Here’s the worst performance review I ever received: “You were great.” The review was via email, and when I commented on its brevity, my boss said the “outrageous Internet salary” he gave me was testament to how much he wanted to keep me.

Apparently he did not know that survey after survey has shown that salary is not the most important factor in job satisfaction. People want to feel useful, they want to be challenged, and they want to be recognized for their contribution. A key way that managers can do this for their employees is to conduct a careful, well-planned and insightful review. (A good fallback is to use a systematic approach, like performance appraisal software.)

But good performance review takes heart. You need to really see the employee and understand what motivates her. You need to understand where she wants to go, because the job of you, the manager, is to help her get there. And of course, a good manager will show the employee why she should want for herself what her manager wants for her.

An employee knows right away how prepared you are for the review, so don’t bother trying to fake it; this is not a college essay test, this is real life. Lack of preparation means that you do not take the review seriously, so you can bet the employee will ignore what you say. Lack of preparation means mentoring and leading are not high priorities, and managers who do not make those high priorities are managers who have ill-prepared disloyal employees.

Here’s the best review I ever had: My boss sat down with me and handed me two typed pages — one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses. This might seem like standard practice, but to do this practice well requires thoughtful preparation. In the strengths section my boss highlighted areas of my performance that I didn’t think he noticed — like that I am a strong mentor. He also highlighted areas that I didn’t realize were strengths — like that I can lead without explicit authority.

When my boss got to the weakness section of the review he had already won me over with his insight, so I listened attentively. He told me that I needed to be more discreet when I want to disagree with him. And he gave me examples of ways that I had disagreed with him over the past year, and ways that I could have done it without publicly undermining him. He also explained to me how to make sure that people don’t do that to me, their manager, now that they have seen me do it to my manager. In ways like this, my boss let me know that he really wanted me to succeed, and he was going to help me to make sure it happened.

There was no raise at that review (I had already blackmailed him for a raise earlier in the year and he had given me the raise and explained why my approach was not good for building relationships). There was also no quantification (“You get a six for teamwork, you get a five for cleaning up the kitchen…”). What there was in that review was a deep concern for me, as a person, and a deep appreciation for what I had done for his company.

So take this opportunity to make a big impression in someone’s life. You do not get the chance to save starving children, but you can make the world a better place by approaching reviews in a way that makes each employee feel cared about and important. This goes for employees who suck, too. In fact, people usually suck because they hate their job and feel like it’s not doing anything for them. It was layoff season at the end of last year. If you couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the person at that point, you owe it to everyone to make the best of the situation with a well-prepared review. And for those of you who have a boss who has rescheduled your review six times, or not scheduled it at all: send her this column.

My earliest memory of Yom Kippur is one of my dad writing a note for me to give to my second grade teacher: “Please excuse Penelope from school tomorrow. She is Jewish.”

Maybe if there had been other Jews at my school, the note would have had more context. But my dad was apoplectic about the fact that Christmas was an official school holiday and Yom Kippur was not, and he would explain nothing. So I tried, as best as a seven-year-old-could, to explain to the teacher that Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday. I said: “It’s so important that we don’t even eat.”

Now that I’m in charge of my own fridge, I haven’t fasted in years. But I still take the day off to go to synagogue, and I still find myself explaining the holiday to the uninformed: “It’s a time to mourn the dead. It’s a time to be thankful for being alive and to try to figure out how to be a better person next year.” Even if Jews neglect Judaism in their day-to-day lives, most show up to synagogue for Yom Kippur. Some Christians may relate — they may not say the rosary every night, but they never miss Christmas mass.

As a kid, I considered Yom Kippur an interruption of my secular life. When other kids asked about my absence, I told them I was at home sick or had a very long dentist’s appointment so no one would know I was different. As an adult, there are always more Jews in my office than there were in my grade school, but at the office I have found new problems with Yom Kippur.

The first year that I didn't live with my parents I felt rebellious: I worked on Yom Kippur. But that day it felt bad. I told myself that it would be okay if I spent time at work thinking about how to be a better person the next year, but I ended up thinking only a few minutes, locked in a stall in the back of the bathroom.

By the time my career progressed to management jobs, I knew I would feel bad if I didn’t go to synagogue, but sometimes I still skipped Yom Kippur. I worried: What if a meeting was held and since I wasn't there someone delegated all the grunt work to me? I needn’t have worried — all meetings were postponed out of respect to the number of Jews who were out of the office, except for me, who showed up.

I didn't learn my lesson. I worked on Yom Kippur the year I was supposed to give my first presentation to senior management. The printer broke. The presentation was postponed. No one cared. I fasted the rest of the day at my desk.

Another year, my reason for ditching synagogue was less career-driven and more water-cooler-driven. The O.J. verdict was going to be announced, and I didn’t want to miss the communal fun of hearing the verdict at work. I imagined highly-charged debate, or at least a lot of shouting. So I stayed at work, where reaction to the O.J. verdict hoopla was anticlimactic and short-lived.

After that, I usually took a day off with all the other Jews. I came to enjoy the Yom Kippur chatter in the office among Jews because during the rest of the year, Jews are mostly secular and so is the chatter. Yom Kippur would be more convenient if it fell on Christmas (everything’s closed, Jews have nothing to do — a great day to fast!) but I realized that the Yom Kippur interruption of work would not derail my career, it would only derail my weekly schedule.

This last Yom Kippur, which fell on Sep. 27, two and a half weeks after the terrorist attacks, I discovered something new: Yom Kippur gives me a peaceful time that I would not otherwise allow myself at the expense of work. People are still shaking from the World Trade Center attacks and the looming threat of our country at war. We are all expected to get back to work and be productive — while a necessary process, it is one that feels abrupt. Yom Kippur gave me a break. So I did in that time what that time is set aside to do. I mourned those who died. I gave thanks that I was alive. I thought of how to be a better person next year.

Some will call me on the fact that I only lean on my faith when I need it most. But this tragedy has made many of us revisit, reassess, and most of all, re-appreciate. For years I looked at Yom Kippur as an inconvenience — I always felt I would be missing something at work. This year, the timing could not have been better, and I realize I would have missed out on something more had I gone to the office.