Monday, March 12, 2012

How Do You Spell Awkward? I-D-P

Springtime is fast approaching, which means longer days, warmer weather, and, unfortunately the return of IDP season. For those of you who aren't well-versed in work-speak, IDP is corporate acronym for "Individual Development Plan." The IDP is a career-planning tool that, while not technically required, can derail your career prospects if not completed. 

When describing the IDP process, managers use phrases like "highly encouraged" and say things like "anyone who is serious about career advancement fills out an IDP." It's perfectly clear that for anyone who wants to maintain a glimmer of hope in moving up a rung on the corporate ladder, skipping the IDP is the professional equivalent to letting Tanya Harding take a swing at the knees of your career.

The actual Individual Development Plan is a rather lengthy, painful document that asks all kinds of questions about you, your motivations, aspirations, strengths, development opportunities (a thinly veiled synonym for "weaknesses"), and goals over both the short and long-term. After filling out the form, you typically schedule an hour-long meeting with your manager, where you discuss what you've written.

Don't get me wrong--I think it's great to work for a company that values my efforts and asks for my input and thoughts on where my career is headed.  But the formality and seriousness of the whole process makes for an extremely awkward conversation.  The probing nature of the IDP's questions make me feel like I'm a mentally fragile patient, revealing my deepest thoughts and feelings to my psychologist.
After much thought, I've determined that the main problem is that my ultimate goals for my career--and my life--are far too simple for the lengthy IDP form.  I can sum those goals up in four simple words: less work, more money. It can become very challenging, and rather repetitive, to turn that basic philosophy into a coherent, five-page document.

And while I can't argue with the merits of reflection and self-awareness, it's tough to keep a straight face as I try to have have a serious discussion with a manager about my so-called "strengths."  Shouldn't my manager or the other people I work with every day be the ones telling me what my strengths are?  I can't help but imagine what a first-class, oblivious idiot I must look like if I'm sitting there listing things I think I'm good at while my manager is thinking, "Nope...wrong...that one's definitely not a strength...what is he thinking!?"

It doesn't get much better when I get to the "development opportunities" portion of the discussion, which inevitably feels like a career tightrope walk. I certainly don't want to point out any of the serious weaknesses that I've managed to successfully hide over the years, but I also can't go the complete cop-out route with a response like, "I work too hard...and care too much." How could I have been so naive to think that the days of answering these types of questions were over when the job interviews ended?

With today's IDP discussion now safely behind me, I can toss aside that terrible, terrible document and focus on the ways that I can make next year's discussion more palatable.  First, the IDP acronym needs an overhaul--how about Infinitely Disappointing Process? And perhaps some attire more fitting of the situation would be a step in the right direction...

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