Organizational Wellness

Using Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) to Improve Performance

Mar 27, 2023
Last Updated Jan 11, 2024

Employee evaluations. Some people dread them and others can’t wait for them to roll around. But no matter how you feel they’re vital to your business.

Regularly assessing employee performance lets employers identify ways they can support employee growth and recognize employees ready to take the next step in their careers. Objectivity is a critical part of this process, as keeping evaluations consistent across departments ensures everyone’s performance is being judged in the same way.

Enter the Behavioral Anchor Rating Scale (BARS) method, a tool used to measure employee performance impartially. You can apply the BARS method to your organization’s performance evaluation process to support a reliable performance management system that fosters team success. Here’s how!

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What is a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale?

A Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) is an objective evaluation method used to measure employee performance.  It scores specific behaviors on a numeric scale, typically from one to five or nine. The scale is leveraged so quantitative data can be used to assess job performance in addition to the quantitative information typically included in reviews. 

Advantages of using the BARS method:

  • Provides an accurate and objective assessment of employee performance.
  • Allows for a more detailed evaluation of employee competencies.
  • Helps managers provide more precise feedback and development plans for their teams.
  • Improves rating reliability due to its focus on specific behaviors rather than abstract criteria.
  • Promotes consistency in the rating process by establishing anchor points along each dimension.
  • Can help uncover underlying issues that may be affecting overall job performance.
  • Encourages open dialogue between managers and employees about job performance expectations.

Disadvantages of the BARS method:

  • Can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
  • Data may not represent the diverse perspectives of multiple raters.
  • May require additional training for managers to ensure consistent ratings.
  • Bias can still exist in this method due to the subjective nature of critical incidents analyzed.
  • Reliability and validity of data collected can be affected by inaccurate anchoring or inaccurate wording of performance dimensions.
  • Can lead to negative perceptions from employees who feel their performance isn’t accurately reflected in the evaluation process.


Examples of Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales

In a traditional rating scale, performance is evaluated using simple descriptors like “Excellent,” “Poor,” “Always,” “Never,” that are not associated with a number rating scale.

With a BARS approach, rating criteria narrowed. The review format has managers rate employees on that one to five or one to nine scape on  specific behaviors like:

  • Communicated effectively with customers
  • Effectively supervised staff
  • Managed time efficiently
  • Demonstrated leadership

The behaviors ranked on this scale vary depending on the role being evaluated. Here are a few examples for different roles:

  • Salesperson: A level one point on the scale might be “Does not respond to questions in a timely manner.” A level five might be “Responds promptly and addresses concerns.”
  • Product Manager: A level two might be “Understands product details and can manage projects with supervision.” A level four might be “Manages and completes projects without supervision.”
  • Nurse: A level three might be “The nurse exhibits sympathy to patients.” A level five might be “The nurse exhibits high levels of sympathy with patients and their family members.”
  • Waiter: A level two might be “Rarely makes eye contact and only checks on customers when they request something.” A level five might be “Anticipates customer needs cheerfully and checks in multiple times over the course of the meal.”


Developing and Applying a Behavioral Anchor Rating Scale

You can develop and apply the BARS method to your employee reviews in a few simple steps. During this process, consider getting input from subject matter experts and stakeholders to build a scale that will best judge employees on their holistic performance.

Step 1: Collect Critical Incident Examples

Compile a list of proper and improper employee behaviors related to relevant job expectations. One way to collect this data is through the critical incident technique, where you record and analyze positive and negative aspects of employee performance based on first-hand observation. This step includes assessing the causes of optimal and abysmal job performance, with observers taking note of atypical outcomes.

Step 2: Identify Performance Dimensions

The next step is to convert the examples of behavior into performance dimensions. To identify which observed behaviors belong on your scale, select those that are most closely related and group them together. Remember to include both positive and negative behaviors to enable a comprehensive evaluation process. SMEs can help with this process by providing valuable insight into the desired performance for a given role. Together, you can examine how closely every dimension relates to your desired performance scale. 

Step 3: Finalize the Rating Scale

Once performance dimensions have been identified, link them to your preferred numeric rating scale. The ratings reflect the relative degrees of accomplishment in each dimension, with lower ratings reflecting lesser performance levels and higher ratings representing more successful outcomes. 

Step 4: Test and Analyze Results

It’s time to see how well your scale works! You can pilot it by having multiple people evaluate the employees across identical performance dimensions. Comparing the results of this test with that of your own evaluation can provide you with valuable insight into how consistently scale is applied.

Step 5: Implement and Monitor

Implementing this method will require training for managers and supervisors on how to properly assess employee performance using the new system. This includes discussing expectations, providing examples of appropriate behaviors, and ensuring that all ratings are accurate and consistent across the organization. 

Once the system is in place, monitoring its effectiveness is crucial. You can track key metrics and conduct regular reviews to ensure they remain valid and updated.


Enhancing Performance with Wellness

Fostering a growth-oriented work environment is foundational to enhancing performance. This enables employees to continue their professional journey no matter where they fall on the BARS or in their career.

Introducing workplace wellness initiatives is one way to help your staff reach goals and elevate their performance. Doing so can improve the physical and mental health of employees, reducing stress and promoting productivity. That increased productivity — coupled with the decreased healthcare costs that come with improved employee health — means your company can actually strengthen its bottom line by improving employee wellness. 

Even better, you don’t have to work alone to access these advantages. If you have questions or want guidance about how to implement a wellness program, speak with one of our Wellhub wellbeing specialists today!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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