How to Write an Individual Development Plans & Performance Improvement Plans for Your Flight Department

Author By Jim Lara
Individual Development Plan

So, you’re progressing in your career path and have taken on the role as Director of Business Aviation in your firm’s flight department. Are you all of a sudden hearing new acronyms like ‘IDP’ and ‘PIP’ during conversations with your Human Resources (HR) leader or Aviation Reporting Executive?

More and more, Aviation Directors are assuming roles that have traditionally been handled by HR, leading us to spell out just what these acronyms stand for—Individual Development Plan (IDP) and Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

So, what exactly are IDPs & PIPs?

And why are they important for the development of your employees?

An IDP is the road map to the future success of each individual professional in your department. It’s also a huge signal to that individual that you, as his/her leader, are making the concerted effort necessary to architect a customized approach to help that person develop into a much more valuable asset for the organization.

The IDP identifies those skill sets and experiences that each person needs to reach their full professional potential.

We tend to do a great job ‘training’ our people for their current roles, but not such a good job ‘developing‘ them for tomorrow’s requirements. I’ll touch on PIPs in the second part of this post.

Individual Development Plan 101

Let’s take a look at the key components of an effective IDP:


Everyone is unique and this is definitely a case of ‘one size does not fit all’! As a leader, you must collaborate with each of your direct reports to help them visualize what’s possible for them in their career.It is only then that the future will become a plausible reality.

Each individual brings a varied set of talents and experiences to their professional roles.

A personalized IDP, fully supported by you, will provide the necessary ’rounding’ to fill in the gaps. This is both in terms of the skill sets as well as the operating experiences that build tremendous strength in requisite professional disciplines.


Keeping it in Context

The IDP is always developed in the context of the host organization’s needs. Its intent is to build strength within the organization—strengths that are relevant to that organization.

The IDP is the written plan to build your organizational bench strength which will enable your flight department, and your host organization, to be very successful.  .

Three Steps to Writing an IDP

1. Review the strategic objectives of your department, along with an assessment of your department’s strengths and shortcomings. Include the viewpoints of your reporting executive, your peers as well as your direct reports.

This will give you a great view of your department’s strengths as well as its needs.


2. Ask every IDP candidate to complete a self-assessment relative to his/her current role and professional aspirations. Everyone should have a crisp definition of his or her future aspirations.

Poorly defined objectives generally lead to disappointing results. Remember that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’


3. Make an objective, fact-based assessment of each person’s professional prowess. The only way to really know each member of your team is to interact with him or heron a regular basis.

Ask yourself:

  • What are their individual account abilities and what do they deliver on a consistent basis?
  • What’s expected of each person and how do they perform?
  • What are their areas of strength verses the areas requiring organizational support? What are their professional and personal aspirations?

Well-defined aviation-specific role descriptions are a big help to you when undertaking this assessment process.

Performance Improvement Plans 101

From time to time, it may become apparent that a person in your department is not performing up to expectations. If a frank “sit down” conversation isn’t effective, they may need the structure of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to help them regain the focus and execution prowess needed for them to be successful.

The communication of poor performance should never be a surprise. The key is to have regular conversations with each person concerning their performance—the good, the bad and the ugly.

And, by ‘regular,’ I mean monthly. If you and your direct reports are not perfectly aligned on your perception of their performance, you are failing them as their leader.

Remember, PIPs are (or should be) designed to correct poor performance and put the individual on a path toward success. They should never be used to railroad someone out of an organization. The first person to know that their performance is sub-par is, of course, the employee.

Constructing a PIP is actually much simpler than you might think and its formula involves six simple steps:

  1. State the performance subject or title.
  2. Clearly spell out the expected level of performance. You are answering this question—”What does success look like?”
  3. State how the performance will be measured in quantitative, not qualitative, terms.
  4. Articulate the current level of actual performance (not historical, but what’s happening right now) and what about the performance is unacceptable.  This must be stated simply and specifically.
  5. Outline, being as clear and specific as possible, what has to happen, by when, in order for the PIP to have a successful outcome. In essence, you are defining performance milestones.
  6. Stipulate when performance assessments will be conducted and documented. Weekly is usually best, but they should never exceed two weeks.  The objective is for the employee to achieve a sustained level of significantly improved performance.


Don’t forget that, unlike fine red wine, poor performance does not get better with time. And the failure to confront poor performance is one of the 10 deadly threats that will bring down an organization.

The discussions aren’t nearly as difficult as you might imagine them to be once you get them started.  Yes, this will take courage and commitment on your part. As a Leader, that comes with the territory.


Pulling it All Together

IDPs and PIPs each require very well defined performance goal statements. Try using the R.U.M.B.A. Method to ensure each goal is well defined;

Realizable– Ensure that it can actually be done or accomplished.

Understandable– It shouldn’t require a legal interpretation or translation.  Use simple English sentence construction and down-to-earth verbiage.

Measurable– In specific quantitative, not qualitative, terms.

Behavioral– The goal statement must influence the behavioral actions and resource allocation decisions of both the person responsible for the achievement of the goal as well as the leader of the organization.

Here’s the acid test question for the owner of the goal:

“Are the actions I am about to take consistent with the goal statement? If yes, I will continue. If no, I will choose a different course of action which will be consistent with the goal’s intended outcome(s).”

Agreed Upon—Both the leader and the goal owner must agree, at the visceral level, that the all of the elements of the goal statement passes the R.U.M.B.A. test.


Regular, consistent coaching and counseling sessions are the responsibility of you, the Aviation Director. Having a sit-down session monthly with each of your direct reports is entirely appropriate and necessary.

Although this may sound burdensome, and the first few conversations could be difficult, the positive outcomes you will help create in the careers of your direct reports may be career-changing—for you and them!