How to Define an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Published: March 29, 2016


Before I even opened the package, I knew what was inside. The distinct shapes of pencils through the bubble wrap were unmistakable. Every holiday, Grandmom sent pencils to all of her 12 grandchildren so we would always have enough for school. After a few years, I had accumulated quite a collection: pencils with green shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, pencils with pink hearts for Valentine’s Day, pencils with evergreen trees for Christmas, pencils with turkeys for Thanksgiving, pencils with pastel eggs for Easter.

I no longer have the pencil collection, but Grandmom’s lesson remains true. Regardless of the holiday or time of year, whether I’ve been working the same job for 10 months or 10 years: learning is important.

Learning in the Workplace

I’m thankful to work for a company that believes the same thing. Learning is a critical process that doesn’t end at graduation. Ecosystems encourages all employees to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The plan involves defining goals one-on-one with company leadership, and then gaining the resources and support to accomplish our development goals.

As part of my plan, I’ve had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a marketing leader, devote time to courses, and participate in yoga classes during the work day (for health & wellness development).


Whether your workplace encourages and supports an IDP or not, your professional development begins and ends with you. How important is it to you? What are you doing to prioritize it? To develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP), start by answering a few questions:

1. What do I want to learn?

The answer to this may involve a lot of topics, from “learn to code” to “understand Google Analytics.” Learning areas could also be less defined if you’re passionate about developing softer skills like leadership, listening, or empathy in the workplace. If you aren’t sure what to learn, ask a mentor or trusted colleague for input.

2. What does the company need?

Consider the intersection between what you want to learn and what the company needs. I might want to learn how to bake a French baguette or successfully complete a triathlon, but these aren’t going to directly contribute to the company or my role within it–so they won’t be part of my IDP.

3. What can I do within my role? (How do the company’s needs align to my area of influence?)¬†

Narrow the previous list by determining what falls into your role. For example, the company might need an office manager or an IT specialist, but those aren’t within the scope of my role, so they also wouldn’t end up in my IDP.¬†Learning happens whether you’re setting goals or not. But the purpose of a plan is to set goals and approach learning in a measurable, intentional way. I’ve seen my coworkers pursue development in their own IDPs, whether it’s taking on more leadership in the company, reading books, or pursuing one-on-one mentoring.

Learning is a Risk

In his Medium article, George Earl suggests that learning is a risk. He writes:

“You must be willing to risk your reputation in order to learn. You must be willing to be wrong. You must be willing to let others know that you do not have all the answers. Learning is not a choreographed dance. It does not subscribe to a plan. Learning is an experiment.”

Learning is a risk because it requires the humility to acknowledge that we need improvement. It’s a risk because it requires resources and investment in exchange for uncertain results. It’s a risk because it takes time. It takes perseverance. It takes dedication and intention.

But learning also rewards. It rewards with opportunities for success and achievement that are better than what you can accomplish from where you stand today. It rewards by making dreams and goals tangible. All you need is a pencil. Are you willing to take the risk?

About the Author

Megan Hays

Megan Hays

Megan is a Marketing Manager at Ecosystems. She is passionate about identifying and communicating the unique value of a brand through a variety of channels. Megan holds a B.A. in English and Communication Studies from Grove City College.