PDR for reviewers

Skills guides

PDR reviewer's role (PDF)

Preparing for the PDR - reviewer (PDF)

Agreeing objectives (PDF)

Learning and development conversations for managers (PDF)

Career conversations for managers (PDF)

Giving feedback (PDF)

These FAQs have been written chiefly with professional services staff and researchers in mind. Academic staff may find some useful ideas here, and general guidelines for academic staff may be found on the PDR principles page.

FAQs for reviewers

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The discussion should be around 60/40 in favour of the reviewee, so that reviewees have the opportunity to share their reflections and suggestions with you. PDR is not about imposing actions or solutions on people: it should be a constructive, transparent dialogue. Encouraging your reviewee to do most of the talking gives you the best chance of appreciating their point of view and of understanding your team or group better.

Some reviewees may prefer you to take the lead and to do more of the talking. It is worth checking that this is the case and not simply an assumption. Hogging others’ air time is unlikely to result in constructive outcomes. Some of the most frequent complaints from reviewees in the staff experience survey are that reviewers rush through PDRs and are in transmit rather than receive mode.

Agree new or updated objectives in your regular one to one meetings with the reviewee. Make sure you take PDR objectives with you into every one to one so that you can amend objectives together. This will mean you are less likely to get to the next PDR and find that the objectives you agreed last year weren’t relevant to what the reviewee actually did.

Objectives will almost certainly change during the year due to changes in personal circumstances, system and procedure developments, externally driven changes and new opportunities. PDR objectives will only be static and unresponsive to our changing context if we allow them to be.

We can create an environment in which unwelcome messages are heard by being respectful of the dignity of others, focussing on a specific example of the thing that needs to change, being clear on why it needs to change and giving the other person the chance to work out a solution with us.

It’s worth recognising that we sometimes over-estimate how unwelcome a message will be. Many of our team/group members are aware of something that needs to change and a straightforward “how do you think X is going?” will lead to an acknowledgement of the issue you want to discuss.

See our Giving feedback (PDF) guide for more advice.

It’s easy to forget to do this, so make time in the meeting specifically to ask for feedback.

One straightforward, structured way to do this can be to ask your reviewees to tell you one thing that they would like you to stop, start or change doing.

The PDR meeting should not be used as the main place to address a performance issue. Performance concerns should be addressed as and when they arise. In PDR you can cover progress made and any work still to be done, but it is not the place to raise an issue of poor performance for the first time or to go over exactly the same ground that has been discussed in a performance meeting. It's the place to sum up what happened, what was agreed and what else needs to be done, and to identify any further development needed.

If you need advice on this, talk to your local HR Officer or your HR Business Partner.

A PDR discussion shouldn’t be used to discuss re-grading of a post. This should happen in a separate discussion that is just about the prospect of or the case for a regrading. Having said that, if it becomes clear in the PDR meeting that the role has changed significantly during the year, or is likely to change significantly, preparing an application for a post to be re-graded might be one of the agreed outcomes of the discussion. You may wish to schedule a separate, follow-up meeting to discuss this further. (See the University’s advice on re-grading procedures).

Generally, the line manager/supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the PDR meeting takes place, but more than one manager can be involved. If there is more than one line manager, or more than one person leading the work of a reviewee then both should contribute. If you have most of the contact with the reviewee, then you might seek feedback from other managers involved and conduct the review yourself. Where your input is the lesser you might contribute to the other reviewer on the basis that they conduct the meeting.  If your input is equal with other managers, you could hold a joint review meeting. These options should be agreed with the reviewee beforehand (no surprises).

Academic staff, in particular, are less likely to view any one person as their 'manager': see "Can reviewees choose their reviewers", below.

Imposed objectives are less likely to be owned and actioned, so they should be agreed in discussion. The PDR process involves reviewees taking responsibility for drafting objectives. These will be forwarded to you in advance of the PDR meeting. Your role is to make sure that your reviewees know of any team and department objectives, and any likely changes for the team or the department, so these can be taken into account. The final set of objectives is then discussed and agreed in the PDR meeting.

Your primary responsibility as a reviewer in terms of learning and development is to ensure that your people have the skills they need to do the job they are required to perform. What is aspirational is a separate discussion that may be more to do with career progression. Reviewees may bring both to their PDR. Your role is to distinguish the needs from the wants and make sure you focus on the needs first. See our Learning & development conversations for managers (PDF) skills guide for more advice.

If a learning and development request relates to a career aspiration/career progression, you may find it helpful to look at our Career conversations for managers (PDF) skills guide.

Remember that meeting learning and development needs is not only about attending a course. There are lots of activities you can suggest either within or outside the workplace to learn and develop skills and knowledge. Examples include: work shadowing, secondments, serving on committees, coaching, job rotation, project work or volunteering. You may find it helpful to look at our developing myself resources and request that your reviewee do the same. Encouraging your reviewee to be self-directed in their learning promotes the lifelong learning skills of proactive thinking and planning that underpin achievement.

Reviewees may choose to talk about career aspirations with you or they may not. They may prefer to talk about their career aspirations with a critical friend or mentor. It’s up to them. PDR prompts us to consider talking to our reviewers about our aspirations.  As a reviewer, you can only help if your reviewee shares these with you.

The first thing to remember is that you are unlikely to be a careers guidance professional so you shouldn’t feel you have to be one. Your role is not to guide someone’s career, but rather to be a sounding board for their aspirations. Reviewees may ask for your more experienced opinion on an option: it is up to you whether you offer an opinion or not. If you don’t feel qualified to answer, then be honest and tell your reviewee so.

Remember that a reviewee’s career plan is their responsibility and that aspirations are many and varied. Encourage reviewees to take that responsibility and to be creative in looking for change. You may find our Career conversations for managers (PDF) skills guide helpful. Your reviewee may find out Career conversations for individuals (PDF) skills guide helpful.

