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7 Tips on How to Conduct a Meaningful Personal Development Review


The personal development review should be one of the most important meetings of the year but if employees have had a negative experience with them in the past then they can often be viewed as just a box ticking exercise. So how do you convince your staff that they are of value and how do you get them to open up and tell the truth so that the meetings are as productive as possible? Unfortunately the solution isn’t as simple as attaching them to a lie detector as the image might suggest.

Personal Development Review

Set your stall out

First of all, you, as a manager, must buy into the PDRs yourself. If you view them as a waste of time then that will come across during the meetings. If you’re not convinced of the merits of the process then it is your duty to challenge the system and help create a method which is productive for both the organisation and its employees. However the majority of time it isn’t the process that is broken but the attitude of the people involved. If they are viewed from the outset as an inconvenience and a complete waste of time that is what they will become. But if they are viewed as a positive experience and an opportunity to allow employees to progress, and the appropriate amount of time is dedicated to them, then they can be an extremely powerful tool in increasing employee engagement.

Clear your diary

In order to allow employees to open up you must first give them your undivided attention. Schedule a two hour meeting with each staff member you are directly responsible for and don’t allow any interruptions. The meeting should ideally be in a meeting room rather than your office where there are potential distractions such as a telephone, computer and documents which you can try and skim read out of the corner of your eye. If someone does ring or interrupt it is the perfect way to demonstrate how important the meeting is by not picking up or not engaging in conversation and apologise for the disruption. There is nothing more frustrating than speaking with a Manager who is tapping away on her phone.

A two way street

To encourage trust, explain that the meeting is a two way process. It is not just an opportunity for you to review how your staff are performing it is also an opportunity for employees to provide feedback on how they find the organisation as a whole and your performance as a manager. Talk to them about how you have found the year in terms of what the business has accomplished and where you think improvements can be made. Also, ask them if there is anything they want to discuss ‘off the record’ as there might be issues they don’t want to share if it is going to be included in a report. If it is something that you feel should be recorded then you should encourage them to include it in the final report and explain the reasons for doing so, but don’t force the issue. If you pressure them they will not trust you enough to come to you with problems in the future. This article from Forbes explains what your employees will be thinking about ahead of the review and how they might approach it.

No alarms and no surprises

If you are managing your staff properly there shouldn’t be any surprises in the personal development review. If they are shocked by a revelation that they are under-performing then you haven’t been speaking to each other enough or honestly throughout the year. The PDR should be a review of the last 12 months not a chance for both parties to get off their chest what they have been bottling up since the last review. If this is the case then more frequent face-to face meetings need to be scheduled for the following year.

Silence is golden

Silence is an extremely powerful tool. If an employee is giving you one word answers or you would like them to delve deeper try just pausing before resorting to asking them to expand. There will be a short battle of wills and it may become a little uncomfortable, but in most cases the interviewee will open up further to fill the silence, and this way they will feel like they are providing the extra information due to their own free will rather than you forcing them to do so.

A review of the year

When conducting a PDR review an individual’s performance for the whole year needs to be taken into account. There will often be an unusual incident or two (good or bad) which particularly stand out in your mind. You may find it difficult not to focus on them, but you can’t let these skew your view of an individual’s overall performance. If a staff member lost a client or a sales person failed to secure a particularly large sale then these events need to be addressed, but they shouldn’t overshadow their performance during the rest of the year. We are all human.

No fudging 

Nobody likes confrontation but one of the biggest things that can undermine the review process is if the report isn’t a true reflection of the meeting. If you need to make a staff member aware of a negative aspect of their performance it needs to be brought up during the conversation, not slipped into the notes afterwards whilst they are not looking you directly in the eye. If it is an after-thought and you think ‘I’ll just slip it into in the report’…don’t. If the point needs to be included call another brief meeting and discuss the matter before its inclusion, otherwise you may jeopardise any chance of conducting meaningful PDRs in the future.

Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid when conducting a personal development review.

Download our FREE Development Plan Template to help formulate developmental goals for each of your employees, which can then be addressed and measured against specific performance criteria when it comes time to review progress. This is part of our previous article on How to create a staffing forecast template for succession planning.



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