28th October 2020

RIP to the IDP

Full disclosure, a result of too much COVID-induced TV streaming is that I recently watched the 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie’s where the characters Richard and Larry pretend their dead boss Bernie is still alive so they can enjoy a getaway in his Hamptons beach house. I gave it two stars. The upside? It gave me pause to ponder on something larger; where do I see myself and or others pursuing something that is of no use, is redundant, is dead?

One that came to mind is the Individual Development Plan or IDP (it goes by other names too). It has had its day, it is dead. I gave up on it a while back, after hanging on for too long. Yet, as I look around there are those in the world of Human Resources still pursuing a worthy but nonetheless doomed goal of every employee having an IDP.

Most people don’t develop. We know that now. Wait, before you bombard the comments box. I didn’t say people can’t develop. We know they can. And, thanks to an ever-increasing body of work kicked off by K. Anders Ericsson* we know what it takes. True performance development requires deliberate practice and very few people are prepared to put in the effort required.

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice in pursuit of high levels of performance that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention. It’s conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. I’ve put some reference material at the end of this article for those interested in learning more.

Why not end the aggravation and just stop mandating organisation-wide Individual Development Plans?

It seems organisations stick with a redundant process due to one or more of the following:

  1. ‘Because we’ve always done it’, and/or;
  2. The eternal hope that it will work, and/or;
  3. The new Human Resources Information System has a module for it, and/or;
  4. HR needs some work to do.

I’m not saying organisation-wide individual development planning can’t work. I’m saying it doesn’t work.

For organisation-wide development to be effective, on top of the IDP process including deliberate practice, three fundamental things need to be in place. These are Time, Commitment and Money. Now, let’s look at each factor and some of the challenging forces working against development.


Both the people being developed, and their respective managers must be able to dedicate an amount of time and sufficient effort to the individual development process. Development, especially leadership development takes time. It is and always will be taught, nurtured, and developed consistently over years with results expected over the medium to long term.

The Challenging Force: Organisations and individuals are increasingly ‘time poor’.

Commitment & Capability.

At the organisational level people development must be viewed as a ‘meat and potatoes’ activity, just like financial planning or business development. At the managerial level, being a people developer must be ‘table stakes’. Organisations should not hire or promote people who can’t develop people. And, at the individual level, put simply, ‘it is the job of the apprentice to learn from the master’.

The Challenging Forces:

  1. Development is seen as a HR department responsibility not an organisation responsibility.
  2. Not enough managers are good role models. Opportunities for significant amounts of time spent with bosses who truly coach and teach are rare.
  3. Average time-in-role is declining. people aren’t ‘lapping their results’ and getting the benefit of learning from uncomfortable experiences and mistakes.


Wide scale development requires a long-term, base line investment.

The Challenging Forces:

  1. Development budgets tend to get reset every year.
  2. The time and budget allocation to development activity continues to reduce.

Reduced time, commitment and manager capability and investment means ‘luck’ is now a key factor in the development of individual leaders.

The Alternative

There is an alternative, and that is to move away from the idea of implementing development ‘programs’ and to take a more holistic approach to the talent agenda for the organisation. More about that concept in an upcoming post.

For now, let’s just accept that the IDP is dead. To argue otherwise we end up looking like Michael Palin’s shopkeeper with the dead parrot in the eponymous Monty Python sketch. (way too much COVID-driven YouTube as well).


*Deliberate Practice – The person and paper that started it all.

  • K Anders Ericsson, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, 1993.

The books that followed

  • Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, 2008.
  • Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin, 2008.
  • Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, 2008.
  • Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code, 2009.
  • Matthew Syed, Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, 2010.
  • Cal Newport; Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, 2016.
  • Anders Ericsson & Daniel Pool, Peak, Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, 2017.
Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

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