Employee Growth

What are Individual Development Plans and How Do They Empower Employee Success?

March 19, 2024
March 19, 2024
Jennifer Ernst Beaudry and Lorena Blas
Lattice Team

In today's dynamic workplace, individual development plans (IDPs) are crucial for employee engagement and retention. An IDP is a document that defines employee growth objectives and learning pathways. 

Lattice research shows that many employees, especially younger workers, want a job that offers clear opportunities for growth and career progression transparency. That’s one place IDPs can help — they enable employees to define their career goals and identify the steps to achieve them. Plus, they can be a powerful tool for motivation and inspiration.

However, many organizations fail to realize the full potential of the IDP process. Below, we’ll look at what individual development plans are and how they can help employees and organizations alike.

What is an individual development plan?

An individual development plan (IDP) is a document co-created by an employee and their manager. It outlines short- and long-term career goals and development areas. IDPs lay out the support and educational pathways for specific goals, like initiatives to lead, classes and seminars to enroll in, and opportunities to seek out. Companies that offer employees these types of structured training and advancement opportunities are magnets for talent, according to a 2022 McKinsey & Company report on human capital at work.

IDPs are not performance evaluations or performance management plans. They’re a well-regarded tool in human resource management (for example, many federal agencies require them) and can be a powerful aid for the development of employees and companies alike.

IDPs are a key component of many companies’ learning and development (L&D) strategies, especially because they are an affordable way to invest in employee career growth. But while IDPs are a ubiquitous growth planning tool, they are most useful when they are updated regularly and integrated into employees’ daily workflows. They are meant to evolve with the employee, with new goals and opportunities added as they grow their career and competencies. IDPs should be revisited regularly by employees and managers for optimal benefit. 

an employee view of their IDP
IDPs empower employees to drive their own career growth.

Characteristics of Successful IDPs

While every development plan is customized to address unique objectives and opportunities for each employee, these are the five key components of an effective IDP:


IDPs recognize employee strengths, such as unique skills that can impact professional development and performance. Strengths can encompass attributes like knowledge, talents, and behaviors, all of which can be an asset to a company. For example, an employee who displays active listening and critical thinking can be helpful at the negotiation table.

Development Opportunities

IDPs identify specific opportunities for employee development and skills they should cultivate. Self-reflection and performance reviews can reveal areas for improvement. This information helps identify educational courses and projects to support employees’ career growth, such as classes on risk assessment, SEO research, or management styles.

Long-Term Career Vision

Employees benefit from identifying personal motivators, defining purpose beyond work, and seeking a positive organizational culture that aligns with personal values and fosters growth — all of which contribute to their career aspirations. Flexibility and smart planning help employees during unexpected events like layoffs and downsizing.

Short-Term Career Plan

While career growth can look different for every employee, IDPs that recognize strengths and resources can set clear direction and establish short-term goals. Employee action plans can include diverse educational opportunities such as workshops, online courses, mentoring programs, and experiential learning.

Immediate Growth Areas

IDPs help employees by breaking down their career goals so they can identify relevant educational resources, learn from mentors, and actively pursue hands-on opportunities for professional growth. By setting manageable milestones for immediate growth, IDPs make it possible to pursue big plans.

When considering the characteristics of an IDP, specificity is key in spelling out necessary new skills and essential training needed to achieve benchmarks or participate in valuable job shadowing opportunities.

But IDPs shouldn’t be a rigid catalog of boxes to tick, either. While the intention is to set goals, the plan should allow the employee to adjust their career path as they learn.

How IDPs Support Employees

Working through the IDP process offers employees a chance to reflect on their skill set and current job performance and to help them envision what their career advancement might look like — and what action steps they’ll need to get there. For those workers whose previous interactions with supervisors have been limited to feedback on their job performance, the act of career planning and setting professional goals can be a huge plus.

In Lattice’s 2021 career progression survey, 76% of employees said they would be somewhat or very likely to leave a company if they felt dissatisfied about opportunities for career progression there. Self-assessment and career planning empower workers to envision growth, helping firms retain employees.

Employee development plans can also be illuminating for both employees and managers. IDPs “enable an open dialogue between [the] manager and [their] direct reports about how the person can be their best, rather than focus on what they are ‘doing wrong,’ and provide a roadmap with a manageable but meaningful mix of on-the-job experiences, formal learning, and coaching and mentoring,” said Bonnie Davis, founding partner and consultant at Colorado-based coaching and consulting firm HuWork.

How do you write an IDP?

Writing a comprehensive individual development plan begins with collaboration between manager and employee to identify the employee’s current skill set, strengths, and objectives. Plans may look different for each employee, but the basic IDP template should do the following. 

Define goals.

Clear career development goals are important for every IDP. Here’s what employees should consider when defining their goals: 

  • Career aspirations
  • Available opportunities
  • Skills to learn
  • On-the-job training
  • Alignment with personal interests

Managers should work with employees to synchronize their goals with the company’s.

Outline their strengths.

By identifying their strengths, employees can capitalize on their existing skills while focusing training on personal development needs. For example, individuals proficient in SEO research and data analysis, yet needing to enhance their active listening skills, could enroll in interpersonal communications classes. Managers can assign responsibilities that align with an employee’s strengths and guide employee training in other areas.

Determine their objectives.

While defining goals sets the broader direction for employees, determining their objectives involves outlining specific, measurable steps that contribute to reaching those goals. Whether it is taking two courses in project management or writing five blog posts a quarter, objectives are the actionable steps that employees must take to achieve success.

Devise a plan.

IDPs should identify actions, time frames, and resources needed to complete objectives. This stage details manageable tasks, assigns responsibilities, and establishes a clear map toward reaching goals. To maintain accountability and keep employees motivated, it’s important to document specific actions, when to start and complete activities, and where to get information.

Continue measuring goals.

Effective IDPs institute metrics — measurable ways for the employee to gauge their progress and success. Continuously measuring goals involves regularly monitoring progress, identifying key performance indicators (KPIs), and revising strategies as needed to stay aligned with the main objectives. 

Benefits of an Individual Development Plan

An IDP provides advantages to both individuals and organizations, nurturing personal and professional growth while boosting overall productivity and satisfaction. Benefits include:

  • Identifying goals: Clear milestones provide motivation.
  • Improving skills: Growing competencies enhances efficiency.
  • Showcasing strengths: Recognizing talents boosts morale and confidence.
  • Fostering mentorship: Sharing knowledge builds trust and relationships.
  • Increasing employee engagement: Promoting interaction inspires collaboration.
  • Recruiting/retaining talent: Investing in career growth attracts employees.

How Lattice Brings IDPs to Life

Lattice offers a comprehensive solution for employee development with Individual Development Plans. It empowers employees and managers to keep monitoring progress on short-term goals, fostering continuous growth. With the addition of the IDP feature, managers can go one step further in supporting employee development.

a manager's view of an individual development plan
Our easy-to-launch Individual Development Plans help employees achieve meaningful, continuous growth.

Lattice equips managers with conversation guides and reminders to deliver exceptional career development support, ensuring crucial developmental opportunities receive the attention they deserve. The combination of growth plans and IDPs transforms managers into career coaches, providing the necessary tools and framework to drive meaningful and productive development discussions with employees.

Schedule a demo to learn how Lattice Grow takes employee development to the next level.