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8 Tips for Creating an Effective Individual Development Plan

Wouldn’t it be great if you could plan your career so you can achieve all of the things you want to? Turns out you can. Most agencies require Individual Development Plans (IDP) to outline long and short-term personal development and career goals. However, many IDPs are created just to check the box and without much follow-through. Instead of creating an IDP just to satisfy an HR requirement, you can start thinking of, and implementing a plan to help you develop your skills, drive your office’s mission and further your career goals.

In order to offer a framework for creating a better and more meaningful IDP, GovLoop brought together James Miceli, Lead Program Evaluation and Risk Analyst at the Internal Revenue Service and Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop in the recent online training “5 Tips to Creating an Awesome Individual Development Plan.”

Not sure what exactly an IDP entails? Ressler explained, “at the federal level, IDPs are normally put together every year at the end of Q4 and in general, it is your documentation to your boss that says, these are the skills I want to develop in the short and the long term and here is how I want to get there.”

In their discussion, our experts revealed eight tips to create an awesome IDP and how to effectively implement it:

  1. Know yourself. “Even before you put pen to paper or cursor to word document, you need to explore yourself and think about a few key factors,” Miceli explained. These factors include your long and short term career goals, how you like to learn, and if you want to rise to the executive level or become a subject matter expert. Whether you want to eventually want to be a GS-15 or you want to maintain your role as a mid-level civil servant, knowing your one, five, and five plus year plans can be beneficial in planning your next year.
  1. Know your job and current agency. Understanding the culture at your agency can help your IDP be realistic in scope. You may want your agency to help pay for graduate school but maybe they only have the funding to provide learning management programs or a few trainings a year. Knowing ahead of time what your agency can and can’t help you with is helpful in keeping you and your manager on the same page with your IDP.

Additionally, it is also important to keep in mind how your agency is structured. “If you want to be a senior executive but you are at a smaller agency with only two senior executive positions, you may have to expand your long-term goals outside of your office,” Miceli said.

  1. Make your IDP about your office. Ressler recommended not only thinking about what you want to do with your career, but also how your IDP can benefit your office. For example, in Ressler’s first government office he knew they lacked a data analytics skillset. Since he was passionate about data analytics, he worked trainings revolving around it into his IDP in order to advance his knowledge and fill a gap in the office. 
  1. Build your plan. Once you know what you want to and can realistically include in your IDP you can start building it. “Processes vary across agencies so be sure to check with HR and your supervisor to get approval and ensure you have the right format,” Miceli advised. He also recommended having informal conversations throughout the year with your supervisor. Let your supervisor know you are thinking about grad school or a detail assignment so they can help you incorporate your goals into your IDP.
  1. Leverage free trainings. No matter what field you are in, there are a plethora of paid and unpaid trainings for you to attend. As long as they are relevant, most of the free trainings should be an easy sell to your manager. So where does a govie find all these great free trainings? You can check out GovLoop’s free online and in person trainings geared towards government here and look through this list of free and premium government conferences planned for 2017 here.
  1. Invest in the best. While free trainings can have a significant impact on your professional development, Ressler recommended working in some premium paid trainings into your IDP as well. “You can do this by showing your boss that you went to a handful of free trainings and have gotten as much as I can out of them and now I would like to explore more premium options,” he explained.
  1. Find a mentor or sponsor. Whether or not you already have a mentor or sponsor, you can always use more people in your corner. Ressler explained that you can get a mentor through formal leadership program channels or just reaching out to someone you really respect.

On the other hand, sponsors are less involved with your day-to-day professional development and are instead executive level folks advocating for you when they see a position open up that you would be a good fit for. Knowing where these people can fit into your IDP is crucial to achieving your goals. You can check out the NextGen Leadership Program here for more information on formal mentoring.

  1. Follow the plan. The final, but often neglected part of an IDP is actually implementing it. Miceli explained, “the framework can be incredibly useful and even if it is not mandated you should update your IDP and keep a running list of things you want to add to keep you on track and see where you are in achieving your goals.” However, it is also important to be flexible and open to change. If you see a great opportunity that is not included in your IDP, don’t be afraid to jump on it.

So what are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to start building an IDP and jumpstart your professional development. For more information check out OPM’s information page here and watch the online training in its entirety here.

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