Individual Development Plans (IDPs) in the Digital Age

With job-hopping the new reality, there’s now pressure on managers to extract as much value from employees as possible, before they move on. But this shouldn’t be a one-sided push: instead, leaders should also focus on helping employees develop and grow during the time they have together.

How many ‘Sorry you’re leaving’ cards have you signed in the last twelve months? 

With statistics now indicating that a vast majority of the workforce rarely stays in a job for more than two years, chances are you’ve signed at least a few.

Employee retention rate poses a unique set of challenges for employers — how do you make the most of a worker, for the little time you’ve got them.

If leaders accept that the fact that more often than not, talent (especially top talent) won’t stick around for long, that puts pressure on managers to extract the most value from each team member, faster than ever.

How? It’s all in the feedback managers give, and the professional or personal development plans they help employees construct — and the role of digital in empowering each and every employee through their IDP.

In short: IDPs need to be timely, adaptable and holistic in their approach.

Let’s dive in, to find out why…

First up: what are Individual Development Plans? And why are they important?

IDPs are nothing new. Organizations have been using them for decades, to help shape, track and motivate an employee’s personal and professional success journey.

A good IDP will encompass:

  • Career goals (what you want to achieve)
  • The steps that need to be taken to achieve these goals (SMART objectives, and how you’ll achieve your goals), and who can support you in these efforts
  • And how to measure success; what milestones and metrics will be used?

A great IDP, though, will cover all this and more, acknowledging an employee’s personal and professional purpose and fulfillment — more on this later.

Indeed, IDPs can be hugely influential in galvanizing a team member. However, too often, an Individual Development Plan is filled in — either online, or in hard copy — as a matter of administrative obligation, rather than because the employee, or employer, believes they can drive real value.

But, the financial benefits of a motivated employee are apparent; an organization can access 27% higher profit, 50% higher sales, 50% higher customer loyalty levels and 38% above-average productivity, all by ensuring higher than average employee engagement.

And employee engagement and motivation becomes even more crucial, if team member tenure is curtailing.

So before we leap ahead to how IDPs can feed in to greater productivity and profitability, let’s explore the current retention situation for today’s workforce…

Half of today’s workforce are job-hoppers, so what does that mean for professional development?

In 2016, an employee stayed with a job for an average of 4.2 years.

Today? It’s more accurate to consider half that length of time.

So, if you’re tempted to say, “I’m only willing to invest in an employee who can commit to five years in our organization” then you’re missing the point (as well as putting your business at risk).

The shape of business is changing; 18% of all employees change jobs every one-to-three years. And this figure leaps up to 42% for Millennial workers.

As a result, Millennials have been dubbed the “job-hopping generation”, and 48% of this demographic plan to leave their current job in the next two years. With Millennials accounting for 50% of the workforce today, and up to 75% by 2030… that’s a big shift to adjust to.

So, given that half of your team may only be with you for two years — what would you do to engage and inspire a member of staff? How would you approach their professional development?

In truth: the ambition is less about encouraging them to stay, and more about maximizing their input and potential during the time you have them.

Whilst aspects like an attractive benefits package, financial incentives and flexible working conditions help improve employee retention, it’s a smarter — and more sustainable — strategy to assume high turnover and plan a professional development scheme which works in the business’ favor.

This is two-fold in its payout; focus top quality development for each employee, no matter what length of time you have them, and you’ll:

  • Bring about faster on-boarding — reducing training time and budget by developing them to be the best they can be, in as quick a time as possible
  • And extract as much value from their input as you possibly can — benefiting from their skills and expertise, and capturing tacit knowledge before they depart.

At the center of all this, is the Individual Development Plan: a blueprint for an employee’s personal and professional growth.

Get the IDP right, and you’ll maximize an employee’s time, in a way which benefits them and the organization…

How can leaders help their employees create meaningful, and influential, Individual Development Plans?


Traditionally an IDP was set every twelve months, and usually to fall in line with an employee’s annual performance review.

But, for many reasons, annual appraisal is falling out of practice; organizations are now opting for continuous review processes, using real-time goal setting and immediate feedback loops. The role of digital in the workplace is helping drive this — turnaround times are shorter on the whole and the pace of change is swifter.

