We’ve all been there; it’s that time of the year again when your boss asks you to create a development plan. For most people, this process is rather arduous – you don’t know what to include that’s different from what you are already doing, and you assume that this will just get filed with the HR department without anyone actually looking at it. So why put in any effort?

In addition to helping leaders develop effective IDPs (individual development plans), I’m often asked by friends to shed some light on their own development plans. In my experience, this process does not have to be so grueling. It can be an opportunity for you to take a step back from your day-to-day activities, and truly consider what you want out of your job:

  • Are you satisfied with where you are currently?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Where do you see yourself heading?
  • What can help get you there?

Take some time to consider these questions by yourself, with a trusted peer, or even a friend. Think of your development plan as your own personal strategy to get you toward your career goals.

Here are a couple of tips to help you create an impactful IDP:

  • Don’t try to do too much. Hone in on 1 or 2 development targets. Placing a good amount of effort in two areas will go a lot further than doing a little bit of everything.
  • Select meaningful target areas. Ask yourself:
    • Which skills/behaviors are most critical to success in my current role?
    • Which are most important to get me to my next career goals?
    • Which are consistent with feedback I have heard in the past?
    • Which have the biggest business impact?
  • Focus on the right things. Personalize your development plan. Gather feedback from your boss, peers, a 360-degree assessment, etc., to identify consistent themes around your development. What are people consistently saying that you can improve?
  • Pick areas that you have energy around. If you pick something that does not excite or energize you, you are probably less likely to put effort into changing that behavior.
  • Don’t just focus on your weaknesses. For example, do you have a unique strength that is important to the role but still requires consistent effort? Perhaps there are opportunities to leverage that strength even more.
  • Make your development targets specific. So often people tend to pick vague development areas such as, “Develop my Interpersonal Skills.” What is it about your interpersonal skills that you need to improve? For example, “I need to initiate more connections across the organization with peers and upper management.”
  • After selecting your 2 development targets, identify a couple of action items for developing that behavior/skill. For example, what can you specifically do in the next couple of weeks to initiate more cross-functional connections (e.g., reach out to 5 people in a different department than my own in the next month, participate in our company’s networking event next month and make it a point to connect with at least 5 people, ask my direct manager about opportunities to collaborate with other teams, etc.)?
  • Once you have identified your development targets and action steps, share your overall plan with your direct manager. Ask for any other ideas or suggestions that can enhance the IDP.
  • Lastly, to measure your improvement on these areas, identify a couple of folks (manager, peers, and indirect supervisors) who can offer you feedback on a consistent basis.
  • Your development plan is not meant to be set in stone; it is meant to be a “living” document that you should constantly update as you receive feedback throughout the year.

Take advantage of this annual development planning cycle to reflect on your career aspirations. Just as a strong project plan helps teams remain focused on the goal, effective development plans can allow you to have a productive dialogue with management about your personal goals to keep yourself moving forward.