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Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)
Employee evaluation is an important and complex part of our jobs. One possibility is to use behavioral assessments such as Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales. Read on to see if BARS can help you improve your performance assessment system.

What Is the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)?

The Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) is a performance appraisal method that combines the traditional rating scale with specific behavioral examples of performance. It is a structured and objective approach to performance evaluation that focuses on the observable behaviors and actions of employees rather than their personal traits or characteristics. BARS involves defining a set of performance dimensions or criteria and then developing descriptions of performance levels for each criterion based on specific, observable behaviors. These descriptions are then anchored to specific points on a rating scale, ranging from poor to excellent, with each point representing a specific behavior or level of performance. Here's an example:
Using BARS, evaluators rate employees on each criterion by selecting the behavior or performance level that best fits the employee's observed behaviors. BARS can provide a more accurate and reliable assessment of performance than other rating methods, as it is based on specific, observable behaviors rather than subjective impressions or personal biases. Overall, BARS is an effective performance appraisal method that can help organizations improve their performance management processes and better align individual performance with organizational goals and objectives.

Is the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) Helpful?

Yes, the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) can be a helpful tool in performance management and employee appraisal for several reasons. Let's look at some of its advantages and limitations.

Pros of the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

There are several advantages of using the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) for performance appraisal.
  • Objectivity. BARS provides an objective, structured approach to evaluating employee performance. The use of predefined criteria and behaviorally anchored descriptions helps eliminate the impact of personal biases and ensures that employees are evaluated consistently.
  • Clarity. The behaviorally anchored descriptions in BARS provide clarity about what is expected of employees and what constitutes good performance. This clarity can help employees understand their performance expectations and improve their performance accordingly.
  • Improved feedback. The detailed descriptions of specific behaviors in BARS provide managers with a framework for providing detailed feedback to employees. Employees can then use this feedback to improve their performance in the future.
  • Flexibility. BARS can be adapted to different job roles and performance criteria. This flexibility allows organizations to tailor the performance appraisal process to the specific needs of each role.
  • Alignment. BARS provides a clear link between employee performance and organizational goals. This alignment can help motivate employees to improve their performance and contribute to the organization's success.
  • Enhanced validity and reliability. The use of specific, observable behaviors in BARS enhances the validity and reliability of the performance appraisal process. This approach helps ensure that evaluations are accurate and reliable, reducing the likelihood of errors and inconsistencies.

Cons of the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

While BARS can be an effective performance appraisal method, organizations should carefully consider the potential disadvantages before implementing it, such as the time and effort required, the complexity of development and implementation, potential limitations in scope, and resistance to change.
  • Time-consuming. Developing and implementing a BARS system can be time-consuming. It requires significant effort to develop specific behavior descriptions for each performance criterion.
  • Complex. BARS can be complex to develop and implement, especially for organizations with diverse job roles and performance criteria.
  • Limited scope. BARS may not be suitable for all job roles or performance criteria, as it relies on specific, observable behaviors to evaluate performance. Some aspects of performance, such as creativity or problem-solving, may be difficult to evaluate using BARS.
  • Resistance to change. Employees and managers may resist the implementation of BARS if they are accustomed to other performance evaluation methods.
  • Potential for subjectivity. While BARS is designed to be objective, there is still potential for subjective judgment when evaluating specific behaviors.

How to Develop a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

Developing a BARS requires a significant amount of time and effort, but can provide a more objective and reliable method for evaluating job performance. According to the Academy to Innovate HR, it may be helpful to establish a team of experts, including an industrial/organizational psychologist and other subject matter experts, to assist with developing a BARS for your organization. Developing a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) involves several steps.

Step 1: Identify Critical Behaviors

First, you need to identify the critical behaviors that define job performance. This can be done through job analysis, interviews with subject matter experts, including hiring managers and those performing in the role, and reviewing the job description.

Step 2: Develop a List of Performance Dimensions

Next, identify the performance dimensions or categories you want to evaluate. This can include areas such as communication skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and leadership. It should include both soft and hard skills relevant to the position and what’s included within the job description.

Step 3: Generate Behavioral Anchors

Once you have identified the critical behaviors and performance dimensions, you need to develop behavioral anchors. These are specific, observable behaviors that demonstrate effective or ineffective performance within each performance dimension (see examples below).

Step 4: Conduct a Validation Study

Before implementing the BARS, you should conduct a validation study to ensure that the scale accurately measures job performance. This can involve testing the BARS with a sample of employees and comparing their ratings to other measures of job performance, such as supervisor ratings or objective performance metrics.

