Ah, the dreaded performance review. That annual ritual that causes so much stress with employees and managers, a routine we have not quite replaced yet.

It works like this in most cases.

A manager who isn't really that attuned to an employee's performance suddenly takes an interest a few weeks before the review. He or she starts looking into the employee's work--the wins and losses, the highs and lows. It's part of the manager's job description to provide feedback once per year. The employee, meanwhile, knows full well this is all about getting a slight bump in pay.

There's a lot of fear and trepidation involved, because the employee knows, for a few days and weeks before the review, he or she will be under a microscope.

While you may have to do them, there is a better way. Make sure you never ask any of these questions during the review. (I've provided a much better alternative.)

1. What was your most successful project and why?

Oops. If you are asking the employee to tell you his or her biggest success, you have already failed that employee. It's not just baiting. The question will give the employee the impression you are totally out of touch. You should already know about the biggest success. In fact, you should know more about the success than the employee, because you have done your homework and asked everyone else who was involved, including fellow employees and managers. You should already know they why and give that feedback to the employee.

Better question: What did you learn from project X?

OK, now you have built up some credibility. The review is going to be about the employee's progress, not you attaining knowledge about performance. You already know about the performance, but you want to hear how the employee feels about it.

2. How did you handle a big conflict?

I've heard this question in reviews before and I've used this question myself to conduct reviews when I was in the corporate world. It's another red flag. While it's tempting to use, mostly because it helps you see how the employee has reacted to problems, it's not that useful. What you will get is an explanation about the conflict and what the employee did. It is an information exchange.

Better question: What could you have done differently about your biggest conflict?

As a leader, you want to be in the business of growth and development, not in the business of accusation or mere information gathering. Ask questions in a review that reveal more than just the facts of a situation. If you ask about strategy and personal viewpoint, you will encourage healthy discussion.

3. Why should I give you a raise?

I hate this question. I've been asked this one many times, and it seems to be a bit of a fall-back for out-of-touch managers. We ask it because we want the employee to make a case for overall performance. It's surprisingly common, mostly because managers want to get to the point--that this is about a financial agreement. We know there is a lot of fluff when it comes to a performance review. Yet, avoid the temptation to ask the employee to make the case for raise.

Better question: What are your three greatest skills and how did you improve them?

A performance review should be about skill improvement. If the employee has developed beyond what you expected, bump the pay. Go ahead and reward that employee. Focus the conversation, though, on how the employee feels he or she has improved. Don't make it about money.