Appraisals / PDR

For many individuals Performance Development Reviews (PDR) are a time when we reflect on what we have achieved and think about where we see our future careers and skills developing.

A new approach to PDR is being developed which we feel can respond to the needs of the University, its managers and individuals as we deliver our University Strategy 2019 - 2025. This approach encourages our colleagues to have more regular conversations about achievement, priorities, and development, extending the current model of annual appraisal.

This approach will be discussed and agreed through our normal structures during 2021/22 but we are sharing this now to help colleagues to have conversations about achievements, priorities and development. In the meantime, you are encouraged to review the guidance below and begin implementing some of these practices within your own teams.

The PDR cycle

The new approach balances responsibility for managing our own development with support from managers on a continuous basis. Conversations should happen regularly throughout the year so that objectives and progress can be tracked and changed where appropriate.  Feedback will be regular and timely for both the manager and the individual, with feedback also being sought and encouraged from other colleagues by the reportee and manager. Each section of the cycle below should be continuous and ongoing. 

Regular check-ins between manager and report 

These will provide just-in-time discussions on how work is progressing, and regular touch points to give and receive feedback, and check on well-being. Check-ins should have a focus on development and progression for the individual. The check-ins can be short and relatively informal, framed simply as routine contact with a supportive line manager.

Career development pathway is an online tool which has been created to help you identify your key career and development milestones which you have achieved and/or looking to achieve in the future.

Reflective questions encourage assessment of your current situation and think deeper about your strengths, development opportunities and future aspirations to help develop your goals and next steps. Finally, engagement with the Career Development Career Plan will enable you to identify your goals on the short, medium and long term, and how you will achieve them.

Tracking progress through our community

Managers will work with others to track and interpret progress of individuals and/or teams as appropriate to their role using an agreed set of flags to trigger the need for a follow-up conversation.

Career stage and milestone conversations

Routine conversations at key career stages will continue. For example, conversations linked to induction, probation, and promotion will offer opportunities for managers to understand the strengths of colleagues and where additional support may be needed.

Individual ownership and reflection

Employees will be encouraged to reflect on their performance, achievements and challenges on a regular basis to increase self-awareness. An evolving record of the development discussions will help colleagues to keep track of their objectives and development plans. The format can be varied as needed so that individuals are confident to log their own professional development in a way that suits their context.

Development conversations

When we talk about development, many people often think about training. We would like you to think beyond this and explore skills, opportunities, and areas for development. Think about how these can be nurtured through the work that individuals are completing, management guidance, mentoring, self-assessments, diagnostics, frameworks and peer learning.

Here are some considerations when having a development conversation:

  • Listen actively – Listen to understand instead of listening to respond, give your full attention.
  • Use open questions to explore goals – Explore our Coaching Essentials for Managers Moodle resource for hints and tips.
  • Be open minded and allow for creativity – We all have different goals that we may want to achieve in different ways.
  • Provide feedback – Provide constructive and supportive feedback on your observations to help support development.
  • Encourage a Growth Mindset – Review our guidance on Growth Mindset and encourage your team member to do the same.
  • Set goals and objectives – Some of these should be based upon team objectives but you must also help your team member identify personal goals to set.
  • Discuss opportunities – Development is not all about training, discuss opportunities for your team member to build their skills within their work and in their team.
  • Tracking progress – individuals should keep track of their own progress. Ask your team member to record their goals and progress for you to discuss in future conversations.
  • Be Flexible - As part of tracking progress, goals and objectives change. Be flexible with goal setting. Celebrate success and acknowledge changes.

Download the development conversations graphic (.pdf)

Career stage and milestone conversations

Information on performance/progress will be accessible to managers through existing or new systems as appropriate. RIS provides research-related achievements for colleagues in an easily accessible format. People Landscape dashboards are available in Tableau for Heads of Department and Sections to inform workforce planning and succession planning. Managers can access completion reports for Essential Training requirements, and reports on engagement with all centrally delivered learning events.

Making inclusive decisions

If you are in a management role, you may find yourself needing to make decisions about colleagues engaging with development opportunities. Often, you will be able to find a way to enable people to engage with a development opportunity but sometimes it may not be possible to support the ambitions of all people. This could be because there may not be sufficient capacity, funding, time or alignment with other activities or priorities to support the intended approach.

Whenever you are making decisions about development opportunities for people, it is important that that your decision is fair, considers the impact towards others and the potential for Automatic Bias to influence the outcome.

You can try to mitigate the influence of your automatic bias by:

  • Taking the time to reflect upon and challenge your own biases. Do you hold any assumptions or beliefs that may impact your decision making?
  • Consider whether different types of Automatic Bias might have influenced your decision making.

Review our Automatic Bias Essentials Moodle course for more information about how our biases can influence decision making or email

Once you have identified people to engage with a development opportunity, it could also be worth considering the following:

  • Think about why you have considered them.
  • How will they benefit from this opportunity?
  • What are their characteristics? Have you chosen people who are “like you”? This could be in age, race, socioeconomic class, nationality, accent, gender, sexual orientation (or any other characteristic).
  • Are there any groups of staff that are under-represented within your Department/Faculty/Section that you may not have considered?
  • Could you share this opportunity with our staff networks and forums (listed below) to ensure different groups of staff are made aware? You can contact to ask for opportunities to be shared with any of our staff networks and forums:
    • Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Community Forum 
    • Essex Access Forum 
    • LGBTQ Forum 
    • Essex Women’s Network 
    • Parents’ Support Network 

Reflective practice

Taking the time to reflect towards your own practice and encouraging others to do the same on a regular basis underpins the new approach to PDR. Short courses on reflective practice can be booked through HR Organiser. You can also access and use the guide to Reflective Practice (.pdf) and encourage your team members to do the same.

Resources and further support


Mentoring conversations will encourage colleagues to reflect on personal development, strengths, and opportunities. They do not need to be formal conversations checking on progress, but an opportunity to reflect on personal progress, discuss ideas, and check on well-being based on specific development needs with people that have experience related to the topic. Take a look at our mentoring guidance for more information and you could also engage with the Peer Mentoring Database to identify somebody that could mentor you.


Coaching can be a very valuable tool when reviewing and discussing development, providing space and time to consider options related to a specific goal. If you would like to learn more about 1:1 or peer/group coaching please take a look at our coaching webpage.

Setting S.M.A.R.T goals

Objective and goal setting is a fundamental part of PDRs. You can use the S.M.A.R.T model (.pdf) to ensure that the goals set are as effective as possible.

Managing Poor Performance

Having regular development conversations rather than an annual appraisal has not replaced our approach to capability or conduct performance management. Capability and disciplinary procedures are in place to manage unsatisfactory employee performance and they can be used as a means of providing more supervision and support. They are processes which, in most instances, can only be used after proper conversations, support and development have taken place.

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Organisational Development
Telephone: 01206 874402