Individual Development Plans (IDPs): A Complete Guide to Nurturing Employee Growth

October 16, 2023

Few things are more satisfying than watching your people develop and flourish. Why wait for this to happen on its own? A solid development plan will give your staff a roadmap to success.

The research is clear: employees want employers to invest in their professional development. Sixty-eight percent of workers say they'd stay with their company if they had opportunities to upskill.  

Sounds great! You’re onboard! Subscribe to a professional development course library and you’ve checked that box, right?

Not quite.

That course library certainly can be one facet of your talent development strategy. But to make employee development truly valuable, you need to tailor it to each individual.

This is where individual development plans (IDPs) come into play.

Gone are the days when a one-size-fits-all approach to professional development sufficed. Instead, today’s employees expect learning opportunities that support their own unique goals.

In this guide, we’ll explore the concept of IDPs, explore their benefits, and share our step-by-step process for creating them.

Key takeaways:

  • An individual development plan is a personalized career or skill development roadmap that identifies specific employee goals along with the actions, resources needed, and timeline to achieve them.
  • IDPs create structure around professional development. This helps foster a culture of learning, improves talent attraction and retention, and a more engaged workforce.
  • An effective IDP is clear, specific, actionable, and measurable. They should also be reviewed on a semi-regular cadence to ensure accountability.

What is an Individual Development Plan (IDP)?

An IDP is an outline of an individual employee’s career goals and the specific steps required to achieve them.

The key word here is individual. An IDP is tailor-made for each employee’s unique goals and capabilities. No two IDPs are alike.

We’ll dive into the specific components in our IDP template at the end of the article, but at a high level, an IDP contains specifics on an employee’s:

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Career goals
  • Specific action plans to achieve those goals
  • Timeframe for execution

At its core, an IDP is a concrete framework or roadmap for advancing employee development. This is a win for you, your organization, and your workforce.

Learn More: Career Pathing: Why It Matters & How to Get Started

How IDPs Benefit Your Organization

On that note, individual career development plans foster a culture of continuous learning and personal advancement. IDPs not only contribute to the holistic development of employees but, in turn, drive organizational success in several ways:

  • Cultivation of a leadership pipeline. IDPs nurture the next generation of leaders within an organization and aid in succession planning. As employees set goals that align with leadership competencies, they become better prepared to lead. This saves time and resources that might otherwise be spent on external recruitment.
  • Talent retention and attraction. Organizations that prioritize employee development via a robust talent development strategy are more likely to retain their best workers. Employees value opportunities for growth and skill enhancement, and when these are provided through IDPs, workers are more likely to remain committed to the company.
  • A positive organizational culture. A culture that values individual growth and development promotes open communication, collaboration, and a more supportive work environment. IDPs embed that ethos into the performance management process.
  • Improved performance management. IDPs also provide a structured framework for ongoing performance discussions and feedback. Regular check-ins on goals give managers the opportunity to provide timely guidance and support, leading to more effective performance management.
  • Alignment of individual and company goals. When employees' personal goals are aligned with your organization's objectives, it creates a powerful synergy. IDPs ensure employee development funnels into a company’s larger strategic goals, resulting in a unified drive toward success.
  • Increased engagement. Your staff’s commitment to the company naturally deepens when employee engagement and interest in their personal development are high. An IDP demonstrates that the organization is invested in its employees' futures, fostering a sense of loyalty and belonging.

How to Create an IDP

An IDP can take many forms, but let’s break down the key components. You can use this framework to build out your own.

1. Goals

Your employee and their manager should identify several short-term and long-term goals as a starting point to anchor the IDP. These might include acquiring a new skill, obtaining a certification, or stepping into a leadership role. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART).

For each goal, identify the following:

  • Specific objective: Describe the goal in clear and concise terms
  • Measurement of success: How will you know if the goal is complete or successful?
  • Development activities: What specific actions will the employee take to achieve this goal?
  • Resources needed: What support does the employee need to achieve these goals?
  • Timeline: A realistic deadline or timeframe for completing the goal.

Don’t worry about getting too into the weeds here. You’ll flesh out more of the specifics in the following sections.

Self-assessment: Strengths & Weaknesses

Employee self-assessments are a common, and often fruitful performance management tactic, and they have a place in individual development plans as well.

In this section of the IDP, have employees list their top strengths and most important areas of improvement.

Acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses is important. Highlighting where your employees shine is a great way of recognizing past achievements and building confidence. And, since this is an individual development plan, you need to surface areas to develop as well.

3. Developmental activities

Break down the developmental activities, and add more detail. List each activity, describe what it entails, the goal it supports, and how it contributes to the employee’s overall growth.

These could include workshops, training programs, mentorship sessions, hands-on projects, or job rotations.

4. Timeline and Milestones

Once you’ve crystalized the development activities, break down the progression into manageable segments with specific timelines. Assign milestones to measure progress and track an employee’s advancement toward each goal.

