Individual Development Plans: A Powerful Addition to Your Employee Benefits

Posted by Brandon Carter on Jun. 20, 2017

Why are you at work today?

Is it just because they're paying you?iphone-beach.jpg

Or is that only the beginning of the story?

Maybe you want a house of your own soon.

Or you want to take care of aging parents.

Learn to code or how to manage people.

Pay for your kid's college tuition.

Become an industry leader.

Take a lengthy European vacation.

Make $100,000 annually.

You might even be trying to support a side hustle that you wish could become your main gig.

Whatever it is, there's something that drives each of us to work.

And for the most part, it's a one-way battle we wage on our own. It's up to us alone to get there.

But what if the company you work for eight hours a day took note of your goals and became an active participant?

What if management sat down with you each year and asked how they could help you get closer to owning that home, or paying off those loans, starting that side business, even?

Wouldn't that encourage you to not only stick with the company, but put in your best effort regularly?

We have dozens of articles on this blog about all the elements of employee engagement. You can find nearly 1,000 stats on the topic.

There's so many good things companies can do to build better relationships and increase profitability through long-term employee engagement. Benefits and employee perks play a major role, of course.

Perhaps none are as powerful as goal setting and development plans, however.

Here's why you should add a development plan to your benefits arsenal, and how.

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You Down with IDP?

These goal-setting plans are typically referred to as Individual Development Plans, or IDPs.

As John T. Mooney described them on the SHRM blog, IDPs document "an employee’s intentions and learning outcomes as well as support necessary to meet his or her tangible growth goals."

IDPs should be collaborative documents between an organization and an employee. Both sides have needs and desires, and the IDP is designed to create a mutually-agreed action plan on how to get there together.

An employee may want to earn $100,000 in salary, and the company needs to increase customer retention by 10% and existing customer revenue by 20% in the next two years. Is there a way to make it happen for both?

But remember, people usually don't work for money alone. They have bigger goals that drive them, many of which have nothing to do with their professional lives.

You'd be well-served to include these on an IDP alongside professional goals. Here are a few reasons why:

  • 31% of workers believe the employers only care about profits and don't care as much about employees (Businessolver)
  • 35% of employees don’t think their employers care about them as a team member or person  (Rapt Media)
  • Just 26% of Millennials feel their employers are actually invested in their professional development (EdAssist)

Working with employees on personal goals is a great way to show that the company sees them as a person with hopes and dreams, and not just another cog in the great gears of profitability.

The Action Plan

Once an employee has expressed their goals, personal and professional, the next step in a plan to make those happen.

"Developmental programs can include a combination of activities such as formal training, reading, working directly with subject matter experts, one-on-one coaching and mentoring, and visits to institutions that offer specific development opportunities," according to the folks over at the Insperity blog.

This is where it gets fun and becomes tangible to the employee. The action plan is where the company offers resources to get the employee where they want to go. It could be financial training for the person that wants to save up for a house, or a conference for the person wanting to learn a new trade.

Have a mix of small steps and actions with clear outcomes. From an article by Shawn Premer over on the HR Toolbox blog:

The employee will benefit most from action steps that:

  • Place him/her outside their comfort zone
  • Provide a diversity of experiences that will broaden their skills and perspectives
  • Improve awareness of his/her  impact on others
  • Give practice needed to perform new skills even under stress
  • Include assignments where either success or failure is possible

One important caveat here: the company can be involved as much, or as little as it wants to be. You can finance the entire development plan if you have the budget or are willing to invest.

Or, you can put the onus on the employee to take most of the action steps and invest strategically - maybe covering the cost of a conference or an online training course each year. IDPs are partnerships built on the understanding that both sides are going to take steps to meet goals - one side shouldn't carry 100% of the load.

There isn't a right or wrong approach, Just don't abandon an employee to figure it out on their own after putting in the effort to create the document.

Stop, Evaluate, Listen

dog-check.gifOnce you have a plan in place, don't just let it fall by the wayside. Remember, these are people's hopes and dreams, and the company going to benefit by helping them get there.

So check in regularly, at least annually, on progress. Make it part of quarterly reviews. See what needs to be adjusted or changed, from both the employee and employer angles.

People and environments change rapidly, so our goals need and actions need to be ready to adjust.

The entire plan may not change. Plans should include a big goal, but also two or three smaller goals. Maybe an employee wants to improve their coding skills or learn how to become a leader. These can change often, and provide an area for the employer to emphasize a skill newly identified as necessary.

Shared Goals Create Wins

Remember a few weeks back when we published an article about convincing your boss to add a new employee perk? One of the tactics we suggested was setting mutual goals. Find a common success metric for everyone involved and you can remove a lot of unnecessary factors in evaluation.

Find a common ground everyone can agree on. A certain performance level, at a certain price point, over a certain amount of time. It the perk doesn't meet those goals, then so be it.

A good IDP creates the same agreement between employer and employee. You're setting mutually beneficial goals together. Reaching those goals is a clear indicator the relationship is working, and missing them is an opportunity to either cut ties or decide to set an improved course.

It's a great way to earn employee confidence, engagement and eventually, loyalty. Or, it can identify an employee that needs more direction, or one who simply wants to come to work and live the rest of their life as they please. Which is also good for you to know.

Real Work, Real Results

For many employees, IDPs can help bridge the gap between work and real-life results.

It shows them that they're not just showing up, putting in the hours, and walking away with a paycheck in return. It shows that the company is invested in them as a person as well as a professional.

Then, when they hit that goal, it's crystal clear to them that being a part of your company helped make it happen.

And if they don't hit that goal? Take a serious look at why. Don't just immediately assign blame on the employee or the company. Look at the benchmarks and assess whether they were reasonable or accurate. Retrace the steps and see what could have gone better, or if the goal was reasonable in the first place.

Then, adjust the aim, and try again.

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Need more help deciding if your IDP has what you're looking for? Dan McCarthy has a thorough checklist for IDP evaluation on his blog. And if you need some templates, a simple Google search can pull up a ton of working examples from across the world.

Topics: Benefits Trends

Brandon Carter

Written by Brandon Carter

Brandon is a former writer and marketer for Access Development. He's a frequent blogger on customer and employee engagement & loyalty, consumer trends, and branding. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter at @bscarter