There are a number of reasons why people aren’t keen on PDR. It may be that reviewees don’t feel comfortable with the idea of their work being “measured” in some way. Perhaps their previous experience of a review process has been difficult. Or perhaps they can’t see the point because their work doesn’t change much and they can’t see how objectives can be set.

Reviewees may not be comfortable with the idea of the work being measured: it is still a reasonable action and good practice for you to discuss expectations in the role, offer feedback and support people to achieve. Institutions that give their staff an opportunity to talk about their work, offer and hear feedback, set realistic objectives and discuss their development are likely to be more effective workplaces. (Engaging for Success, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2011)

If the reluctance is to hear a message about something being done differently, look at our Giving feedback (PDF) guide on how to structure a request for change. Staff who have had a previous difficult experience of a PDR type process will learn to trust the process if they can see that you are being transparent and constructive, so you may need to pay particular attention to the way you conduct the meeting (see our Preparing for the PDR - reviewer (PDF) skills guide).

Reviewees who think that objectives are pointless because they do the same thing every day could agree "maintenance" type objectives with you. A maintenance objective celebrates the fact that staff perform repetitive tasks to a high standard in a way that keeps the department functioning. A example might be: "We need you to continue to do xx by yy in order to keep the lab running effectively."

And at the very least, PDR gives your group members the chance to talk about themselves, how they feel about the job, any factors that affect their work and to hear you say thank you.

The introduction of PDR was agreed by Personnel Committee. Please see the University’s PDR principles for guidance on implementation.

Under the Code of Practice for the Employment and Career Development of Research Staff, research staff should participate in PDR arrangements for the department they work in, though the timing and frequency of their reviews should take account of the length and timing of their contract.

Locally, you will find that PDR is a requirement in some departments and is optional in others. Check your department’s policy.

Your reviewees should write up the outcomes of their PDR and send them to you. You may look at these and go back with suggestions or a request for items to be changed. This doesn’t have to be an issue. It may be that you simply have different recollections of what was discussed (we suggest that you both takes notes in the meeting to limit the likelihood of this happening). In that case you can meet again, or speak on the phone, or by email to come to an agreement. Assumptions can be powerful: it is worth going into discussions like these in a neutral frame of mind that looks first for areas where you both agree rather than for differences. Don’t begin with an assumption that your reviewee wants to change or divert what you think you agreed.

It may be that, after discussion, you can't agree. In many departments, the reviewer's reviewer is available to help you arrive at a resolution. Ask your HR Officer or your Department Administrator for information on your department' scheme.

There are other processes for deciding if and when a change in remuneration is warranted (e.g. the University's recognition and reward scheme). PDR may well draw on the same evidence and is a good way for you to think about what this evidence might be.

Many organisations who previously linked them are now separating PDR type processes from their reward schemes. Among other reasons, there are indications that staff find it problematic to discuss achievements and development needs openly in a pay related review process on the basis that sharing reflections on what could be done better and what learning would be valuable could be judged as 'weaknesses' and may jeopardise their chance of reward.

Staff who are in their probationary period, and academics in their Initial Period of Office, do not take part in PDR. Probation, and the Initial Period of Office have their own review process in which assessment, reflection and identification of learning needs happens. (See the HR Support website, Probation guidelines)

At the last probation review meeting, and provided probation is completed satisfactorily, you should agree the objectives that the individual will be working to over the next period. At that point you can agree when a PDR will take place.

This is at the department's discretion. A useful rule of thumb would be no more than 8 reviews to be conducted by one reviewer within a term. More than this will probably lead to PDR fatigue, so if you have more direct reports, you could consider extending the period over which you conduct PDRs or setting up a reviewing structure that shares the review meetings with others.

Reviewer and reviewee should have a copy of what has been agreed. In some departments, the reviewer's reviewer also sees/signs off the meeting outcomes. Some departments ask HR Officers or Department Administrators to collect completed PDR forms so that they know PDR is taking place.

Ask your HR Officer or Department Administrator for information on what happens in your area.

Arrangements for career conversations with academic staff may vary considerably between departments/faculties and, in some cases, written records may be confidential to the reviewee and the reviewer.

Reviewees who are support, academic related, or research staff are usually assigned to a reviewer and this will usually be the person who supervises or manages them or has some recognised leadership role in relation to their job.

Whether or not reviewees can change reviewer is up to your department. It may be, for example, that a reviewee works to more than one "manager" and that there is room for discussion on who should be their reviewer and whether another manager should take part in some way in the review.

If a reviewee wants to choose another reviewer and the issue is the quality of the working relationship, then changing reviewer might be a short term solution, but it won't resolve the longer term issue of a dysfunctional relationship at work. If this is the issue, talk to your local HR Officer, Head of Department/Unit or Department Administrator for advice and support.

Academic staff are less likely to view any one person as their ‘manager’; the Guidelines for constructive career conversations with academic staff allow for “a productive career development conversation with an appropriate colleague (not necessarily the head of department/faculty board chair)” and divisions, departments and faculties may wish to identify a ‘pool’ of academic staff, from which academic staff may choose, to carry out these conversations. 

Make sure that the reviewee knows that they should write up the outcomes of the meeting. Agree with them a timescale for completion and chase if necessary. What you don’t want is to find that the next PDR has arrived before you realise that the notes of the previous one haven’t been written up and agreed.

If you review a number of people, look at the outcomes of those discussions for any common themes that are emerging. Are there issues with work allocation, for example, or with communications? Some of these may be your responsibility, so what can you do to address them?

Some departments ask reviewers to collate the themes that have emerged from PDR and add these to the outcomes of the staff experience survey so that they can take a view on any cultural or structural issues that need to be addressed.