Making PDR work in your department

The Head of Department or Faculty Board Chair will usually have responsibility for ensuring that a PDR scheme is in place. Department Administrators and HR Officers and Managers are often the people who are asked to set up a PDR scheme or to review an existing scheme, and this quick guide offers these staff an overview of the things to do and consider. A more detailed Guide to offering PDR to Department Administrators (PDF) is also available.

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  1. Make sure you have read the University’s PDR principles. All PDR schemes within the University should adhere to these principles, which have been agreed by Personnel Committee
  2. Look at the PDR essentials page to understand the context and the process to be followed
  3. Look at the PDR sample form (Word) to familiarise yourself with the kind of paperwork involved

Not everyone is interested in or welcomes the idea of PDR. One of your roles will be to promote an understanding of the value of PDR and to generate commitment. You will need the support of senior colleagues in your department in order to achieve this, so be prepared to ask for and encourage their input.

To promote buy-in, you may find it helpful to note the importance of a PDR scheme to strategic initiatives such as Athena SWAN, the Race Equality Charter, the Research Staff Concordat or staff experience survey outcomes.

You will also need to work out, with senior colleagues, how a reviewing structure might work (who reviews whom). In some department/faculties, you may find that some staff have many direct reports and you will need to consider with the Head of Department/Faculty Board Chair how those reviews can be managed.  Academic staff, in particular, 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 to carry out these conversations.  

Options to consider are extending the review period over more than one term to give reviewers time to complete their meetings, or reassigning reviewees to other reviewers (care needs to be given to assigning reviewees to reviewers who know enough about the person’s role to conduct the meeting).

PDR forms will contain personal data and may contain "special category" information under the GDPR (highly sensitive data), so you will need to ensure that PDR forms are stored and shared securely. Only those people who have demonstrable need to see the forms should do so.

In many departments, the only people who see the forms are:

  • the reviewee
  • the reviewer
  • the reviewer's reviewer
  • the Head of Department/Faculty Board Chair (if this is not the reviewer's reviewer)
  • the Department Administrator
  • the local HR Officer or Manager

It will be important to specify why each of these groups needs to see the paperwork. Reviewee and reviewer are obvious. You may choose to have the reviewer’s reviewer or Head of Department/Faculty Board Chair see the forms as a matter of course or perhaps only if there is no agreement on the meeting outcomes. As Department Administrator or HR Officer, your purpose in seeing the forms may be to review the content or simply to track completion rates. Whatever the reason, staff in the department or faculty should be advised of it and it will be your role to ensure that this is followed. See Information Security for more guidance.

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. In this case, departments/faculties will need to determine a ‘tracking’ process simply to note that a conversation has taken place: see below.

Once you have designed your process, you might want to prepare your reviewers by developing a group of PDR champions who can support your reviewers to lead effective PDR conversations. Ask your POD contact for more information.

Before you launch the scheme, you may find it helpful to bring all your reviewers together to ensure that they appreciate:

  • purpose and value of the scheme
  • where this fits into the department/faculty's plans
  • any strategic plans that are already in place that will be relevant to PDR discussions (e.g. a building move, a major process change, an imminent award submission etc)
  • process and paperwork
  • timescales
  • tracking of completion
  • where to go if there are questions/issues

You could point reviewers to the Reviewers' resources and the skills guides on PDR.

Consider developing a group of PDR champions in your department/faculty to encourage your reviewees to make the most of PDR. Ask your POD contact for more information.

It will be important to encourage reviewees to get the best out of their PDR conversation. You may find it helpful to point them to our Reviewees resources and skills guides for PDR.

Completion rates are useful for a number of reasons: PDR is an entitlement and you will want to be confident that anyone who wants a PDR, has one. Completion rates and the quality of outcomes are good indicators of how seriously people development is being taken. Many departments and faculties see PDR as a vital tool in their Athena SWAN and other action plans.

Some departments/faculties track completion online and others use manual systems. The choice is yours.

Completion rates are one thing. The quality of conversations and therefore of outcomes is another. The staff experience survey will give you an indication of how well PDR is embedded and valued within your department/faculty.

You may find it helpful to ask all your reviewers to summarise the themes emerging from PDR at the end of a cycle. Without revealing confidential information, a sense of the issues raised by reviewees  may give you and your Head of Department/Faculty Board Chair an idea of the state of wellbeing in the department/faculty or of any workload or organisational culture issues that need attention.

If you would like to discuss approaches to talking these issues forward, you could consider talking to your POD contact or your HR Business Partner.