Leadership insight #7 / 2023: Managing the Performance Development Review (PDR) meeting – Part 2
16 May 2023
In Part 1 of this topic, we looked at the purpose of the Performance Development Review (PDR) and how to prepare for a review meeting. Here we look at how to set up that meeting to be effective for assessing performance and supporting development and for managing the stress and anxiety that can arise.
The notes below are first for the employee being reviewed and second for managers conducting these meetings.
Notes for the employee being reviewed
As we mentioned in Part 1, these meetings so often provoke anxiety and, to address this, structured reflection and preparation helps. Begin by reminding yourself of the purpose of the Performance and Development Review Process. The PDR needs to address three things:
- Performance: What you’ve done well and accomplished (and the evidence you have for that) and what you need to work on and learn
- Development: The goals for the year ahead and what opportunities and support are relevant
- Create a record of this process and its conclusion / final report.
Next, remember that this meeting is just a conversation. That isn’t to say it isn’t challenging – many professional conversations are, but conversations are also bound by interpersonal communication rules. The conversation is bounded by time, the professional context, and the rules of polite conversation. If you feel that the conversation may not be civil for any reason, you could consider having another person present.
The time allocated for the meeting is likely to be either 30 or 60 minutes. Including arriving, greetings and departing the meeting, this really leaves less than 10-15 mins per the three topic areas above. Therefore, it is important for the meeting to be structured and to have an agenda. This structure helps to ensure you get to talk about everything you need to, and to manage the anxiety about how the conversation may unfold.
Your task in this conversation is to honour your preparation and let your notes and documentation provide a tangible and shared guide for the meeting: Simply go through each section, sharing info, asking questions, and planning things for the next year. This helps organise the conversation, ensures each part is attended to, and can help contain any anxiety. There is usually a form or template to complete, which will have its own structure and topics. Going through this in order also provides a clear and shared agenda. You can turn this into an agenda for the meeting by assigning the time available for each section. I also advise people to take a hardcopy of the document into the meeting, as well as additional notes they have prepared, and take a printed copy for the other person. This provides something concrete that you can refer to and read from if you get nervous and can’t remember what you wanted to say.
If the conversation gets stuck or tricky at any point, you could keep the conversation moving by saying something like “could we talk more about this later, I’d really like to cover this next item on the agenda/document today”. The performance review meeting is not time to talk about other things, and other topics that probably should be addressed in another forum or at another time. If there are big and difficult issues to discuss against, this is going to be best done in an additional meeting scheduled at a later date.
Other tips for managing anxiety: For many of us, the PDR has quite negative associations and perhaps a negative experience – which can really get in the way of staying focussed and positive. This is also a conversation that we don’t have often, and so we are not practised at them. These (often once a year only) conversations can feel forced or awkward and can be high pressure – especially if there are current tensions or issues at work, with your manager or with your performance that have not been discussed and managed ‘along the way’. So lean on your documentation and let this form the agenda and pathway through the meeting. It is often the case that PDR meetings have been haphazard and infrequent over the years, and many doctors, no matter how senior, are not necessarily experienced in the format – therefore there can be anxiety by the person doing the reviewing as well.
It can be helpful to have a plan for ending or closing the meeting. For example, you can say thank you for the meeting and go over what the next steps will and how these will be followed up (e.g., an email note, a next meeting, how the form will be signed and submitted). If you are concerned about your anxiety, you may want to have rehearsed a way to close the meeting proactively – for example, you find yourself getting flustered or upset, ask to end the meeting ad reschedule later. There is nothing wrong with this. If things are getting complicated or unclear, and the meeting is not serving its purpose, then it can be helpful to reschedule the rest of the meeting to a later date.
Notes for the manager / reviewer
While conducting PDR meetings can be very time consuming within busy schedules, this is such a valuable opportunity to get to know your employees, know their work and understand where they want to go next. It is impossible to overstate how important your workforce is, and how precious good and effective people are. With the workforce pressures we see currently, no one wants to lose staff – especially not good staff – and there is competition for them. So, use this opportunity to connect, to get to know them better and to support good work. Here are some pointers for doing this.
Be prepared! As noted in Part 1, it really helps to be familiar with the PDR template and documentation and ensure it is relevant and meaningful to your area and your staff (and if it is not – consider acknowledging this with your team). Read the completed documents beforehand and if you can’t, have a printout in front of you for them to talk you through or ask them to bring you a copy to the meeting. We are all too busy, there isn’t enough time for everything, so we may need to make up effective workarounds. It’s better to say thank you for sending you the document, and that you have it with you now, than to pretend you have read something you haven’t. This preparation (however limited) and show of care will support your staff and help contain anxiety.
The required template or form provides a shared structure to the meeting and conversation. Invite your employee to talk to their responses – share with you what they have prepared and talk about their work performance. If you have positive feedback and recognition and reward to give – say it!
When you have questions or concerns, start to ask questions to collect more information – but remember that this is not a performance management meeting, and the central purpose is to review purpose and development, and look ahead to the next stage/year. If significant feedback is required, then perhaps the PDR provides an opportunity to schedule a next meeting.
Follow-up from the meeting: Completing the report and planning next steps
Concluding the PDR process requires that the shared document is approved and signed by both parties. However, there is likely to be some parts of the discussion that can’t be wrapped up. For example, ideas and opportunities raised around professional development or career opportunities, or difficult issues that need further discussion, will need further steps to implement and to resolve.
Remember that ideally our work conversations and professional relationships are healthier when we meet and talk about work more than once a year. So, consider checking-in and arranging another meeting earlier – perhaps in 3 or 6 months. This way the annual PDR is less loaded, more able to be a true conversation between colleagues, and more likely to get to the real issues and explore meaningful opportunities for growth.
Written by Anna Clark – Leadership coach and educator at AMAV
AMA Victoria’s leadership and career coaching sessions can support you to prepare for performance reviews. Whether the support is in strengthening leadership skills to engage in and run performance reviews effectively, or career coaching to support career planning or working on your CV or interview skills, there are several tailored offerings available.
- Delivering an Effective Performance Review | Harvard Business Review
- How to Conduct a Great Performance Review | Harvard Business Review