Kerry and Kevin Schulz of Vidcon Enterprises, in Battle Ground, Wash., say that performance evaluation software did more than help managers write employee reviews; it made them better managers. The program was teaching managers at the book-and-video convenience-store chain a more effective language for evaluating employees - language that is objective, to the point, and consistent. Whenever managers slip and write something inappropriate, the program alerts them to the mistake, making them aware of important policy distinctions.

If, for example, a manager writes, "This employee is too young for the position," a box appears, warning against confusing experience with age. When managers are puzzled about certain terms, they can click on an advice section for additional information.

The software Vidcon relies on is Performance Now! (KnowledgePoint, 800-727-1133). It features a series of 30 "elements" - categories like job quality and overall cleanliness - for rating employees.