Steer Your Career

Employee work plans feed into organizational success

by Sean P. Goffnett

Developing quality leaders is critical to the success of every organization. High-performing quality leaders do not materialize overnight. They develop over time with proper training and support.

An individual development plan (IDP) focuses on developing a quality talent pool by allowing each individual to create a systematic strategy to improve skills and overall performance. IDPs help cultivate talent and enable individuals to advance more quickly to meet the critical needs of the organization while fulfilling their personal skills development and career goals.

An IDP is a tailored plan created by employees in collaboration with their immediate managers to establish clear goals, deadlines and measurable action items. It is important for managers to engage in the process and provide resources. Managers undertake a quality control function during performance appraisals and ensure that employees at all levels have the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) to perform their roles.

IDPs can range from informal statements shared with supervisors to structured documentation that is submitted as part of a larger performance management system. Organizations that employ performance management tactics are more likely to outperform competitors on financial measures and nonfinancial measures.

There are three major elements in a structured IDP:

  1. Development goals.
  2. Timelines to accomplish each development goal.
  3. Activities necessary for development.

Online Figure 1 illustrates a structured IDP. Start the process by thinking about what you do well and what you should improve to enhance performance. Identify strengths, interests and opportunities for improvement. Form a concise list of KSA improvements related primarily to your job requirements and career goals. Set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Commit to a few specific goals. Managers should provide clarifying feedback to ensure that your goals align with those of the organization and that nothing stands in the way of success.

Online Figure 1

Employees and managers should establish a timeline to accomplish each goal. Goals can be added to an IDP and appraised at any time, but it is beneficial to set firm deadlines. Use major achievements and activity milestones as key measures of success.

After defining IDP goals and deadlines, describe the activities necessary to achieve the goals. Action items might include job rotation, stretch assignments, travel, training, mentoring, supplier contact, customer interaction and performance reviews. Individuals are motivated by and benefit from diverse development experiences that provide challenging opportunities to practice new skills.

A team development plan is a subtle variation of the IDP that teams can use to identify improvement opportunities in the collective skill set needed to meet project requirements.

Paths toward success

The IDP is a quality tool that creates direction and ongoing dialogue with future quality leaders. They help identify improvement needs and align them with internal talent needs and future opportunities in the organization. This allows managers to gauge and support paths toward success for the organization and its employees.

As employees fulfill strategically planned tasks, challenging new assignments and education experiences, the person gains KSAs that lead to higher performance, increased career satisfaction and rapid advancement. As managers use IDPs, the organization enhances its overall performance while forming a deeper talent pool to meet the quality leadership needs of tomorrow.


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  • Mattone, John and Luis Xavier, Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees, American Management Association, 2012.

Sean P. Goffnett is an assistant professor of marketing and logistics at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Goffnett received his doctorate in quality management from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and holds master’s degrees in HR and labor relations from Michigan State University in East Lansing, and a master’s in engineering management from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He is a senior member of ASQ, an ASQ-certified quality process analyst and holds a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

The statement "Organizations that employ performance management tactics are more likely to outperform competitors on financial measures and nonfinancial measures." was unsupported by evidence. I would ask the author to support such statements in the future.
--James T. Turner, 07-18-2014

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