Step 5: Train Raters

Once the BARS is developed, it's important to train the raters (employees) who will be using the scale. This can include providing instruction on how to use the scale, examples of effective and ineffective behaviors, and guidelines for providing feedback.

Step 6: Implement the BARS

Finally, you can implement the BARS in your performance management system. This involves integrating the BARS into your performance appraisal process, setting performance goals based on the BARS, and using the BARS to provide feedback and coaching to employees.

Tips for Implementing a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

Implementing BARS requires careful planning, attention to detail, and ongoing monitoring and improvement to ensure its effectiveness. By involving all relevant stakeholders, developing clear behavior descriptions, training evaluators, and communicating expectations clearly, organizations can successfully implement BARS as a performance appraisal method. Here are some tips for implementing the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS).

Tip 1: Involve Stakeholders

Involve all relevant stakeholders, including employees, managers, and human resources staff, in the development and implementation of BARS. This will help ensure buy-in and promote collaboration. Draft your proposed BARS and schedule time to present your thoughts, ideas and draft to your leadership team. Be sure to address how you plan to incorporate their feedback. Have your project outline, including execution plan and steps, available for their review and feedback.

Tip 2: Communicate Expectations

Address your employees with a plan and a schedule. Be sure to explain the need for the new assessment policy. Communicate the big ideas and performance expectations clearly to employees, including how their performance will be evaluated using BARS. Be sure all employees have read and acknowledged the plan and have had an opportunity to ask questions. Have realistic expectations about the reactions that may be received and how long the process and implementation may take. It is important to remain flexible and optimistic while also providing support and encouragement to employees. Adopt a feedback system to gather feedback throughout the process and enable real-time iterations to address concerns as they arise. You may choose to implement a short survey which can be sent out weekly or biweekly throughout the process to gather, analyze, and act on the feedback and then circle back with the next survey to gauge how the iterations are working.

Tip 3: Monitor Performance

Regularly monitor progress of the updated policy and employee performance using BARS to ensure that evaluations are accurate and consistent. Look for patterns in the data of particular individuals. Have their ratings decreased from a previous assessment? This will highlight areas of opportunity for the employee’s growth. Be nimble and make adjustments as soon as needed.

Tip 4: Continuously Improve

Continuously review and refine the BARS system based on feedback from employees and managers to improve accuracy, objectivity, and relevance.

Examples of the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

Here are two examples from a BARS for a customer service representative. Behavior: Active Listening
  • Level 1: Rarely pays attention to customers, often interrupts, and doesn't ask clarifying questions
  • Level 2: Sometimes pays attention to customers, but often interrupts or fails to ask clarifying questions
  • Level 3: Usually pays attention to customers, asks clarifying questions, but sometimes interrupts
  • Level 4: Actively listens to customers, asks clarifying questions, and only interrupts when necessary
  • Level 5: Actively listens to customers, asks clarifying questions, and never interrupts
Behavior: Problem-Solving
  • Level 1: Frequently fails to solve problems or escalates issues to a supervisor without attempting to solve them first
  • Level 2: Occasionally solves problems but often requires assistance from a supervisor
  • Level 3: Usually solves problems independently but occasionally requires assistance from a supervisor
  • Level 4: Consistently solves problems independently and demonstrates creative thinking to find solutions
  • Level 5: Consistently solves complex problems independently and finds innovative solutions that benefit the company and its customers
BARS can be customized to fit the specific needs of an organization or job function. The key is to provide specific behavioral examples that are relevant to the job and provide a clear standard for performance evaluation. Here are a few examples.

Customer Service

  • Responds to customer inquiries within 24 hours
  • Offers solutions to customer problems rather than just acknowledging them

Teamwork

  • Works collaboratively with team members to achieve common goals
  • Actively participates in team meetings and offers constructive feedback

Leadership

  • Sets clear expectations for team members and holds them accountable
  • Demonstrates effective communication skills in all interactions with team members

Time Management

  • Completes tasks within assigned deadlines
  • Uses time effectively to balance multiple tasks and priorities

Sales Performance

  • Exceeds sales targets on a consistent basis
  • Proactively identifies new sales opportunities and follows up on leads
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Katie Potter, MAIOP

Katie Potter, MAIOP

Katie is an executive People & Talent leader with strong demonstration of building and scaling HR teams from startups to corporate teams. She has experience in building strong, globally focused culture & inclusion across remote, hybrid and onsite teams with a strong passion for people, engagement, & talent development.
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