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Behind BARS: Evaluating Employees with Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales

The BARS (behaviorally anchored rating scales) method of evaluating employees carries typical job appraisals one step further: Instead of relying on behaviors that can be appraised in any position in a company, the BARS method bases evaluations on specific behaviors required for each individual position in an individual company.

The BARS method explained

Development of BARS evaluations requires an in-depth understanding of each position’s key tasks, along with an understanding of the full range of behaviors displayed by individuals in carrying out such tasks. You rate these behaviors for each employee; then you anchor each behavior to points on a rating scale, which indicates whether the behavior is exceptional, excellent, fully competent, or unsatisfactory. The result is a rating scale for each task.

For example, in a hypothetical position of human resources coordinator, one of the job holder’s responsibilities is to complete status change notices, which update the personnel system regarding changes in employee pay, position, title, supervisor, and personal data. The BARS method for this specific task in this specific job could read as follows:

5 — Exceptional performance: Accurately completes and submits all status change notices within an hour of request.

4 — Excellent performance: Verifies all status change notice information with requesting manager before submitting.

3 — Fully competent performance: Completes status change notice forms by the end of the workday.

2 — Marginal performance: Argues when asked to complete a status change notice.

1 — Unsatisfactory performance: Says status change notice forms have been submitted when they haven’t.

Pros and cons of the BARS method

The BARS approach offers several key advantages:

  • It’s behaviorally based. The BARS system is totally focused on employee performance. Ideally, it removes all uncertainty regarding the meaning of each numerical rating.

  • It’s easy to use. The clear behavioral indicators make the process easier for the manager to carry out and the employee to accept.

  • It’s equitable. With its heavy emphasis on behavior, the evaluation process comes across as fair.

  • It’s fully individualized. From the standpoint of consistency within a company, BARS is designed and applied individually and uniquely for every position.

  • It’s action-oriented. With an understanding of the specific performance expectations and standards of excellence, employees can much more easily take steps to improve their performance, and they’re more likely to do so as a result.

Like any method, BARS isn’t perfect. Here are some of the drawbacks to the BARS approach:

  • The process of creating and implementing BARS is time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. Each BARS form must be created from scratch for every position in the company.

  • Sometimes the listed behaviors still don’t include certain actions required of the employee, so managers can have difficulty as signing a rating.

  • It’s high maintenance. Jobs change over time, which means that BARS requires a high degree of monitoring and maintenance.

  • It’s demanding of managers. In order to successfully conduct BARS evaluations, managers need detailed information regarding the actions of their employees. Gathering such data can be quite time-consuming, and many managers end up letting this slide.

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