you enhance and leverage and which weak points do you need to improve on?

The tangible output from asking yourself these insightful questions should be 3-5 overarching goals or competencies that you would like to develop in the next 12 months, in terms of skills, knowledge, and attributes. Your goals could for instance be to become a subject matter within a certain area, to develop a trusting relationship with a certain decision-maker within your company or to develop a skill like business analysis. Write your goals down and make them as tangible and measurable as possible so that it will be easy for you to gauge your progress.

What action do you need to take to achieve your goal – and by when?

Now that you know what your measurable goals are for the next 12 months, you need to identify specific action you can take to move you closer to these goals. Some of your actions could be to take a course, work with an external coach, shadow a certain colleague, read a book, find a mentor in your company or seek out more challenging work assignments.

Be as specific as you can about which actions you will take and put a date against them. You are much more likely to carry through with your actions if you have mentally committed to a certain date. Also make a note of any costs that are required to carry out the actions you have identified, as the monetary aspect likely needs to be approved by your manager.

Implement your plan

For anyone who works in a traditional setting with a manager, it is imperative that you jointly review and discuss your development plan before you go off and implement it. There may well be actions that you can get on with without your manager’s blessing, but you will generally get much further by discussing your career path and IDP with your manager and gaining their feedback, involvement, and support.

When you have agreed the plan with your manager the IDP is officially done. From then on it’s all about taking action and regularly reviewing and updating your plan to reflect your progress and determining your next steps.

To keep your spirits high decide to meet regularly with a mentor or buddy who can help you stay on course. You are much more likely to keep taking action and achieving your goals if you feel a sense of commitment to someone external to yourself.

Good luck!



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About Susanne Madsen

Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognised project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook and The Power of Project Leadership (Jan 2015).

Prior to setting up her own business, she worked for 17 years in the corporate sector leading large change programmes of up to $30 million for organisations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. She is a fully qualified Corporate and Executive coach and a member of the Association for Project Management (APM).

Susanne specialises in helping managers improve their leadership skills so that they can gain control of their projects and fast-track their career. She does this through a combination of training, coaching, mentoring and consulting.

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