great article, and lots to read. I've been on the receiving end of bad appraisals and good ones. I've been laid off as a "poor performer" and kept on as one of the last six in a startup company that once had over 200 employees. in every case, however, what affected my appraisal MORE THAN THE WORK was my relationship with my supervisor--and his ability/willingness to fight for me. Liekwise I've been rehired by the same people multiple times, even when the company's funds were entirely exhausted, because of the good word of the bosses.
IMO, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. IT doesn't matter if you think the other employees are sucking up to "the man", or if they're going golfing with him and somehow they manage to get all the opportunities. Use the tools the boss wants you to use. Find ways to make your boss's life better. Heck, have a barbeque at your house to show your boss that you're a human being with a family and kids--if you must. The truth is that the boss trusts those he can communicate with and feels he can rely upon. You do what the boss wants when he wants it, in a timely fashion. That's what sticks with the boss. YOU MUST MANAGE THAT RELATIONSHIP.
Employees sometimes get the impression that management should inherently know them--or trust them--or love them--or whatever. While this would be nice, imagine how many relationships succeed when you have high expectations and do nothing to manage that relationship.
btw, Perl has been extremely useful in this regard, due to its ability to get the job done, regardless of how pretty the code or interface. You betchya it's been a factor in allowing me to keep my job.
regarding performance evaluations, I honestly can't get behind them. I find the inherent nature of a team to be in constant strife with anything that encourages competition of one's livelihood to be counterproductive. I find that those who might share their expertise won't do it, if they think that this expertise is their only advantage to being in the job. Especially in companies that "hire the best" you're ranking the best against the best, and the factors that distinguish the best become extremely arbitrary and subjective the more similar the technical merits of the prospective team. So in a team of engineers, where they're all technically competent (or could become so, if given a chance) arbitrary ranking forces a self-destructive grade upon everyone and engineers get rewarded according to the luck of the draw, on his visibility and the "sexiness" of whatever the issue of the day might be--rather than on merit.
I once told my wife, "If I'm actively engaged at work then I'd rather not know about performance evaluations, positive or negative. If they're bad and I've given it my best shot, then I am depressed and think 'why even try?' while if they're really good then I think, 'awesome! I have been working too hard, and really need to take a break.'"
Poor rankings do have the added benefit of placing the boss into constant communication with the wayward employee. It can actually turn into a good thing, if the employee/boss are willing to see it as a way to improve communication. Sadly, that's not how it is used in companies.