An effective individual development plan process requires specific goals, strong commitment, and executive sponsorship. Are you willing to do what it takes to create an effective process to develop your senior leaders?
As leaders move up the corporate ladder, they continue to need to develop and grow professionally. Organizations annually invest significant resources to guide and monitor individual development at the higher levels through individual development plans (IDPs). However, even some of the most development-savvy organizations admit they struggle with crafting strong IDPs and the associated rigorous process needed to make them stick. As a result, they implement an IDP process that does not produce the results they need.
Implementing an IDP process correctly requires a level of diligence, commitment, patience, and executive sponsorship that few organizations fully appreciate when they begin. In other words, to do it right, there are no shortcuts. To demonstrate, here is a real-world example of an IDP process that in my experience has yielded the strongest development plans, the highest level of executive commitment, and the most influential development of the participant.
What is it?
The process begins with identifying a small subset of high-potential leaders--for example, a group of 20 people from around the world--to go through a rigorous assessment process, which includes 360-degree reviews, personality instruments, stakeholder feedback reports, and in some cases a "day in the life" assessment.
All assessment data are provided to an external coach trained to interpret the findings and provide feedback. Each participant has a coach, but each coach may have several participants as "clients." This is standard practice for high-potential programs; however, here is where a more rigorous, but effective process differentiates itself.
Each participant meets with the external coach for a face-to-face meeting to review the assessment findings. This meeting is the cornerstone of the entire process; it is an open, direct, and insightful discussion about the current state of the participant's leadership skills and potential areas to focus on for improvement.
Next, the coach and the participants manager meet to review the assessment findings and the feedback conversation held with the participant. They then discuss and confirm what they see as some of the themes that came out of the participants feedback conversation.
This meeting is extremely important because it not only engages the manager with the development process but also begins to implicitly assign some ownership to the manager for the eventual level of development achieved by the participant. After this meeting, participants follow up with their managers to ensure that all three people (participant, manager, and coach) are on the same page as the IDP process begins.
What follows is a series of typically three or four meetings either in person or via teleconference, where the coach and participant craft a detailed development plan focused on two or three specific growth areas. The coach leads the participant through the process of documenting specific items for development: what steps will be taken to acquire the skill, how the skill will be applied, and how each step of the process will be measured and tracked. For example, a development goal of "become a better communicator" is revised to "enhance my communication skills by becoming a better listener. "
This specificity leads to a more focused development process in which learning is acquired and applied through a series of iterative steps starting with formal learning using active listening exercises, designating specific meetings or conversations to use as practice sessions, documenting (via personal journaling) insights gathered along the way, and receiving targeted feedback from specific key stakeholders.
Each step has time horizons and measures for easy tracking. While this specificity may seem onerous at first, participants soon recognize the benefits and become increasingly adept at breaking down development goals into specific outcomes.
Once participants start to see the level of specificity required, they begin to understand how all the pieces fit together, and most importantly, they realize that theyve learned a new skill (crafting an effective IDP) that they can use to coach the rest of their team.
After the IDP is crafted, the quality control process begins. To ensure all 20 plans are consistent in style, approach, and rigor, each coach is responsible for ensuring their clients have consistent plans. All 20 plans then go to a master coach—an external coach or internal resource—who reviews the plans.
Once plans with deviations have been corrected, the plans go back to the participant whose next step is to have a follow-up meeting with her manager to present the completed IDP. The external coach also is present at that meeting to support the participant and provide clarification for any questions raised by the manager.
At the end of the meeting, the IDP becomes a contract between participants and their managers that outline what they will do together to develop the participant in the identified focus areas.
Following the manager meeting, the IDP goes to the global head of HR for approval and then on to the CEO for approval. These two last approvals underscore the level of commitment of leading organizations to make this process work and ensure that the participants (and their managers) know upfront that their IDPs will end up on the CEOs desk--not just for a rubber stamp, but for a real review.
The CEO also reviews the progress on IDPs at annual review time and holds both the participant and manager responsible for the development goals. This process clearly helps push participants and their managers through some of the challenging moments along the way.