What are Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS)?

Updated:

August 13, 2021

Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, also known as BARS, are a type of performance management scale that use behavior “statements” as a reference point instead of generic descriptors commonly found on traditional rating scales.

Designed to add the benefits of both qualitative and quantitative information to the appraisal process, the BARS method of performance appraisal measures an employee’s performance against specific examples of behavior that are given a number rating for the purpose of collecting data.

behaviorally anchored rating scale example

Establishing specific behaviors for grading are meant to give the rating a higher degree of accuracy relative to performance. This is because you’re relying on unique, individual behaviors required for each individual position within an organization, instead of behaviors that can be evaluated in any position across the board.

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It is presumed that using a rating scale with specific behaviors for selected jobs minimizes the subjectivity in using basic ratings scales.

For now, let's dive into some examples of what BARS might look like.

Examples of Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales

The job being appraised belongs to a customer service representative:

  • A level four rating might assume the rep answers the phone after 1 to 2 rings with a friendly greeting
  • A level six rating might assume the rep answers phone after 1 ring with the correct company greeting

A traditional rating scale would ask if the employee answers phone promptly/courteously and list the number ratings:

  • 1: Never
  • 2: Not Often
  • 3: Sometimes
  • 4: Usually
  • 5: Always

It is clear to see there will be a difference in the outcome of the appraisal with the more definitive BARS method.

The job being appraised belongs to a nurse:

  • A level four rating might assume the nurse shows sympathy to patients
  • A level six rating might assume the nurse shows higher levels of empathy in all dealings with the patient and their family

The job being appraised belongs to a waiter:

  • A level 2 rating might assume the waiter talks on phone while taking orders
  • A level 4 rating might assume the waiter makes eye contact with customers during every transaction
  • A level 6 rating might assume the waiter greets customers cheerfully and makes suggestions from the menu based on their preferences

What Are the Pros and Cons of the BARS Method?

While these examples are great at offering an insight to the effectiveness of the BARS method, not everything about Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales is perfect. There are several benefits to making the switch, but also some downsides to consider.

Benefits of Using the Bars Approach:

  1. It's easy to use. The standards upon which the employee is being appraised are significantly clear which makes the entire process much less confusing.
  2. It's based on behavior. The ultimate goal of employee appraisals is to improve performance. Having a better understanding of the behaviors and what leads to them, allows the company an added perspective to what works and what doesn’t.
  3. It's impartial. Because BARS is heavily focused on behavior, the evaluation process seemingly has more fairness to it.
  4. It is completely individualized. BARS creates the ability to design a unique performance management experience for every position within an organization.

Downsides of Using the Bars Approach:

  1. It’s a time-consuming process. As great as it sounds to design the unique experience for each position, an organization with many different roles would have to invest an enormous amount of time and resources to get it done.
  2. It can be expensive. Time is money. For smaller organizations with multiple roles, this may not be feasible to accomplish in the short run.
  3. It demands a management team that is highly devoted/motivated. All of the statements and anchors used on the appraisal need to be developed. It is demanding and managers would have to be highly involved.
  4. It can be accused of leniency bias. BARS directly removes the opportunity for an evaluation to be biased, however, it doesn’t remove them all. Some believe there is still room for the leniency error.

Who Is the BARS Approach Best For?

After taking a closer look at the pros and cons of using Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, one can expect that the method is best used by larger companies financially capable of pursuing the project.

However, realizing that major manager input is mandatory, the company also needs to have understandable time and commitment expectations.

It would be ideal if the company did not have a large number of different positions but rather, groups of positions or departments made up of similar types of jobs.

Being that this approach is still a measuring system used for rating employees, another suitable use for BARS is when you encounter bias challenges in the current performance management process. Its emphasis on behavior produces objective ratings difficult to distort.

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How to Set Yourself up for Success

If you want to include BARS in your performance management plan, it is highly recommended that you start by diligently researching the approach. Be prepared with a full understanding so that you can execute the method properly for your own organization.

We also recommend using performance management software to help with execution. Performance management software makes it easy for employees to participate in your process and allows you to automate and track objectives, goals, and employee progress in one place.

Be sure that your team is on board with the BARS approach before implementing. As previously mentioned, managers will need to be greatly involved. The following steps will assist in developing the final product:

  1. Collect examples of adequate and inadequate behavior related to jobs. Some use the Critical Incident Technique.
  2. Convert data into performance dimensions using examples of behavior.
  3. Ask your team of subject matter experts (SMEs) to translate into their own performance dimensions.
  4. Give the remaining behaviors a scale, usually a 5 to 9 point one.
  5. Discard the higher deviated standards to ensure SME agreement on behavior ratings.
  6. Develop the final scale accordingly.

What to do next.

Here are three ways you can continue your journey to a more modern and effective performance management strategy:

  1. See PerformYard In Action. Find time with one of our product experts to get a live look at what it's like to use modern performance management software. Every call starts with a 5 minute discussion of your approach and then immediately dives into a live product demonstration that's based on your organization's process. Or start by watching a 2-minute video overview.
  2. Learn more about modern performance management. Start with our Guide to Building a Modern Performance Management System, or visit our blog to see the latest ideas from our team.
  3. If you know other HR Pros who would appreciate this article, share it with them through email, LinkedIn or Twitter.