When you hear the phrase “individual professional development plans,” what immediately comes to mind? Probably not anything too exciting. It’s likely you’ve heard the term droned on about at length in a seminar or annual “rah rah, pump ’em up” meetings. It’s often a nice goal that we set but don’t really achieve, yet developing ourselves and our businesses is one of the most crucial activities in all of business. You may have heard a related term, too—individual personal development plans. These are like the aforementioned professional plans, but focus on your personal life and improving the quality of it. Individual development plans (IDPs), whether personal or professional, can be deeply rewarding when developed and applied appropriately.

Creating an individual professional development plan isn’t just the responsibility of the employee, either, it’s a part of an overall innovative and healthy work culture. Businesses that invest in developing their people not only benefit from increased performance, but increased happiness, engagement, and job satisfaction too.

So, what does a successful professional development plan look like? There are five main components: self-assessment, goals, strategies, resources, and timelines. Let’s break each of those down.

1. Self-Assessment

This might be the toughest part of this entire exercise. Honestly critiquing ourselves can be a double-edged sword—we tend to undervalue our weaknesses and overrate our strengths. It’s the reason we can be so critical of someone for doing something we view as reprehensible, but yet we do the same thing ourselves, completely oblivious to the hypocrisy. Luckily, in the case of IDPs, there are plenty of tools out there to help you accurately assess your current position as it relates to your overall career goals—such as the Meyers-Briggs test, the DiSC Profile, and many more. These tools can help to identify your transferable skills, that is, marketable personal assets such as good communication skills and being a team player or an effective leader.

2. Goals

In a sense, the IDP is one big goal. It’s a plan for improvement that you’re aiming for. However, within your IDP, you need to identify the specific career goals you have. A helpful way to achieve this is by using SMART goals, where each objective is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. This method helps you set definite parameters around the goals and how you can achieve them, as well as providing metrics for your progress. 

3. Strategies

Strategy is how you intend to execute your plan. You should be prepared to produce a number of approaches, including education, experiential learning, or even personal reflection. This is where you should consider whether or not you need to learn new skills (perhaps if you plan to move careers), whether a professional coach might be of service, and how to build on your current skill set.

4. Resources

It’s important to have the right tools for the job. In this case, these can look like continuing education credits, webinars, or even networking with professional associations or finding a mentor. Platforms like the Methods of 100 Coaches system provide a robust library of leadership e-learning courseware from a variety of top executive coaches picked from Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches legacy program. Our fully interactive courses offer accountability, advanced tracking and metrics, and other features to engage learners and ensure knowledge retention.

5. Timelines

Every successful project needs a deadline. When you’re creating your IDP, it’s important to set tangible timelines and target dates for certain activities. Without these, you could procrastinate this IDP indefinitely, and ultimately risk not getting it done at all. Set a due date and hold yourself to it. If it helps, tell a friend or colleague who can hold you accountable. Timelines are the all too important parameters in achieving large scale change like this.

As a final note, the most important thing to have for a successful IDP is follow-through. It’s all too easy for us to get caught up in saying “we want to be better” and then continue on just as we have. Similar to the law that governs that a body in motion will tend to stay in motion; a career at rest will tend to stay at rest unless you follow-through. Working through the above steps is a process designed to make the ultimate goal of follow-through more achievable.

Whether you’re going at it alone or with the help of your manager, creating an individual professional development plan can greatly help in your long-term career path and distinguish you to your managers as someone who takes their career seriously. For those who feel stuck or directionless in their current positions, this process can also provide a new lease on life and

Make Methods of 100 Coaches an integral part of your Individual Professional Development Plan