5. Resources and Support

List out the resources needed to achieve these goals. Think about resources in two ways:

  • Physical resources, like books, courses, and online resources.
  • Community resources, like mentors, internal experts, and industry associations.

Add specificity to how your employee can access these. It might be a list of helpful links to bookmark, contact information for experts, or instructions for how to join a professional organization.

6. Success Measures

For each goal, clarify how you and your employee will measure the success of the goal completion. Be as specific as possible, using real numbers and timeframes where relevant.

7. Feedback and Evaluation

To add accountability, indicate when and how the employee will be evaluated on their development. This could be during their regular manager 1:1s or maybe on a quarterly basis.

Ensure it’s often enough to maintain accountability, but not so frequent where there isn’t progress to report.

8. Integration with Company Goals

Again, itemize each goal and indicate which larger company objective(s) your individual goals funnel into. It helps to have clear and established organizational goals already disseminated to the workforce.

9. Conclusion

This is optional, but you might want to include a space for your employees to add any final thoughts or notes that don’t fit into the template.

Examples of IDPs in Action

Let's now explore a few IDP examples to illustrate the diverse scenarios in which they can help.

Example 1: Bridging Skills Gaps

As a beginner in the field of software development, Sarah is aware of the need to close the knowledge gap between her current skills and those required by her employers. Although she excels at front-end development, she has little experience with back-end technologies.

Sarah arranges a 1:1 with her supervisor to discuss how she can grow her knowledge and skillset, and together they draw up some IDP goals:

  • Back-end proficiency. Over the next six months, Sarah will complete online courses and practical projects focused on back-end technologies.
  • Sarah will seek mentorship from senior developers within the company to gain insight and guidance.
  • Company projects. Sarah will participate in at least two internal projects that involve back-end development, allowing her to apply her new skills in a real-world context.

Sarah's IDP helps her acquire the skills she needs to advance in her career and contribute more comprehensively to team projects.

Example 2: Shifting Career Paths

Michael, a seasoned marketing manager, is considering transitioning from traditional marketing to digital marketing to help him stay relevant in an evolving industry. After discussing his needs with his supervisor, they created an IDP focusing on the following goals:

  • Digital marketing education. The supervisor suggests that the company pay for Michael’s enrollment in online courses specializing in digital marketing tactics, including SEO, social media advertising, and analytics.
  • Hands-on application. Michael will also collaborate with the company's digital marketing team on select projects to put his newfound knowledge into practice.
  • Michael will attend industry webinars and conferences to expand his network within the digital marketing sphere.

By creating a comprehensive IDP, Michael can strategically transition into digital marketing, capitalizing on his existing skills while acquiring new ones.

Sample IDP Template

We’ve done a bit of the work for you! Copy this sample IDP template and modify it to fit your organization.

Personal Information




1. Goals

Short-Term Goals (6-12 months)

  1. Goal name
    1. Specific objective:
    2. Measurement of Success:
    3. Developmental Activities:
    4. Resources Needed:
    5. Timeline:
  2. Goal name
    1. Specific objective:
    2. Measurement of Success:
    3. Developmental Activities:
    4. Resources Needed:
    5. Timeline:

Long-Term Goals (2-5 years)

  1. Goal name
    1. Specific objective:
    2. Measurement of Success:
    3. Developmental Activities:
    4. Resources Needed:
    5. Timeline:
  2. Goal name
    1. Specific objective:
    2. Measurement of Success:
    3. Developmental Activities:
    4. Resources Needed:
    5. Timeline:

2. Self-Assessment


  • Strength #1
  • Strength #2
  • Strength #3

Areas for Improvement

  • Area #1
  • Area #2
  • Area #3

3. Developmental Activities

  1. Activity Name
    1. Goal(s) it supports:
    2. Description of activity:
    3. How it contributes to your growth
    4. Timeline:
  2. Activity Name
    1. Goal(s) it supports:
    2. Description of activity:
    3. How it contributes to your growth
    4. Timeline:

4. Resources and Support

Books, courses, online resources

  • Resource #1
  • Resource #2
  • Resource #3

Mentors, colleagues, industry associations

  • Resource #1
  • Resource #2
  • Resource #3

5. Timeline and Milestones

  • Define deadlines for each activity and milestone.

6. Measuring Success

  • How will you know you've achieved your goals? What specific outcomes will indicate success?

7. Feedback and Evaluation

  • How often will you review your progress and seek feedback? Who will provide feedback?

8. Integration with Company Goals

  • How do your goals align with the organization's objectives?

9. Conclusion

  • Summarize your commitment to your IDP and your growth journey.



Enhance IDPs with Performance Management Software

An individual development plan is a powerful tool for improving the efficacy of your talent management strategy. You can make the most of this tactic by leveraging advanced solutions like Paylocity's employee performance management software can be a game-changer.

With streamlined processes and a myriad of features, our software empowers you to foster more transparent communication and encourage 360-degree feedback and peer recognition — all of which keep employee growth and development at the forefront of your approach.

Request a demo to learn more about how, and see what your business could be missing out on.


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