All Articles Leadership Management Individual development planning: From isolated to inclusive

Individual development planning: From isolated to inclusive

Instead of siloing individual development, make it collaborative.

5 min read


Individual development planning: From isolated to inclusive

SmartBrief illustration

Many leaders – even those deeply committed to the growth of others – find themselves cringing as the annual individual development planning (IDP) season approaches. And they’re not alone. Employees frequently feel a similar sense of dread as they prepare to sit down and plot out their goals, learning and advancement trajectory yet again

Standard practice, standard problems

My field research with hundreds of organizations confirms that nearly 90% offer a process for an annual exercise of leaders and employees meeting to plan development actions for the upcoming year.  Yet, despite the diversity of the organizations’ industries, focuses, sizes and approaches, they share a common challenge with their current practices: Development planning is more mechanical than meaningful.

Leaders and employees alike find that internal programs, systems, forms and deadlines are in the foreground, eclipsing in many cases the kind of meaningful dialogue both crave. This transforms what could very well be the most significant interaction of the year into an administrative task to be completed.

Typical approaches place their focus squarely on the document rather than the day-to-day experience of development. In today’s fast-paced, “check it off my list” climate, it’s not surprising that the requirements of the IDP form end up yielding something that might meet the documentation demands but fails to be a tool that drives a regular and ongoing commitment to (and progress toward) the growth goals of the individual.

And finally, increasingly organizations are coming to the realization that development is a relationship that extends beyond just the leader and employee. To hijack an overused expression:

It takes a village to optimize employee development. And that’s why it’s time to evolve the entrenched model and thinking that’s been in place for decades — to transform today’s isolated and individual focus to one that’s more inclusive and impactful.

From individual to collaborative development planning

Inclusive, impactful development planning requires changing the fundamental dynamics of the lonely one-on-one IDP. It involves opening the door to broader input and establishing a collaborative rather than individual mindset to employee development.

A collaborative development planning approach assumes that more minds will lead to higher-quality plans and greater growth. Because, let’s face it: Under the old model, the employee possessed his/her own limited self-perspective. Meanwhile, the leaders (especially with expanding spans of control and distributed workforces) frequently have less day-to-day knowledge of employees — their strengths, contributions, opportunities for development — than those with whom they work day-in and day-out.

A collaborative development planning approach also acknowledges that day-to-day development requires day-to-day support — something that most leaders find themselves woefully unprepared to provide. Distributing the planning role is the first step toward distributing the support role to a larger audience, which has the power to exponentially enhance the development available throughout an organization.

Cancel the IDP meeting and convene a growth gathering instead

Collaborative development planning is easier than you might think, primarily because it’s largely owned and managed by employees who:

  1. Identify four to six collaborative development planning (CDP) team members — coworkers, employees, customers, suppliers or others who know them and are willing to support their development.
  2. Schedule the growth gathering with their team, inviting CDP team members to consider in advance such questions as:
  • What is my unique value proposition? What are some of my greatest strengths, talents and contributions?
  • What’s one skill or competency that could most dramatically enhance my ability to contribute optimally and why?
  • How are business changes (within and outside the organization) likely to affect me — either negatively or positively with new opportunities?
  • What could/should I be doing to grow?
  • What career advice do you have for me?
  1. Convene the meeting. Gather the perspectives with the team, reconcile them with their own definitions of success, gain agreement on their future focus and create a draft action plan.
  2. Present the draft plan to their leader to gain agreement, support and resources as required.

Think about it. When your organization faces a tough problem, what does it do? Convene the best minds to hash out the issues and develop a resolution. When you face a product to process breakdown, what do you do? Bring together those who know best to troubleshoot and fix the problem.

So, when it comes to one of your most vital challenges – developing your people — why continue to struggle in isolation? Instead, tap the talent that exists and is positioned to help co-create development plans and support the growth of each employee. Trade individual for collaborative development planning for a more inclusive and impactful approach.


Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning.  Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want,” You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mails on HR, career development and leadership and management, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.