Employee reviews often create stress for all involved. The anticipation of the review by both the reviewer(s) and the employee can be extraordinary.
We had a review process that incorporated input from many staff members who were familiar with the employee who was up for review. That helped make the experience a bit less of an us-vs.-them experience, as a company-wide perspective was offered to the employee during the review.
I, as the CEO, was present at all reviews. I feel that the presence of the owner at an employee review is a gesture of respect and actually part of the compensation that the employee should get routinely.
If the employee to be reviewed wasn’t managed directly by me, the employee’s manager would run the review, setting expectations on the front end, asking questions during the review, and summarizing the outcomes at the end of the review. I would not talk much, as I wanted to give the manager the freedom to do what was part of his/her job responsibilities.
By being there as a witness, I also learned how well the manager handled the review process. Depending on how that went, I might offer him/her some gentle feedback after the review was completed on what could be done differently the next time.
Do you have a company with so many employees it is impossible to attend all the reviews? Then at least before or after the review make a point of shaking hands with the employee and thanking him/her for what they do for the company. Acknowledgement and respect from the owner of the company is priceless. After all, wouldn’t you want that if you were in their position?