Something phenomenal has happened recently in my workplace—an entire behavior shift that I at first believed would never take hold in our fast-paced, ever-changing environment. I decided to put learning in the employee’s hands in the form of an Individual Learning Plan (ILP).

Our company culture advocates the “51 percent” rule, which dictates that employees determine what to work on and go after it with a zeal not commonly found in a typical organization. In other words, no rules, no asking permission, but instead just do it. And so I figured: Why not take that approach in employee development, too?

Every road trip starts with a good map. Whether electronic or an old-fashioned paper map, good up-front planning allows for a more successful outcome (including seeing all the famed attractions) and potentially the trip of a lifetime. So, imagine a world where your employees know exactly what they are good at, what they need to work on, and what tools to explore on their path to self-development. It is possible—with some up-front planning and targeted conversations throughout the year, coupled with a detailed document, the Individual Learning Plan. I am a strong proponent of the almighty (and highly underutilized) ILP. Learning plans are the customized, individualized road map for your employees to ensure they are aware of both the skills they need to develop and a defined path to achieve those skills.

Your ILP should contain a minimum of three things:

  • Learning objectives
  • Strategies and resources
  • Evaluation

Essentially, ask the employee to document answers to these three questions:

  • What do I need to learn?
  • How am I going to learn it?
  • How will I know that I learned it?

Allow the employee to search for resources internally and externally. Suggest a mix of self-paced seminars, courses, and learning situations to develop the identified weak skill.

For example, let’s say you have an employee who needs to develop their communication skills. You might have an internal training session on that specific topic. Or perhaps this employee would be better served by learning and practicing communication skills with an outside resource—or maybe signing up for a group that meets weekly is a better fit. Perhaps there is another employee who has honed their communication skills to perfection and could provide guidance to this employee. Whatever the resource, let the employee figure out the best fit. But guide the employee with resources they might not be aware of. There is no one path to reach the desired destination; allow the available resources and best fit to define the route. During this process, the employee receives targeted feedback on how they are doing that gets documented in the learning plan, too.

No one likes to search aimlessly for the correct exit or next tourist destination, so provide a road map so that your employees can reach skill nirvana while dealing with the day-to-day challenges of completing their job tasks. The employees benefit from better self-esteem and higher productivity, the company benefits from employees who feel nurtured and supported, and ultimately, everyone reaches the intended destination in a more effective, positive manner.

Surprisingly enough, at a recent all-company meeting, ILPs were mentioned in several sessions. It appears the entire vernacular of the company now includes the Individual Learning Plan as a path to employee development—and ultimately engagement—that the employee controls, drives, and benefits from in their career path.