Having a development conversation

Development planning is an important part of the PDR process where reviewer and reviewee focus on the employee’s personal development in relation to current job responsibilities as well as anticipated changes to the role and potential career aspirations. The PDR review meeting provides the opportunity for a discussion on learning to be undertaken in the coming year to further develop the employee’s capabilities.

Capability is about competence (knowledge and skills) and about being able to apply it to demonstrate the ability to carry out a task or function on the job.

The 10/20/70 model for learning (Eichinger and Lombardo, 2007) is useful and widely used.  It is based on the concept that the most effective way to learn or develop a new skill or behaviour is to apply and practise it on the job and in real work situations:

10% formal learning (classroom or online)

20% learning from others (e.g. feedback from line manager coaching)

70% on-the-job learning (supported by feedback and reflection)

To benefit most from learning the reviewee and their line manager should have regular meetings to discuss progress.

This online resource aims to help reviewers and reviewees prepare for and get the best out of a development planning meeting. 

Planning the development conversation

Reviewers should ensure that reviewees are aware of possible changes to the role and unit in the coming year so the reviewee has time to consider useful areas of development. The reviewer should encourage the reviewee to take advantage of the opportunity to express areas they would like to develop in but also be prepared to suggest areas for development.

Development priorities should be:

  1. areas where performance could be improved in the role
  2. where development could further improve performance in the role
  3. supporting career aspirations 

The GROW model (originally developed by John Whitmore in the 1980s) is a widely used coaching model that is helpful in structuring a development conversation:

Goal: What does the reviewee want to achieve in terms of increased capability in the coming year?

Reality: Where are they now in terms of the end goal; is it a small or big step; does it conflict with other goals?

Options:  What options are there for achieving the goal given their current reality?

Will: Reviewee commits to specific actions (agreed with reviewer).

Find out more

Sample GROW questions for MPA/Tech/Ops staff

Sample GROW questions for R&T staff

Any commitments should specify formal learning and how it will be developed through learning from others  (e.g. coaching by line manager) and supported in being applied on the job. Until the reviewee has been able to demonstrate capability in a new area of development on the job, there is no evidence that learning has taken place.

There needs to be a clear, documented understanding of what success will look like and how it will be measured.  For example, if a reviewee undertakes project management training and then undertakes a challenging project in the unit, a measure could be the successful delivery of a specific project (project objectives achieved) by a certain date.


Formal learning

The University provides many opportunities for formal learning in a range of topics both in a classroom setting and online:

Employee and Organisational Development

Learning & Teaching

IT Training 

Data Protection online training module

Equality and Diversity Training

In addition to courses open to all employees, many services also provide formal learning to staff so they can maintain and improve their capability on the job (e.g. Estates & Buildings; Sport & Recreation, Campus Services). However it may be that the necessary formal learning is not available through the University in which case suitable external options may need to be considered.  Commitments for learning with external providers must not be made unless the School or Service is able and committed to fund it. Such learning might range from a one day non-accredited event, to an accredited certificate programme run over a number of days.  (Accreditation normally implies some type of assessment will be carried out in which the participants has to demonstrate the learning they have acquired).

Tuition Fees for Members of Staff

Formal learning should not form part of a personal development plan without building in the necessary follow up to apply the learning on the job and ultimately demonstrate new or improved capability in that area.


Learning from others

To build on formal learning, the line manager/PDR reviewer should set follow up dates to discuss how the learning will be applied on the job and then ensure that the reviewee has the opportunity to learn from others as they start to apply what they have learned.

Learning from others might include:

  • regular coaching and mentoring from line manager or a more experienced colleague (within or outwith the same School/Service/Institute)
  • regular feedback from line managers or a more experienced colleague (within or outwith the same School/Service/Institute)
  • attending a conference on a relevant topic (learning from talks and networking with others)
  • participating in structured events such as Action Learning Sets or professional networking events on a particular topic
  • presentations
  • social media

On-the-job learning

Actual on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving is the most important aspect of any learning and development plan. This could be a:

  • new task or responsibility
  • special project
  • secondment
  • new task or project work 

It could also be about carrying out existing responsibilities and tasks more efficiently and effectively. Reviewees should be able to receive regular feedback of how effectively they are carrying out these on-the-job experiences.


Self directed professional and career development

Reviewees can also be encouraged to undertake a range of self directed professional development and career development activities.  This is particularly relevant to academic and research staff but also many other staff members. Such activities might include (as appropriate to job role):

  • organising a conference, workshop or seminar series
  • contributing to a School/College/University committee of decision making group
  • mentoring or coaching peers or less experienced staff

Find out more

Researcher development

Learning resouces - A-Z