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How HR Professionals Can Use an Individual Development Plan

A detailed professional development plan can help HR practitioners grow in their careers.

An illustration of a woman running up a mountain.

Human resource professionals know how to pair people with jobs that match their skills and aspirations. But HR practitioners who are not as dutiful about mapping their own career paths may be missing opportunities to help themselves advance.

An individual development plan—commonly known as an IDP—can be a helpful tool for keeping your professional growth on track.

“Even if you’re in the right job at the right company, you’re probably hoping to grow,” says Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You (Cognosco Media, 2020) and co-founder of a career development program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “You’ll need a plan to do that.”

The first step in creating an IDP typically involves completing a questionnaire that asks about your career goals, including how and when you plan to meet them. You also may be asked to identify your professional weaknesses and commit to taking specific steps for overcoming them. Generic IDP templates are widely available for free online, including on You can also find them in most career planning guides.

There are no right or wrong answers when completing an IDP questionnaire. But experts agree that for the process to be effective, your responses must be honest and realistic. And regular follow-up—to ensure you’re meeting your short-term goals and that they remain relevant to your long-term plan—is key.

Here’s how HR professionals can get the most out of the IDP process.

Keep Leadership Requirements Top of Mind

Focus your IDP on honing the skills that all HR leaders need, says Bradford Frank, a Philadelphia-based partner with recruiting firm Korn Ferry who specializes in placing HR executives. These include:

  • Building partnerships with departments outside of HR.
  • Translating business strategy to people strategy.
  • Understanding the nuances of the full breadth of HR disciplines.
  • Cultivating cultural awareness, especially if you’re interested in working in a large, global organization.

Close Skills Gaps

Compare your current skills with those you will need to meet your long-term career objectives, Frank advises. Then establish short- and medium-term goals that involve working on projects or taking other steps that will help fill your skills gaps. For example, consider shadowing colleagues in different HR disciplines, attending meetings in other departments to learn their part of the business or even taking on a new job within your organization.

To enhance your knowledge of how business is handled outside the U.S., look for opportunities to work abroad or with colleagues in other countries, advises Kate Zimberg, vice president for employee experience and enablement at F5 Networks, a Seattle-based technology company.

Zimberg aspires to be a chief people officer and has been seeking ways to increase her knowledge of other cultures to prepare herself for such a role. Although the pandemic has curtailed opportunities for international travel, she holds informational meetings over the phone and via Zoom with her company’s HR departments in India, Singapore and England.

“It’s so important to learn what others are working on,” she says. “I ask for invitations where I can learn and listen. When travel opens up, I will go abroad.” 

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‘Even if you’re in the right job at the right company, you’re probably hoping to grow. You’ll need a plan to do that.’

Look for Training Opportunities

If you need an additional credential or degree to move forward, use your IDP to set goals related to selecting the most appropriate program, making arrangements to fit classes into your schedule and financing the training if your employer won’t cover the full cost.

Be creative about where and how you receive your training. Community colleges, professional associations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and online platforms like Coursera are obvious choices, but there are countless others. For example, Washington, D.C.-based HR consultant Jocelyn King, SHRM-SCP, says when she was an HR director for a tech firm, she tapped the company’s outside legal counsel to design a class addressing her organization’s specific labor relations challenges.

Training doesn’t have to be conducted in the classroom or even on the job. Andrew Marcotte, SHRM-SCP, an HR manager for Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a regional chain of 44 retail stores in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, says he expanded his professional skills by volunteering with SHRM and its affiliates. As president of the Blackhawk Human Resource Association in southern Wisconsin, Marcotte has been able to practice public speaking, negotiate contracts and manage a relationship with a technology vendor. He also participates in SHRM-sponsored employer education initiatives where he provides guidance to companies considering hiring veterans, people with criminal records and people with disabilities. In the process, Marcotte says, he strengthens his own understanding of recruitment strategies.

Get Feedback

Some people view the process of creating an individual development plan as a personal matter and prefer to work through it on their own. But don’t underestimate the value of a second opinion when assessing your strengths and weaknesses or for pointing you toward advancement opportunities.

Schyler Houck, corporate director of HR and labor relations for Saratoga Casino and Hotel in Saratoga, N.Y., says he sought advice from executives within and outside his company to identify projects that would help build the skills he needs to be a viable candidate for a chief human resource officer post. Following the guidance of one of his advisors, Houck volunteered to help build an employee skills database for the hotel. Participating in the project sharpened his technical and analytic skills and gave him the chance to prove his ability to link a business need with an HR strategy, he says.

Following the advice of his mentor, Marcotte uses his individual development plan to focus on goals that offer a direct and quantifiable benefit to his company, such as developing his organization’s recruitment and retention strategy. The mentor also provides him with honest advice on the areas in which he needs to improve. “We’ve had some tough conversations,” Marcotte says, “but that’s an important part of learning.”  

Rita Zeidner is a freelance writer in Falls Church, Va.

Illustration by Visual Generation/iStock: Grivina.

When Setting Goals, Think Beyond the Job

Aligning your career objectives with your organization’s needs is, of course, the most reliable way to get management support for your individual development plan (IDP). But don’t limit the objectives to skills you want to develop or positions you want to land, advises career development expert Mark Herschberg. Goals that reflect your interests, strengths, preferred location and desired schedule are key to your overall job satisfaction and should be part of your IDP, he says.

There also is something to be said for sharing your personal and lifestyle goals with your employer—even if there’s no obvious match with your organization’s business strategy. If your organization is interested in keeping you on board, management might just find a way to help you get what you want, Herschberg says.

To make his point, he uses the example of an employee who is willing to give up a pay raise in exchange for scheduling flexibility. “It doesn’t mean an employer can or should try to meet the need of the employee,” Herschberg says. “But the more information the employer has, the more the employer can potentially help.” —R.Z.


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