How to work strategically with SDDs as a manager

SDD for managers at AU (video in Danish) Henrik Philipp Kroer from AU HR, Udvikling & Arbejdsmiljø

The purpose of the SDDs is to ensure that the competency development of the employees are dealt with in a strategic and systematic way.

In a strategic way by ensuring a direction of development that matches the organisation’s needs and supports the overall strategy at Aarhus University.

In a systematic way by ensuring that employees and managers make agreements and follow up on agreements during the year.

This page contains tools to conduct a good development dialogue with your employees.

Staff development dialogue in mitHR

Going from AUHRA to mitHR you will especially notice:

  • The dialogue guide is now a questionnaire with a mixture of multiple choice and open questions.
  • The employee can send the preparation to you before the dialogue. That way you can also prepare with the employee's response in mind and have a valuable dialogue.

As a manager, you should consider:

  • to what extent you wish to use mitHR in your staff development diaglouges, and whether you would recommend using the system's flow or an alternative process.
  • how and when you communicate to your employees about the new system and the recommended flow.

What should you do?

Phase 1 - How to prepare

Create the framework:

  • Define the unit’s goals, plans for the future, financial scope for competence development activities as well as the needs for competence development in the coming years. It may be a good idea to define this in collaboration with your own manager in connection with your own SDD.
  • Please note that the local liaison committees may have specified special themes that should be discussed during the SDDs
  • Create a schedule for the SDDs which includes:
    • A date for a joint meeting in the unit
    • Dates for the individual dialogues
    • A date for a follow-up meeting in the unit

Inform your employees well in advance

  • Conduct a GDD/TDD or a department meeting and provide information about
    • When the SDDs will take place
    • Your expectations regarding the direction of the unit/department. Ask for comments and feedback and use, for example, the Impact Map tool
    • Your expectations regarding the outcome of the dialogue and the employee’s preparation for the dialogue
  • Invite the employees to SDDs via Outlook

Preparation for the individual dialogue:

  • Review the progress since the last SDD based on the agreements and the follow-up
  • Reflect on your and the employee’s development potential
  • Prepare the dialogue based on
    • your employee's answers to the dialogue guide in mitHR  or
    • the three topics for the dialogue
  • Prepare appreciative and constructive feedback regarding performance and development for the employee

Phase 2 - Conducting SDDs, the dialogue

To conduct a quality SDD which has meaning and impact requires that the employee and the manager make an effort to conduct a dialogue that focuses on the future and on development.

A dialogue that leads to development requires that you listen to each other and try to understand the basis of what is being said by asking elaborating questions instead of arguing against the points that are being made.
Read: How to give constructive feedback.

Specific tips:

  • It is recommended to allocate 1½ hours for the dialogue
  • Keep track of time to ensure that you can cover all the main themes and special focus areas
  • Remember that the employee should do most of the talking
  • Allocate time to agree on the things that should be written in the agreement form afterwards - who will do what and when to follow-up
  • Be specific when filling in the agreement form. This will make it easier to relate to the specific items in the form and follow up on them. 

Phase 3 - Remember follow-up

Approval and information

  • When the agreement form has been completed by the employee, you must approve it
  • If relevant, coordinate the competence development wishes locally before committing to specific wishes from the employees
  • Hold a follow-up meeting in which you inform about important themes and special focus areas which have been uncovered during the dialogues, and how you plan to follow up. For reasons of confidentiality, it is important that no reference is made to the specific contents of individual dialogues.

Follow up on an ongoing basis

As a manager, you also play an important role when it comes to following up on whether the individual development activities are on the right track and whether the employee is benefiting as intended.

If some of the activities do not progress as expected, you should discuss why and whether new initiatives should be taken. Experience shows that individual follow-up is key in order for the manager and the employee to feel that the SDD has an effect.

Dialogue guides - description and download

The dialogue guide contains suggestions which means that it is fine to ask supplementary questions, leave out sub-questions and ask the questions in another order than specified in the guide.

The idea is to create a fluent dialogue with both the manager and the employee asking questions which come to them naturally. However, as a minimum, the dialogue should cover the three main themes in the dialogue guide. 

The three main topics of the dialogue are:

1. What has happened since the last SDD? – A good starting point for talking about the future
2. Well-being and job satisfaction
3. Future tasks and competence development 

You can find the dialogue guides here:

When should you do something?

Annual SDD Schedule

The SDD should not be seen as a stand-alone dialogue, but as an ongoing process. You will reach the best results if you follow up on an ongoing basis and make notes about the employee’s tasks and challenges throughout the year.

  • Spring: follow up on the dialogues you have had with your employees
  • Summer: plan this year’s SDDs in the unit
  • Late summer: inform your employees about what you expect of them and send out invitations
  • Autumn: conduct SDDs and approve agreement forms
  • Winter: approve agreed activities and inform the unit about general themes

 Download an annual SDD schedule

Assistance for managers in relation to SDDs

Advice, coaching and feedback

Managers at AU can get advice and assistance on how to conduct SDDs.

HR offers advice and guidance regarding an introduction to the SDD concept, how to start the dialogue process, as well as dialogue management training and techniques. Please contact your HR partner if you have a question or need specific feedback or advice. 

Find out more about our other offers of assistance here:


Henrik Philipp Kroer

Management Development Consultant