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Rediscover the Power of the IDP

Organizations of all sizes have spent the last several years reexamining their performance management processes. Some tossed PM out completely, others redesigned it from scratch, and there were those that had countless debates about it, and then left it alone. Still others who once tossed it out have decided to bring it back. In any case, it received attention from organization leaders around the globe.

In 2017 it’s time for the sister (or cousin) process, the individual development plan (IDP), to rethink itself, garner attention, and perhaps change accordingly.

Organizations must realize they can no longer afford to give short shrift to a tool that, when used effectively, can be a critical part of the talent management process. When used correctly and systematically, the IDP can affect engagement and retention, as well as career development.

It has always been suggested that managers hold IDP discussions with their direct reports. Sometimes these were held as part of the performance management process, sometimes they were separated out. All too often they were poorly (if ever) done. When they were taken seriously, they were often used to develop high potential talent.

If done well, the IDP can challenge employees, build relationships, align individual needs with organizational needs, and put employees on projects where their talents and skills can best be utilized. This requires ongoing conversations between managers and employees; no coach, counselor or HR person can replace this role.

The IDP can also be used to bring attention to a critical segment of the workforce— the so-called “massive middle”—the solid citizens, the bulk of the workforce (60-70%), the people who are counted on to show up every day and do their jobs. The massive middle includes managers and individual contributors who are often overlooked, especially when it comes to engagement, development, and retention initiatives, and certainly when it has come to the IDP process.

While methods vary greatly and must be customized for each population, there are at least three strategic focus areas that can provide an engagement edge with the massive middle: career self-management for employees, complementary career coaching for managers, and pushing mentoring methodology out wider and deeper.

Organizations that embrace the IDP will see to it that managers are skilled enough to feel comfortable in the dialogue, and that employees are skilled to take responsibility for their own satisfaction (a lovely way to abolish “entitlement”!). When this dialogue is mandated, accountability will be shared.

Finally, managers can and should get creative in considering how to tap this wisdom and experience, both in the short and long term, as well as how to help get the most out of more seasoned employees while they’re still around. Mentoring and reverse-mentoring programs, built into an IDP, can provide immense value for these workers. Call it learning transfer or transition planning or legacy development—the very nature of this conversation shows individuals that their organizations value them, care about how engaged they are, and recognize their continuing impact on the bottom line.

What if the talent we need is already within our midst? What if the identification and development of that talent didn’t demand a new HR process, but a tool that we already have that could be merely dusted off, powered-up and harnessed?

What if we could find and develop our own “buried treasure” talent by rediscovering and reimagining the IDP for the entire workforce?

Read more 2017 talent predictions by other thought leaders.