Individual Development Plans (IDPs) have long been used as a tool to help individuals develop their skills, further their unit’s mission, and achieve their career goals. Some units require all soldiers to prepare IDPs, while others rarely use them at all. All leaders, however, have the option of using IDPs–even in units where IDPs are not common.
IDPs are an excellent tool that leaders can use to develop and motivate their soldiers. By encouraging a focused approach to each individual’s training/developmental needs, leaders can help their soldiers enhance their job skills and become more effective and productive. Leaders who promote the use of IDPs also send a clear message to their charges that they view each soldier’s professional development as a priority. If done properly (i.e. with sincerity and follow-through) this tends to be a good motivator for most soldiers.
Should IDPs Target Strengths or Weaknesses?
Some management experts have become critical of IDPs in recent years. For example, in their book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Leaders Do Differently , Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that IDPs are often ineffective because they typically focus too much on addressing soldier weaknesses, with the misguided expectation that every soldier can master all competencies and become perfectly well-rounded. If an soldier has no talent in a given area, they argue, a training course is not going to rewire his brain to make that non-talent into a new strength.
However, far from discouraging anyone from preparing an IDP, such observations should simply help soldiers prepare more effective ones. The idea that training can help soldiers become more skilled is axiomatic. And it makes a great deal of sense to create targeted training plans that take into account the needs of each soldier and their agency. The key is to identify the kinds of training and developmental opportunities that will boost each soldier’s performance most effectively.
The ideal IDP should primarily focus on two things: 1) leveraging each soldier’s strengths/talents, and 2) providing new skills and knowledge that will help the soldier perform better in his job. Remedial help for addressing weaknesses should be provided only in the event that the soldier has a fatal flaw that will preclude him/her from being successful.
How to Prepare an Individual Development Plan
There is a wealth of literature on how to prepare Individual Development Plans. Some units develop such detailed instructions that the guidance itself can actually have the unintended effect of deterring people from preparing IDPs at all. Busy leaders typically lack the time to wade through a mountain of material on the subject. Consequently, we will not go into great detail here, but will include some useful links at the bottom of this page for those readers who would like more comprehensive guidance.
Each soldier is responsible for developing the substance of his own IDP and then agreeing on its contents with his leader. There is no mandatory format or official form. Some agencies do have a recommended form, but a memo works just as well. The key is to assess the soldier’s training and developmental needs and commit them to paper.
The process of making an effective IDP first involves each soldier asking himself the following questions:
- What direction is my unit going and what will the unit need from its soldiers in the future?
- What are my goals over the next five years? (This question is crucial to providing a motivational focus for everything the soldier does.)
- What are my greatest strengths and how can I build on them more effectively? (A 360-degree evaluation or a strengths test can be helpful in this regard.)
- Do I have any serious weaknesses that make it difficult to do my job or will prevent me from reaching my goals?
After answering these questions, the soldier should try to identify developmental opportunities that will help him build on his strengths in such a way that he can better serve the needs of the unit and reach his goals. Developmental opportunities can take many forms, and a mix of training and experiential learning should be included on the IDP. Besides formal training in a classroom setting (the most common–and costly–option), other excellent developmental opportunities include shadowing of senior leaders, mentoring, distance learning through the internet or intranet, assignment to a project team, cross-training, exposure to leader responsibilities, involvement in volunteer efforts, and temporary assignments at other installations or posts.
Once the soldier has drafted his IDP, he should meet with his leader to discuss it. The leader should offer additional guidance on how to best address questions 1, 3 and 4 above, as appropriate. The leader should also provide guidance on the range of training resources that are available, as she may be aware of resources unfamiliar to the soldier. The soldier’s final IDP should be realistic given the unit’s resources and staffing.
After the soldier and leader have agreed on the contents of the IDP, they should both sign it. It then becomes a non-binding contract, by which the soldier makes a commitment to follow through on the IDP and the leader acknowledges the need to make time for him to do so. The IDP should be reviewed and revised periodically to reflect the changing needs of the soldier and/or office.
A note of caution: While the IDP is not binding, leaders should make every effort to ensure that each soldier is given time for the training and developmental opportunities listed on his IDP. Chronic failure to make time for previously agreed upon learning opportunities will breed cynicism and mistrust, completely undermining the IDP’s motivational benefits. The IDP should be reviewed during routine developmental counseling sessions.
Finally, after the soldier has attended a training course, it is important to follow up and ensure that he has an opportunity to put the training to good use quickly before the new knowledge and/or skills become a distant memory. This may be a challenge given that a soldier who has been out to training will usually return to find a full in-box. Nevertheless, it is necessary to ensure that the training has the intended benefits for both the soldier and the unit.
The Army Career Tracker (ACT) can help create an IDP in a few simple steps. IDPs are formed by setting long- and short-term goals in ACT. Individuals are also able to select degree programs and certifications to add to their IDPs. To create a new IDP: (1) Visit the Army Career Tracker website and click on the IDP tab; (2) click on the “Create New IDP” button located under the IDP portlet; (3) select a “Start Date” for your IDP and the end date will automatically populate; (4) your IDP will automatically be populated with some established goals; and (5) submit your IDP for approval, and print a copy for you and your supervisor to sign.
IDPs are formed by setting long- and short-term goals in ACT, where the information is automatically populated into the IDP by selecting recommendations based upon the Professional Development Model as IDP goals. These goals can be populated from recommendations for assignment, institutional training, structured self-development, guided self-development, certifications, credentialing and a host of other training resources provided within ACT.
TRADOC, INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
CPOL, PERMIS IDP