You just finished a great session with your coach, or you just left a productive meeting with your mentor or advisor. Ideas are flowing in your head; you can see clearly what you want to do next. You are motivated and confident.
How can you maintain this momentum between meetings? What can you do to keep track of your progress?
There are many ways to build accountability and incentives into your goal-setting, from holding progress meetings with mentors to sharing accountability with trusted friends. One solution that complements the accountability of interpersonal connections, and that lets you visualize your progress, is to create and implement an individual development plan (IDP).
IDPs are common instruments for professional and academic development. Employers may use IDPs with their staff to encourage job training and growth; a worker collaborates with their manager to come up with short- and long-term goals for developing skills and gaining experiences. This relationship benefits the worker because they gain expertise that will forward their career, and it benefits the employer because they can increase productivity.
Graduate degree programs and advisers may use a version of an IDP to help their students plan out coursework, meet degree requirements, chart academic achievements, and fulfill individual professional development goals. In the Department of Communication at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I completed my Master’s degree and doctoral coursework, faculty help their students develop a “plan of study,” which is an IDP format specific to their graduate program.
In career exploration and planning, we encourage using IDPs for self-exploration, goal setting, and tracking progress. An IDP can be a useful instrument for identifying your strengths, talents, and skills, assessing skills you want to develop or improve, and setting short- and long-term SMART goals that will help you develop/improve those skills. For career planners, an IDP can become a roadmap for moving within, or across, career fields.
I provide my clients with an IDP template when they sign up to work with me; included in every Welcome Packet is a Personal Plan for Development. I like the word “personal,” rather than “individual,” because the plan should reflect your unique, personal hopes, values, and goals. It should also be a “living document” that you revisit and revise periodically; our values and goals change over time, and we are within our right to adjust course!
You can also develop an IDP on your own. Do a web search for examples of IDPs, and you will find a plethora of models. Some are only 1 or 2 pages long while others may include interest and/or skills assessments. Find an example that you like and make adjustments so that it works for you. Regardless of the IDP that you choose, many should allow you to do, at minimum, the following:
- Describe your strengths, talents, and skills. Own your strengths and do not be modest! You have experiences and talents that you utilize regularly. List them in your IDP. While you are at it, include examples of work, volunteer, or academic experiences in which you have practiced or developed your skills. This can be helpful, later, when you revise a resume or CV.
- Identify the skills you want to gain or develop. No one is perfect, and it is fine to acknowledge the skills that you lack. Think about experiences you would need in order to develop these skills. This will help you identify potential short-term goals, which you can begin taking action to fulfill. Plus, these can be useful examples for situations in which you are asked to describe your weaknesses (like in an interview).
- Chart your long-term goals. Think about where you want to be professionally in two, three, or even five years. It is fine if your long-term goals are pretty clear, or if they are relatively rough. Think in the long-term, then identify achievements you hope to make over time to reach where you want to be in the future.
- Map out your short-term SMART goals. I reversed the long-term/short-term sequence that a lot of IDPs use, because it may be easier for your to start with the long-range game plan and then fill it in with smaller steps (your short-term goals). Think about the projects, opportunities, or experiences you will need to develop your skills. Organize them for a short-term period of six months to one year (you can adjust as you move through your long-term goals). Make your goals SMART: be specific, have clear measurables for progress and outcomes, make them attainable/feasible, keep them relevant to long-term growth, and have set dates for deadlines.
Build into your IDP spaces to pause and reflect on your progress. Allow yourself to periodically take stock of what you have accomplished, what obstacles might have come up, and what adjustments (if any) you had to make. An IDP should be a “living document,” a personal log that can be revised as needed.
You can take the above four points and create your own IDP using word document or spreadsheet software. Or, explore the myriad examples that can be found with a simple Internet search. What matters is that you find a model that works best for you.