How to Use Individual Development Plans to Develop Bizav Teams

Author By Jim Lara

James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, once said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

What does Mr. Garfield’s quote have to do with developing people in the business aviation profession? Actually, a lot.

We in business aviation have much to be proud of. We do many things extremely well. But, truth be told,one thing we’re generally not very good at is developing our people.

As a business aviation leader, would you like some proven techniques for creating highly effective individual development plans for your people? If so, take a cue from Mr. Garfield.

Admit the truth, maybe feel a bit miserable, and then commit yourself to some best practices. In doing so, you’ll help your employees create individual develop plans that will motivate them for years to come.

Training vs. Development

First, let’s agree on some definitions.

Training is defined as helping a person excel in his/her current job. We do a great deal of training in business aviation, and invest a lot in doing so. In fact, the cost of an initial type rating for a pilot can approach the cost of a college degree!

From pilots and maintenance technicians to schedulers and those in administrative positions, we’ve generally got training well covered.


Development is about preparing each employee for the next step in his/her career. This is the area where we as leaders often stumble in business aviation.

In many performance appraisal systems, there’s a section that addresses individual development planning. But (being truthful), much of the time this section is either skipped-over or given mere lip service so that we, as people leaders, can get the appraisal form off our desks and back to HR.

It simply doesn’t have to be this way.


The Silver Bullet

I’m sure you’re getting ready for me to say that there’s no “silver bullet” here. But, alas, there is!

Individual development planning is a situation where there actually is a silver bullet.

Employee development comes down to a simple formula that I learned from my days in manufacturing management at aircraft engine-maker Pratt & Whitney.

It comes from the Materials Resource Planning (MRP) profession and is a simplification of the algorithm used to load the machine shop with the materials necessary to manufacture the right parts at the right time:

What I Have

– What I Need

What I Have to Get and When I Have to Get It


This exact formula can be used as the basis to create the highly effective, results-oriented individual development plans, providing the level of support that your employees are looking for from you as their leader.

Let’s take the formula apart and discover how.


“What I Have”

This is the inventory of the education, experience, skills, licenses, seminars, professional development as well as any other training that the employee has at the present time.

This information can be directly provided by the employee from his or her most recent resume, training records or any number of other sources (e.g., company records).

The What I Have information should be specific in terms of the scope of the training. A training course outline or summary should be provided to show the course content.

Ask each employee to assemble this information.


“What I Need”

Here’s the part where most individual development planning processes fall apart. In order for each employee to articulate what’s needed in their development plan, he or she must be able to clearly state the target that they’re aiming for.

In other words, the employee will need to articulate their aspirations.This is generally the next position that they would like to have. Without this statement of aspiration, there’s simply no way that a meaningful individual development plan can be created.

How do you help employees articulate their near-term aspirations? For many, it’s about finding clarity on their passions and interests. There are many ways to help your employees do this, but the way that we find to be most effective is to use The BirkmanMethod®.

The Birkman is a three-dimensional instrument used to clarify a person’s interest, style and needs. This tool provides an excellent starting point for someone who is a little uncertain of his or her next career step.

For someone who is clear on their next step, provide an aviation-specific role description for the position to which they aspire. Only by a clear statement of expectations can the individual determine the What I Need piece of their individual development plan.

A word on role descriptions in business aviation: Many that we’ve seen do not clearly state the expectations of the position. Instead, they often look more like job-posting requisitions or a grade-banding analysis to determine compensation levels. Neither is workable.

In business aviation, we need to write role descriptions using aviation-specific terminology and understandable language so that each employee can directly relate to it in terms of their day-to-day responsibilities. Anything less is not really helping your employees succeed (not the incumbent and certainly not someone who aspires to the position).

If you do not have aviation-specific role descriptions in your flight department, by all means have them written. Feel free to contact us for assistance.

Once the employee understands the requirements of the position to which he or she aspires, the next step is to coach them through a thorough gap analysis between what they have and what they need.

“What I Have to Get” and “When I Have to Get It”

The gap analysis is created by an open and honest comparison of the employee’s background vs. the requirements of the role description to which they aspire.

After the gaps are identified (which identify the employee’s development needs), the final step is to determine when the key elements of the gap analysis can be achieved with respect to budget limitations and business needs.

Prioritize the gap analysis and establish the development plan with the employee. Development activities don’t all have to be costly.

Sure, you need to set aside funds for major development activities, but, depending on what the employee identifies as their development needs, much can be accomplished by mentoring or giving them a collateral duty.

Depending on the readiness of the employee, the development plan may span several years, which is perfectly acceptable.

The major objective is to set a meaningful plan for the employee so they truly feel there is plenty of “runway” ahead by which to grow and develop right where they are.


One of the most important elements of an Individual Development Plan is the “follow-up” phase. Remember,it is not your responsibility to develop your employees. It is theirs. Your job is to provide the resources they need and to remove any barriers that may be in their way.

Have your employees schedule regular development discussions with you to assess progress. We suggest that these be done at least quarterly. The entry on the annual performance appraisal form then becomes a summary of how the employee is progressing against the agreed-upon plan.

What Have You Done?

We know that there are many different approaches to employee development in business aviation and we’d like to hear yours. Please feel free to share them with us in the comments section below.