The annual employee performance review usually it's dreaded by both supervisor and employee. The employee knows he'll have to hear about those mistakes from months ago, and the supervisor will finally have to discuss those issues he's been avoiding all year. Too often, the result is discomfort and embarrassment all round. Usually both parties fudge a little and are glad that it's over for another year. Too bad, because another chance for open communication and feedback has been lost.
Increase the frequency. To improve the process, consider holding performance appraisals more frequently, perhaps even quarterly. This can help make the appraisal less of a "special event" and more of a routine exchange of information. It also means your feedback is more directly related to your employee's recent performance, rather than coming months later.
Of course, even quarterly appraisals don't substitute for immediate feedback. If an employee does something wrong, or something good, tell him or her immediately. Point out the problem, make sure the employee acknowledges it, and make clear what you expect in the future. And if it's something good, the employee will appreciate receiving a pat on the back. With immediate feedback, there should never be any surprises at an appraisal.
Some other tips to improve the process. At the end of every appraisal, summarize the discussion and put the highlights in writing. Make sure your employee gets a copy. Before the next appraisal, ask your employee to review the copy and prepare his thoughts on his most recent performance. Ask him to present his opinions to start the discussion. If there are areas needing improvement, agree on an action plan and put that in writing too. And that might be a two-way street. It could involve you providing training or taking actions to support the employee, so make sure you're living up to the agreement.
Finally, don't limit the appraisal to a scorecard on the employee's achievements. If appropriate, use it to discuss career planning, cross-training, or job enrichment. Solicit ideas from the employee. It can all help turn a judgmental meeting into a constructive exchange of ideas.