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Professor Trish Greenhalgh explores how we can make the most out of a PDR meeting through a series of entertaining top tips for appraisers and appraisees.

Like all social interactions, PDRs (or, to use the more generic term, annual appraisals) can be done well or badly. They can be meaningful or meaningless; job-focused or person-focused; tick-box exercise or meeting of minds. And they can engender every emotional response from appreciation to revulsion.

PDRs are not going to go away (they contribute to too many metrics of departmental performance), so the question we need to ask ourselves is: “how can we make this annual event more of an opportunity than a threat?”.

The evidence base on this is either non-existent or extremely hard to find (though my husband rose to the challenge and found this article on bias in performance review in the Harvard Business Review). I’ve emailed my friend Professor Denise Rousseau, champion of evidence-based human resource management, to ask what other research we’ve missed. I haven’t heard back yet but I’m not expecting an avalanche of systematic reviews. Regrettably, then, this blog is based mostly on anecdote (or, if you like, practical wisdom). I’ll update it if an evidence base appears.

Since I entered academia in 1986, I’ve sat in the appraisee’s chair more than 50 times (since academic doctors are required to have two every year) and the appraiser’s more than 200. I’ve made (and seen others make) almost every mistake in the book. The tips below are based on what I’ve learnt.


For appraisers:

  1. Leave the door open. Moan about the number of these you have to do. Keep looking at your watch.
  2. Make it all about you. Start the conversation with a long speech about your own issues and continue to veer back to these throughout the interview.
  3. Don’t bother reading the paperwork before the interview. If the appraisee looks disappointed that you didn’t open their email, roll your eyes.
  4. Focus on short-term tasks. Indeed, this is the perfect opportunity to micro-manage the person and find out if they’ve completed the thing you asked them to do last week.
  5. Apply the principle of in-grouping (if the person is ‘in your group’, doing your kind of stuff, assume they are performing well – but be very suspicious of someone ‘not in your group’ who is doing another kind of stuff).
  6. Offer plenty of criticism in vague and general terms. Make sweeping statements (“you always…”). This will help you cover more themes quickly.
  7. Assume that poor performance is always due to poor effort on the part of the individual.
  8. Be very sparing with your praise, otherwise there’s a danger that the appraisee will get above themselves.
  9. Skip the ‘how can we help you do your job better?’ question. If you let them answer this one, it usually makes work for you.    
  10. Whatever you do, don’t go on an equality and diversity course to find out about unconscious biases. You already know you don’t have a problem with women, LGBTs, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities etc. 

For appraisees: 

  1. Start with attitude. It helps to approach the appraisal process feeling that it’s a total waste of time and that the person doing it doesn’t care anyway.
  2. Treat the PDR as an exercise in form-filling. In each box, write the first thing that comes into your head.
  3. Do a couple of random online courses so you can tick the training box. It really doesn’t matter what these are on.
  4. When asked to ‘reflect’ on the form, draw a doodle.
  5. Don’t look back at last year’s PDR form where you set yourself some goals to work towards.  The reminder of these is best enjoyed as a surprise during the actual appraisal interview.   
  6. Turn up late for your appraisal interview, and preferably come direct from a stressful meeting that’s made you cross and flustered.
  7. If your appraiser offers criticism, use the four Ds (deny, deviate, dump, dither), preferably in combination.
  8. If your appraiser offers praise, shrug and look embarrassed. Don’t respond with “actually I’d quite like to build on that success by…..”.
  9. When asked for your next-step career plans, look at your feet and say you’ve never really thought about that.  
  10. When sent the completed form to sign off, leave it lying around on your desk. It’s best to hand it in months later, dog-eared with coffee-cup stains.

On the other hand, if you turn this blog upside down you might find a few tips to make the PDR a more worthwhile experience on both sides.


For upcoming workshops for department members on 'How to make the most of your PDR' and 'So you want to be a PI?', along with further training and advice, visit 


Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not of Oxford University. Readers' comments will be moderated - see our guidelines for further information.

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