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| 2 minutes read

Rethinking the Personal Development Review

PDR.  Do those three letters make you feel a sense of dread, or at least a slight resignation that it’s that time of the year when you have to have an awkward conversation with your boss and then try and write it up on a long and complicated form; all to tick a box to keep someone in HR happy?

And yet, there is huge value in being given the opportunity to spend some quality time reflecting on your successes over the last twelve months, and discussing how you can develop your career further.

So why does the desire of the latter translate into the reality of the former?  What is going wrong with PDRs?

In our fast-paced modern working lives, where organisational change is constant and global connectivity expands opportunity and complexity in equal measure, perhaps the PDR is no longer sufficient as a “one-time-only” annual conversation. Too much rides on this one conversation - then it is set in stone for the year to come. 

Does this process enable organisations to stay agile? Are we doing enough to allow employees to respond to change in the moment and to feel that they can drive their own personal development? Could PDR’s even be setting employees up for failure in times of uncertainty? As a line manager yourself, do you feel confident that your organisation will be able to deliver on its own side of the deal - to provide your employees with the optimal environment in which to meet their objectives? 

As management moves into the field of coaching, the relationship and conversation between manager and staff has changed. The language, personal expectations and willingness to listen and share authentically are all important to ensure these conversations are meaningful.   

Organisations are becoming more welcoming of an open culture where conversations about staff welfare, flexible working, and an ability to stretch beyond your job description (most of which tend to be outdated a year on) to explore areas that you are passionate about, enable staff to feel valued and supported. We need to be honest that most managers really struggle with this, despite the many resources and training available. 

Organisations can provide fantastic opportunities for personal growth and development. This is the core ethos of “Deliberately Developmental Organisations” - described by Bob Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, Matthew Miller and Andy Fleming in their book “An Everyone Culture”. Such organisations assume that the future success of their business depends upon their employees’ to overcome their own internal barriers to change. They use errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth. However, as these authors demonstrate through case studies, the challenge is often about creating a safe space for ongoing feedback, personal reflection, finding the right words, and bridging feedback and action.

In the tech industry, Adobe has shown that by providing ongoing feedback to employees it is possible to reduce voluntary staff turnover by 30% and tech giants such as Google, have opted for a system of ongoing, regular performance reviews. This form of performance management, referred to as the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) system puts employees in control of their own development. The system works by setting an Objective and then a number of Key Results which, when achieved, will help the Objective to also be achieved. It is necessary that the Key Results are quantifiable so that employees can measure their progress and success and reviews are usually held quarterly so that employees can rate their own progress. It is important to note that the outcomes from the OKR system are not used in disciplinary procedures or in terminating employees, but are used a positive way of motivating employees towards their own and the organisation’s goals.

We want to hear your ideas for improving Personal Development Reviews - please answer our survey and tell us! We will publish another blog about your feedback when we have analysed the results.

This blog was co-authored by Dominic Cushnan, Janet Wildman and Olly Benson.

In general, waiting to see if outcomes are achieved takes too long and is too detached for us. We would rather be directly engaged with groups and individuals in the learning process. That way we are “in it” together. We don’t have to wait to see if we get the results, we are working the process together day-to-day. We learn about each other, what each of us and the business needs to learn, and what works and what doesn’t. It becomes a very intimate connection scaled across the entire organization and we know all the time how everyone is “performing” (learning and developing both horizontally and vertically).


personal development, management, personal growth, organisational change, organisational development