Using (and Misusing) Individual Development Plans

Individual Development Plans (IDP’s) are sometimes misused in an organization. Here are ways you can get the most from your IDP.

Have you ever had an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

IDPs are designed to be used by managers and employees to identify developmental assignments that will enhance an employee’s performance and/or potential for promotion. If used correctly, IDPs can be an effective tool for career advancement.

Unfortunately, IDPs are sometimes misused in an organization, for example, when all employees are mandated to have one, regardless of whether one is appropriate for them at that stage of their career. Obviously, employees with no performance improvement needs and no desire for promotion do not need to have an Individual Development Plan. Imagine someone who was going to retire in a year or less being required to prepare an IDP. If it were me, I would include golf lessons.

Another way IDPs can be misused by an organization, even with good intentions, is to make an active IDP a requirement for any type of training. This tends to focus on the Individual Development Plan as a tool for training, not a tool for overall employee development. There are many types of developmental activities that do not require a formal training class.

Let’s look at the good that comes from a proper IDP and then look at ways you can try to get the most from your own Individual Development Plan.

An IDP can improve your performance in your current job. For example, if you are rated lower than you would like in a particular aspect of your job, ask your manager to give you developmental assignments or training in that area so that you may improve and, hopefully, achieve a higher rating. Formalizing such assignments or requests for training in an IDP will formalize your request and serve as a reminder for your manager that you are interested in development in your current job.  

If you are seeking advancement within your agency, an IDP will put your manager on notice that you would like to have assignments or training that that will enhance your promotability.

Here are some ways to get the most out of an Individual Development Plan.

  • Don’t wait for your manager to suggest that you develop an IDP. Take the initiative and approach your manager with your desire to improve and/or advance yourself professionally. Ask for a career discussion with your manager. If you don’t tell your manager what you are interested in, he/she might never be aware of your career development desires or concerns.
  • Don’t fill your IDP with training courses and not include any developmental assignments. Training budgets are perennially tight, and lack of money should not derail your career. Challenging work assignments can be of equal or greater benefit than training classes.
  • Don’t let the IDP gather dust in a drawer, either yours or your manager’s. Schedule periodic follow-ups with your manager on your progress toward your developmental goals.  

If you follow these steps, there is a good chance that your Individual Development Plan will be a valuable document that helps you advance in your career.

Agencies can request to have John Grobe, or another of Federal Career Experts' qualified instructors, deliver a retirement or transition seminar to their employees. FCE instructors are not financial advisers and will not sell or recommend financial products to class participants. Agency Benefits Officers can contact John Grobe at to discuss schedules and costs.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a firm that provides pre-retirement training and seminars to a wide variety of federal agencies. FCE’s instructors are all retired federal retirement specialists who educate class participants on the ins and outs of federal retirement and benefits; there is never an attempt to influence participants to invest a certain way, or to purchase any financial products. John and FCE specialize in retirement for special category employees, such as law enforcement officers.