If you haven't yet explored the world of software dedicated to human-resources management, what better place to start than with a task you almost surely loathe?

Austin Hayne's Employee Appraiser is a step-by-step guide to writing performance reviews that allows you to create your own form by choosing from a number of broad topics (such as communication, job knowledge, and people management), which are then broken down into several "job behaviors." (The most recent version, 3.0, was due out in late February and is priced at $129; call 800-809-9920 for information.)

The program also provides you with blocks of descriptive text that you can insert verbatim (don't, unless you want your reviews to sound as if they were written by your computer) or edit to suit your own style. The "language scan" feature ferrets out inappropriate words or phrases; type "John is incompetent," for instance, and you'll be cautioned that "general or vague words such as 'good job,' 'hard worker,' or 'incompetent' should be supported with specific examples." While the software isn't a substitute for your own good judgment, it's an effective road map for managers who struggle with appraisals.

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