So where does the Individual Development Plan fit now?

Finding the right approach requires balance. Too short a timeframe, and the employee will struggle to make meaningful steps towards their personal and professional goals. Too long a time and — as often seen with annual reviewing — momentum is lost, and goal-reaching goes off track.

The happy medium? It’s 90 days, according to Chris Outram, Founder of OC&C Strategy Consultants. Writing for INSEAD, he says: 

“Define 90 day priorities for everyone in your organisation. Everything now moves so fast that 90 days is probably the right point at which to assess whether the strategic objectives and goals are appropriate and achievable.”

And this really works for Millennials: 72% who strongly agreed their managers help them set performance goals, also reported feeling engaged at work. Help your job-hopping Millennial workforce create a meaningful IDP, and you start to maximize the time you’ve got with them onboard.

This leads us to our next big question: how can leaders ensure employee’s IDPs are meaningful, and not just viewed as a box-ticking necessity?

The message has to start at the top. If leaders and managers promote the worth and value of IDPs, then this fervor will be picked up by their teams. On the flip side, a manager who shows little interest in their own, or their team’s, IDP has little chance of encouraging their workforce to take a development plan seriously.

To give it the attention is deserves, an IDP needs to be seamlessly integrated into an employee’s everyday experience at work; an individual development plan is “a whole, not an aside”.

Because of this, an IDP must incorporate not only professional goals but personal ones too. 

In 2019, the lines are increasingly blurred between personal and professional ambitions — employees want to know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how this will impact them personally. 

Together, this amounts to purpose and meaning in the workplace. And employees who derive meaning from their work are 1.7 times more satisfied and 1.4 times more engaged. What’s more: these team members are more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any other variable tested!

That is huge

To help support employees in finding meaning and purpose in their work, leaders must encourage them to consider both personal and professional ambitions in their IDPs; highlighting individual objectives — how the employee themselves will benefit from this new skill or achievement — and tying that in with the wider business goals.

Speaking on engaging Millennials at work, account specialist Kathleen Crowe says:

“It’s important to link people’s objectives to the company’s growth. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to sit in front of your C-suite and have a conversation with them; it makes it feel like you’re in it together [and it’s] not just about the company’s bottom line.”

In their white paper Reinventing Performance Management, Mind Gym outlines the six conditions which shape the psychological state needed for individual development: purpose, challenge, attention, growth, recognition and choice.

If done well, an Individual Development Plan will help an employee answer each of these conditions, every day. 

So: does your company’s IDP approach need revisiting?

A checklist for maximizing IDPs in your organization

Here’s what you’ll need to consider, to make the most of IDPs across all levels of your business:

Set clear, contextual expectations

First and foremost, an IDP is based on clear development expectations.

Does the employee know what’s required of them? And, crucially, do they understand how this will fit into the wider business ambitions?

Give them context, to help create meaning and purpose in their work.

… and give these goals appropriate, measurable timelines for success

Remember to be SMART with goal setting – does the employee have an achievable timeline for their development? And do they have all the resources and vehicles required to get them there?

Use of real-time feedback will support them at every step of their development journey.

Use impact descriptions (not just job descriptions)

Add color to an IDP by helping the employee envision the impact their work will have.

Where possible, go beyond numerical data, profit lines and productivity stats; how will their work make themselves, their teammates and their end customers feel?

Utilize technology to improve team experience

This is especially important for Millennial workers, but will benefit the workforce as a whole.

Flexible working is on the rise, so how can an IDP program make the most of digital tech to help an employee achieve their goals? Consider MOOCs, webinars and just in time learning – where a worker can tune in and get training at a time that suits them — in place of more traditional multi-day coaching and development programs.

In addition, a platform like Duuoo helps bring teams together in their personal and professional development. Collaboration is a significant motivator, for Millennial team mates in particular, and using a shared digital space to track, record and feed-in to each other’s development plans fosters the accountability many employees need to spur them on.

In an increasingly digitized business world, traditional practices like IDPs still have a huge role to play. Rather than throwing them out as old hat, smart organizations will use technology to help make these performance management tools more befitting of the 21st Century.

To find out more about how Duuoo can help your business’ performance management adapt to the digital age, get in touch today.

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