Performance and Development Review (PDR) is a process that, in my experience, is undertaken with a variable degree of buy-in across academic institutions. Indeed, within SAgE, during the current academic cycle the recorded number of PDRs completed currently varies from ~90% in one school to a much less healthy figure in another – I won’t name and shame!

On the face of it, there appears no obvious explanation for the reluctance of staff to engage with this process. After all, such reviews are seen as a critical aspect of life in the private sector. They are taken very seriously indeed, and have a direct impact on one’s salary and career progression. In contrast, PDR has not typically been part of the culture in academia. I am old enough to remember a time when there was no mention of such things, and indeed some people were lucky if they caught sight of their supervisor once a month (or less!). Moreover, I suspect that many people believe PDR to be a waste of time, as indeed will be the case  if the reviewer and the reviewee do not take it seriously and fail to devote significant time to it.

So why should we all engage with the process? First and foremost, none of us is likely self-employed. Formally, we each have a contract of employment with NU,  which specifies what the employee is expected to do in return for a certain remuneration.  However, in institutions that employees regard as ‘a great place to work’, the relationship is surely more than a formal enagement – it is a partnership, where both employer and employee are clear what they both want out of the deal.  From the employees’ perspective this is typically a great deal more than just a paycheck at the end of the month.   In this context, surely it is healthy for an employee and her or his line manager to get together once a year (as a bare minimum) and have a frank discussion, free from interruption, to determine whether each party is getting the most from the deal.

Consider the alternative. I have been writing at length about strategy in recent blogs. Why? – because I believe it to be critically important.  It is a blueprint that tells us what is important for the organisation to survive and grow as a coherent unit.  If we abandoned PDR, everyone (including me) would be left to their own devices, blindly following a path that we think is probably the right one based (hopefully) on what we read in the Vision 2021 document, possibly prompted by informal cues now and again. This is surely not a good recipe for an efficient organisation. If nothing else, it does little to harness the power of teamwork. We can’t each address every bullet point in Vision 2021.  Everyone is different – we each have different strengths, which is why team work is so important.  This is where PDR can be so valuable – it clarifies what is expected of you, given your skills, to help your line-manager balance the needs of the unit in which you are employed. In return you can expect your line-manager to clarify what you can expect from the organisation in helping you to realise your aspirations. Isn’t it therefore worth setting aside a few hours of your time annually for this important process?

Utopia? – perhaps, and indeed there may be difficult conversations where agreed objectives are not met. But if the PDR process is working effectively, these will be mutually agreed and jointly owned, and it is therefore incumbent on both participants to discover the reasons behind the lack of delivery, and to take steps to rectify it.

A final thought – if you remain unconvinced that your next PDR will be of value, initially try having a ‘how was it for you’ conversation with your reviewer about your last review to work out how you might both get the best from the exercise in the future.


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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