While many agencies I work with offer employees the opportunity to put together an Individual Development Plan (IDP), most of the IDPs I see and hear about are simply training plans. An IDP is about much more than training! With a renewed interest in employee development (Priority 4 of the Federal Workforce Priorities Report), I thought it would be a good time to discuss IDPs.

At the end of the day, employees must develop themselves; although supervisors can assist employees on their journey, they cannot do the work for them. An IDP identifies an employee’s development goals in the context of their agency’s Strategic Plan. A good IDP contains training, education, and development activities to acquire or enhance the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to maximize job performance. This will help to ensure that you are prepared to carry out your responsibilities and contribute to your agency’s mission by helping you learn new skills, refresh old skills, and make use of emerging technologies.

An IDP gives you an opportunity to:

  1. establish objectives that support both the unit’s and employee’s needs and goals;
  2. give you a clear guide for working toward career goals and the supervisor a chance to channel your efforts in ways that help the unit achieve its goals and mission; and
  3. organize and set priorities for development experiences, that will help you:
  • learn new skills to improve current job performance
  • increase interest, satisfaction, and challenge in their current position
  • obtain knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to reach career goals that are aligned with your agency’s strategic goals
  • prepare for increased responsibility.

An IDP is NOT:

  • A performance plan or appraisal—the IDP does not replace a performance plan or performance appraisal. Strengths and areas for development are being considered, but you are not being rated for performance appraisal purposes. Discussions about performance and development share some common themes, however, the focus of each discussion is fundamentally different and should not take place at the same time.
  • A promise of promotion—the IDP does not guarantee advancement upon completion of the developmental objectives, but does increase your ability to compete for future jobs as you develop skills.
  • A binding document—when you and supervisor sign the IDP, it is simply an indication of intention and support for your development. You may not always be able to take advantage of developmental opportunities because of budgetary or workload constraints, among other reasons.

Creating a Draft IDP and Discussing It

Either you or your supervisor can initiative an IDP discussion. Ideally the discussion will begin with your supervisor explaining the IDP process, the supervisor’s role, and your role. Both you and your supervisor should review all information regarding your development status. In this process, you and your supervisor typically:

  • Identify knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) or competencies required by the current work assignment
  • Review and discuss strengths and areas for development in performing the current work assignment

Together, you and your supervisor should draft a plan by identifying developmental activities needed to reach the IDP goals. The IDP should specify:

  • Goals and competencies to be developed during the specified period
  • Developmental experiences that address the competencies
  • Measures of success
  • How your supervisor can support you
  • Potential barriers to success
  • Possible developmental activities and proposed dates

Your supervisor should monitor your progress and together, you and your supervisor should update and modify your IDP as appropriate.


Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.