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How to get ready for PDR season

Jane Sparrow
employee ownership

It’s soon to be that time of year when many of us are knee-deep in annual appraisals and PDR conversations.

You’ll probably be both having them yourself, in relation to your own performance, and managing the process for your team and their reports; helping to ensure managers have high quality conversations and that their people come away feeling extra valued and fuelled to deliver even higher performance.

It’s such a cliche but you really do get out what you put in with these end of year conversations so it’s well worth taking the time to plan them well.

Here’s some things to think about when you’re planning your PDRs this year.

The set up (literal)
Where, when and how are critical factors for PDRs. So many people still deliver them in offices in a style that is more like an interview than a supportive development conversation. There’s no one size fits all here but carefully consider where to have your PDRs with your people as well as the format and style of the meetings for the most productive conversation.

The set up (metaphorical)
How you set up the meeting i.e. what you say at the start, is crucial. When you open a development conversation, be it an annual review or a more informal conversation, what you’re trying to do is create a positive, confident, trusting environment. It’s about constructive feedback, or ‘positive critical insight’ as we call it, rather than criticism and everything that will be discussed will be done so in the spirit of positive improvement both for that individual and the wider team. Choose your opening words with care and attention to set the tone.

Think about your language
Review the key insight areas you will be covering ahead and think about the exact words you can use. Consider the feedback through a positive lens in terms of language. For example, it could be something like ‘keep doing that, it was great because…’ or ‘how do you feel that could have been even stronger?’ or maybe ‘I loved the part where you…next time maybe you could…’. It’s such a subtle change that makes a huge difference when you’re on the receiving end.

Have the difficult conversations too
Some of the best feedback I’ve received was early in my career and although it was certainly ‘tough love’, I listened to it and it’s made me the professional I am today. As people managers, we have a duty to tackle the more difficult conversations too. These are not easy and often need to be practised to get it right. Some corporate organisations have got a little too comfortable, a little too friendly and managers may worry about having this kind of dynamic, constructive conversation. Some of the most senior leaders I work with still struggle to have the difficult conversations.  It’s a never ending development journey for all of us. Get the training and development you need to feel both competent and confident for such conversations.

Be ready to receive feedback
Don’t forget that your team appraisals are about you as a line manager too. Always make sure you allow time to explore and understand how well an individual feels you have supported them and what more you could be doing. Receive this feedback with an open heart and never be defensive else they won’t be open with you again!

Work in the context of life
Remembering that your people have a life outside of work with hopes, dreams and aspirations is really important too. More and more companies are beginning to incorporate life goals into the corporate space as a supportive approach to personal development, work life balance and self-fulfilment. Whether or not your company is quite there with an approach like this, showing an interest in the personal aspirations of your people is really important, will help build your relationships and give you valuable insight into what makes them tick.

Don’t wait for the annual appraisal
Positive critical insight can be delivered every day through immediate, insightful feedback between colleagues. After a presentation, a team meeting, an important sales call, whatever the action might be, there’s feedback that can be given to contribute to the growth of that individual or individuals. Many companies are moving away from the annual appraisal towards a system of more ongoing, dynamic feedback for personal growth and development. Whether or not your company is making this change, starting sharing and seeking positive critical insight today to drive an immediate improved performance.

Be a role model
How you deliver your PDRs will have a significant impact on how your team deliver theirs. If yours with your team are prepared, well thought through and insightful, the knock on effect will ripple through your wider team. Outside of the annual appraisal, seeking out and giving ongoing positive critical insight is a wonderful leadership behaviour and one that can be role modelled to a great effect to develop a culture of ongoing feedback within organisations.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges with your performance management approaches? Have you successfully moved away from the annual process? Are you like many of the businesses we work with; the process change has happened but leaders and managers still struggle to have those informal, regular conversations well? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment or get in touch.

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