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SDPR and Career Conversation

This page includes information for reviewees and reviewers in all job families around the annual feedback and appraisal process.


The feedback and appraisal conversation is an opportunity for a purposeful conversation away from the day-to-day, to focus on the staff member and their wellbeing, performance and development. It's important to note that the record form offers a structure for a conversation and enables record-keeping, but filling out the form is not the purpose of the conversation and should not be the focus. The review should focus on a high quality conversation that raises awareness of a reviewee’s successes, challenges, strengths and development needs. It should be held at a minimum annually. The conversation can either take the form of a Staff Development Performance Review (SDPR) or a Career Conversation.

Aspects of the Conversation

Checking in

This is a chance to deepen the understanding of the reviewee and explore what else might be needed to ensure they can perform their role and stay healthy. If you are successful, we are successful - People come to Bath because they are want to deliver top quality work. If we can support you to have great careers, the University will do well. In practice: We expect you to have ambitions, and to set goals that move you towards achieving them.


Take time to reflect. Before the meeting, think about how well the past year has gone in terms of your personal goals, what you think is expected of you in your current role, and be prepared to explain your understanding of what “good” looks like for you at this time. Talk about what it was possible to achieve from last year’s objective list and receive feedback about how you have been doing. What are the positive and successful behaviours you’ve noticed, and what could be improved or developed?

Looking ahead

What goals can be set, within the limits of uncertainty about the coming year? Planning for different scenarios may be helpful. It is helpful to set some concrete goals but be sure to acknowledge that achieving some may depend on circumstances beyond your control. Be focused on what matters now, and contributes to the University, for the next stage of your career.


A form is not a letter to the University. It can only be a record of commitments made by the two people involved in the conversation. The value lies in having those powerful, purposeful conversations and designing a path towards your future. There’s value in recording your thoughts and commitments, but the form isn’t the point of the exercise. Set goals and objectives wisely according to the circumstances. At the end of the meeting, recap on the key points that can go on the record sheet and write them down in enough detail to make them useful next time you refer to the document (which should not wait a year!) Remember, you are committing to take the next necessary actions in your career.


What are the longer-term ambitions of the reviewee, and how can they be supported and aligned with the University’s needs? What new skills, knowledge or ways of working should be in the plan for the year ahead? The conversation should help you think about what are the right ambitions for you at this time, bearing in mind your own career stage, the needs of the University, and what else is going on in your life.

Career Conversation

Recently an alternative approach to SDPRs has been developed called “career conversation” inspired by industry to encourage autonomy and creativity. Initially this was focused on academic departments but is now being used in a variety of professional services departments too. Career conversations are not very different from the best SDPRs, but they shift the mindset from a line-by-line analysis and setting of objectives, towards discovering your own strengths and values, and working with you to design a path to achieving success in your context. Please see more information below.

The aim of this is to help the staff member reflect on their motivations, aspirations, achievements and strengths, and to build on them to set clear goals that will help them find fulfilment at work and achieve their potential. A career conversation is a place for a member of staff to meet their line manager, a mentor or other experienced colleague, and discuss the whole context and trajectory of their career including immediate goals and plans. It sits in the place of the SDPR – taking place at least annually, but preferably more often.

Academics have a large degree of autonomy in their roles and are usually highly motivated, creative people with ambition and a high level of specialist expertise. Annual review schemes that focus on filling in forms, with short-term objective-setting, have not proved very effective in supporting them to have successful careers. We are therefore taking a lead from many industries where similar sorts of workers find much greater benefit in having more frequent, less formal conversations that look at all aspects of a person’s career but still set goals and commitments. These types of conversations have proved just as beneficial across a range of job types, and have now been embraced by a number of professional services departments.

Conducting a career conversation

Line managers are responsible for ensuring their staff have a review meeting annually, either an SDPR or a career conversation. In academic areas, Heads of Department are responsible for establishing who will conduct career conversations in their Department, and for ensuring they take place. They can take place at any time of year − faculties will normally determine the timing so that it best fits their planning cycle.

Skills and attitudes

You should be prepared to develop a clear, evidence-based and self-aware sense of how you doing with respect to:

  • Your own motivation and aspirations.
  • The expectations for you in your role.
  • The context in your life, your department, discipline, the University and beyond.

Your reviewer or mentor will be focused on your needs, and will ask challenging questions, encouraging you to reflect on your actions, decisions, and behaviours.

Elements of a career conversation

A career conversation usually covers four aspects, which can be taken in any order and drawn together to set out a clear way forward.

  • Self awareness: How are you doing and how do you know?
  • Context: What's happening around you?
  • Values and aspirations: What is important to you?
  • Goals and plans: What tangible steps will you take now?

Preparing and completing an SDPR/Career conversation

For detailed guidance on how to prepare for and complete an SDPR or Career Conversation please review our separate guidance pages below:

Preparing and completing an SDPR/career conversation: a guide for HoDs and Reviewers

Preparing and completing an SDPR/career conversation: a guide for Reviewees


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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