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Most of us feel overwhelmed. We are balancing career, personal and professional growth, family life, health, financial commitments, etc. The amount of information on how to do certain things feels massive and many times it is difficult to decide when to do what.

The overload of information is real. Content is produced by millions of people and distributed instantaneously. There is a fierce competition for our attention.

Another factor is that often we separate each aspect of our life when in reality such separation does not truly exist. When we think about implementing a mindfulness practice, for example, we may see it as something we do for our mental health. That practice will have also a direct impact on our career, family life, development, and even finances.

This last point is important to understand because I will talk about a topic that burden a lot of people in companies: the individual development plan (IDP).

The IDP is a tool in the shape of a document that we use to articulate where we are (current job), where we want to go (next job and the one after that), and the skills, knowledge, and behaviors we need to learn and cultivate to get us to the next job and/or level.

In essence, the IDP has the following sections

  • Current job description
  • Strengths
  • Next job we want and the one after that
  • What we need to know (skills, specific technical knowledge) to perform those jobs
  • Actions to address what we need to learn and develop

Many large companies have the IDP embedded in the talent management system. Unfortunately, it is mostly perceived and approached as a check the box exercise. ‘Do you have an updated IDP (at least annually)?’ ‘Did you and your manager discuss it?’

Why do so many people run for their lives when they hear about creating an IDP and, God forbids, updating it? Because we think about it as a sequence of skills, habits, etc. that we would need to implement. In other words, one more thing (or several) to add to our already full plate.

I am proposing another perspective – to use the IDP holistically so we can choose strategically which skills, knowledge and behaviors will help us across different areas of our life.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

1) Choose one area of knowledge, one skill, and one behavior

The IDPs usually have a 1-year term. Realistically speaking working on one area of knowledge, one skill, and one behavior is more than enough for that term. This may seem like a small number but consider the effort behind acquiring a new skill or changing a specific behavior.

When it comes to acquiring knowledge, if the chosen area of expertise is very large (e.g., Finance, Investment, Risk Management, HR, etc.), you may consider narrowing the scope and focusing on one specific topic within that realm.

“Never regard study as a duty but as an enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later works belong.” – Albert Einstein

2) Kill multiple birds with one stone

When you outline the actions in your IDP, think about how to group them. For example, you may want to consider networking and acquiring knowledge together.

Let us say you want to learn more about the discipline of project management. Meet project managers in or out of your company and as part of the conversation ask them about their work. Two birds (networking and acquiring knowledge), one stone (the meeting).

Similarly, choose knowledge, skills and behaviors that will serve you across multiple areas of your life. For example, learning active listening would serve you at work, with your family, in your neighborhood, community, etc. Multiple birds (work, family, etc.), one stone (active listening).

“Time utilization and effectiveness are major markers for success.” Unknown

3) This is part of your job

The main mistake we and our managers tend to make is to think about the actions we outline in the IDP as in addition to our work. 

Professional development is part of our job. Repeat after me, professional development is part of my job.

Something I did at work to make it clear to my manager and me, was to add an official goal related to my development.

Of course, like everything in life, we will have to shift our priorities during certain periods of time. The challenge is that we tend to put the actions from the IDP at the very bottom of the list and often they never get done.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Mark Twain

4) Have the topic of development monthly

Once a month during the established 1:1 meetings with my direct reports we had the topic of development plan as part of the agenda. Sometimes there was a lot to discuss, sometimes not so much. I did the same with my manager.

Having this cadence accomplished several things:

  1. It made it clear to my team and my manager that professional development was very important to me, thus making it important to them.
  2. We kept those actions on top of mind and in the mix of activities to be prioritized.
  3. It created accountability on both sides (me and my direct reports; my manager and me).

“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well, and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” Jim Rohn

5) Start small and stay consistent

Consistency is key. It is much better to set routines for short amounts of time than striving to have a rare big bang. I would rather have 10 minutes every day, for example, than having to carve out an hour toward an action in my development plan.

Every small step counts and creates a compounding effect. For example, if we read five pages/day (which sounds very doable), we may finish a book in 30-60 days, which makes for 6-12 books in the year.

If you network with one person per week, which seems very attainable, you will increase your network by 10-12 people in one quarter.

“Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results.” Robin Sharma

When will you start the first draft of your individual development plan? What other tips do you use to think about and execute the actions in your IDP? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.

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As a leadership coach, I enable talent to achieve bold goals with high standards. My mission is to help women transition from mid to senior level leadership positions by creating awareness, increasing emotional intelligence, and unveiling the tools and choices available to them, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential.