Now that I'm head of department I have to start doing people's appraisals. I've never enjoyed being appraised and am not looking forward to having to do them. I'm also not convinced they're very useful.
'Appraisals are about continuous performance improvement. If your appraisal system doesn't achieve this, chuck it out.' These uncompromising but fair words come from Mary Budd, a management development specialist who has been involved in enhancing the outcome of appraisals for many years. Both of you are right: Budd in knowing appraisals can be an important lever in performance improvement, you in asserting that appraisals are often not very helpful, because they are frequently badly done.
Unfortunately, both the appraiser and the person on the receiving end tend to regard the process as an end-of-term report, backward-looking rather than forward-facing. If the appraisee has done well, there's a tendency to praise broadly (but not fulsomely, in case the result is a request for a pay rise) and give general encouragement to keep up the good work. If things have not gone well, there can be a negative atmosphere and criticism, but little in the way of objectives and specific targets for improvement.