time is up for annual reviews

With the end of the academic year and holidays looming, many of us are wrapping up the year and planning what lies ahead. The process involves reviewing what we have achieved, what we have not done so well, or not finished, but also considering things we intended to do, but have forgotten, projects/ tasks which got lost by the wayside, because of the constant time-wheel, crushing our best intentions.

As a university member of staff (Research Staff, Academics, Professional Staff and everyone else), you will at some point over the next couple of months undertake an SRDS or “Staff Review Development Scheme”. I have already written in a previous blog about this process: Reflecting on reflection. I would like here to revisit the topic as it seems timely and to offer some suggestions and coaching questions to challenge your mindset and approach regarding the annual review.

Acknowledge your achievements

I call this process, “An attitude of gratitude…to the self”. It is so easy to dismiss, brush away all the many small achievements we have had during an entire year, all the little things which on their own do not appear like very much, but actually contribute greatly to our overall contributions. During one of my workshops, I ask participants to spend 10 min focused on writing down the achievements (very small and maybe very big), in their professional lives and beyond, that they have had during the last month. The process is cathartic, because by writing things down, individuals come to acknowledge the broad diversity of their contributions.

Before you start your annual review, take a piece of paper or a notebook and write down all your achievements (big and small) of the last month.


Review with purpose

While the review process is organised through structured forms with boxes to fill and formalised through discussions with line managers, many individuals find challenging to address the big picture of who they are filling the form for. An SRDS form is not a project review. Project reviews sit in other conversations. In an SRDS, you are the project and I would suggest that the most effective approach to undertaking a review is to put yourself at the centre. It is not about HR or your boss, it is simply about YOU. But not you in isolation, you within the context of the organisation, your faculty and department.

Individuals are likely to focus their review on what they did, and not necessarily communicate to their reviewers the value of what they have achieved (why it matters, why it has impact, what types of impact) or wish to achieve in the coming year.

Communicate the value provided, not just the activities (what you have done).

I would like to propose to you a canvas to structure your review. This structure may help you better reflect on the value you have provided, and how you can strategise and prioritise your contributions for the next academic year.

This canvas applies the principles of Business models to developing a Personal Business Canvas: Business Model You. The Business Model You canvas developed by Clark, Osterwalder and Pigneur proposes a review along 9 dimensions. These dimensions help to articulate how you operate in your working environment and express the logic of how you provide value to the different stakeholders linked to your work. This could help you describe, analyse and maybe reinvent your role and career.

I present here these dimensions very briefly in the context of a Research Staff doing their SRDS. From October, I will be running sessions with Research Staff on using such model for career development and transition. If you want to express interest in taking part, sign up here.


  1. What you do- Key activities (KA)
  • Research experiments and data collection/ data management
  • Equipment maintenance and managing lab consumable/ resources.
  • Data analysis, use of specific softwares
  • Care of cell lines, animals etc.
  • Liaising with research participants
  • Teaching undergraduate students, master students, PhD students, SURE projects.
  • Marking project reports.
  • Reviewing papers
  • Talking at conferences/ seminars
  • Organising departmental events, seminars, conferences
  • Delivering outreach events, open days, tutorials, demonstrations etc.
  • Writing research papers, reviews, opinion pieces, book reviews, blogs, grants.
  1. Who helps you- Key partners (KP)
  • Who support you in delivering your tasks/ responsibilities?
  • Who else could be involved that you may not have considered before?
  • Do you have clarity of expectations of who does what with your key partners? Could you take time to have focused conversations to limit assumptions and clarify expectations?
  1. Your skills/ competencies/ knowledge- Key resources (KR)
  • Clarify your professional identity in 7 words
  • What are you good at doing? Can you convince others that you are?
  • What else could you learn, master or improve to increase the competencies needed to deliver better research/ teaching/ and other scholarly activities?
  1. How you help- Value provided (VP)
  • Can you articulate specifically how you bring value to your PI/ research group or community/ the university?
  • How does it compare with other researchers at your level and applying for the next career stage?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from other researchers?
  1. How you interact- Stakeholders relationship
  • Can you assess how you interact with your research community?
  • Do you seek regular feedback, inputs, brainstorms with your PI? Is the relationship a dialogue or a one-way relationship? What do you need to do about this?
  • Are you developing your assertiveness in setting achievable milestones? How reliable are you in delivering on project milestones?
  1. How do stakeholders know about you and what you deliver- Channels
  • How do we know about what you do you and your expertise? Are you visible online? How can you raise the awareness of others about what you can do?
  • How strategic is your network? How do you interact with your network?
  • Are you actively involved and visible in your research community?
  1. Who you help- Stakeholders

This is your PI mostly, your research funder, research group, the university. It also includes the students you teach.

  • Who else you can provide value to?
  • Who could be new stakeholders?

For example:

  • new collaborators who need your research expertise
  • A patient group to whom you are explaining how your research can help alleviate a challenging health condition
  • A company for whom your technical and analytical skills could help solve a costly problem
  • A school whose pupils may become inspired by your sharing of your research
  1. What you give
  • What do you have to give up in working the way you are? What are the risks/ implications?
  • Have you considered developing a collaboration/ partnership to limit your time cost, increase quality/impact of what you do?
  • How could you work differently to reduce cost on you and maintain/ enhance the value you provide?
  1. What you get
  • What personal satisfaction do you get from the way you are currently working?
  • Is what you are doing now sufficient to help you move to you next career stage?
  • What is in it for you at the moment?

Plan with focus

Undertaking reflection through the Business Model You canvas can help you plan strategically how to focus your professional development for the year ahead. It can help individuals move from the “here and now, this is how I work, what I do, how I provide value” to the next step of “this is how I would like to contribute… the future to be”. Establishing which elements in your Personal Business Canvas need to stay, need to go or which elements to add may help you increase how you can provide value.

If you want to come and learn how to use the Business Model You canvas, please express interest.