In celebration of the “one-to-one” 

Posted in: Edward Webster

Over the last couple of years, I have been hearing a lot about needing to “fix” the annual appraisal system... or as many know it SDPR. People say that it is a meaningless exercise [can be]. The form asks the wrong questions [quite possibly]. If we could get it right, then the performance of the University would sky-rocket [certainly]. 

It has led me to reflect on my personal experience with the annual appraisal system, and… and this will be a shock to many of those reading this… why I find it rich, helpful, and meaningful. 

I think that the secret, if there is one, lies in the element embedded in the appraisal system of the monthly one-to-one. And that this really functions well with the adoption of a core belief.  

“Today, I am going to choose to do a bad job.” 

So, let’s start there. What is this core belief? Simply put, I do not believe that anybody gets out of bed on a workday and says to themselves, “Today, I am going to choose to do a bad job.” 

People want to work hard, do well and be seen to contribute. They don’t always know how to deal with some of the things that they confront but are prepared to give it a go with a bit of advice and guidance and support. People want to be known as someone who makes a positive difference. 

Breathing life into performance 

The monthly one-to-one becomes a place to give oxygen to this. It is the place where I can sit down with my line manager and show them the things I have done, the work promises I have kept, and make suggestions about the things that I should be focussing on next.  

It is a place where I can bring the things that I have been wrestling with and get help. Sometimes that comes in brainstorming or testing ideas, sometimes in getting sound advice on how to proceed, and sometimes being connected to other sources of help. 

Developmentally, it is also a place where I can work through on how I am getting things done, as well as what I am doing. That can be both challenging and affirming… often both at the same time! 

The meaningful [and happy?] appraisal… despite the form 

Because we do this regularly, monthly, when the annual appraisal comes around it is meaningful. My line manager and I can reflect and chart my progress and talk with assurance about where my developmental edges are, and how I can address those in the context of the coming challenges of the next however many years. 

And in the conversation, we shape a shared view of the future for the team, department and how we will do a “good job” for the University. 

[This is the point in the blog post that I have to confess whilst I do produce a written reflection to support my annual appraisal, it has moved away from some of the formal paperwork that can be found on the University web pages…] 

A two-way street 

I am also a line manager. Experiencing the monthly one-to-one from this perspective has other benefits for me as well. I find out more of what is happening, I get reassurance on what the team is delivering, I hear stories of exciting ideas and developments, and I get drawn into some fascinating and challenging problems and situations that stretch me even as I seek to support my colleagues who are wrestling with them directly. 

Whilst these are not the only times I spend with the members of the team individually or collectively; these times have become a core practice as they help us do important things well. And even if a monthly one-to-one sounds time consuming, it is so much more time efficient in the long term. 

You’ll understand, then, that when I hear people saying that we need to “fix” the annual appraisal system, I find myself wondering about their experience with one-to-ones. 

Use the comments section below to share your own experiences. What’s been good, or not so? If there have been problems, how have you overcome those, and what sort of advice would you give to others in those circumstances? 

Ed Webster, Deputy Director of Workforce Development, Department of Human Resources.

Useful sources:  

How to Have a Great One-on-One - University of Bath Development Toolkit | How to Have a Great One-on-One ( 


Posted in: Edward Webster


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