How behaviorally anchored rating scales can stop employee churn

Last updated:
December 3, 2020
July 5, 2022
min read
Bev Campling
Behaviorally anchored rating scale evaluations
Table of contents

Many companies don’t realize that ongoing performance appraisals are essential to employee retention. But using only a single method puts you at risk of not picking up on red flags. Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) is a rating scale that can be used in tandem with more typical appraisal systems.

What is BARS?

Briefly, BARS is a measuring system that rates employees according to performance and patterns of behavior. BARS can also be used in structured interviews such as behavioral, situational and stress interviews.

Behind that short explanation is a tried and tested process that generates a method of evaluating people for specific behaviors under exact conditions. That means that BARS can identify and assess behaviors required for individual roles in different organizations and industries. More typical appraisal systems adopt a generalized approach.

BARS rating scales were developed to improve on shortcomings in standard appraisal methods. Scales are usually presented vertically with scale points ranging from five to nine listing performance levels from exceptional to unsatisfactory.

How do behaviorally anchored rating scales work?

Behavioral anchors are indicators of how someone responds to a specific situation as opposed to what skills and experience they have. In other words, behavioral anchors measure approach and attitude to skills, knowledge and job responsibilities.

To explain further, an employee might be highly skilled and experienced, but their attitude towards their job is poor. That leads to under-performance and a closed mindset. Conversely, an employee might lack skills and knowledge but their proactive approach makes them go the extra mile every time. Someone with a positive mentality is open to learning and easily trainable.

The BARS system is all about how an employee treats their job responsibilities irrespective of how skilled they are. That’s why BARS compliments skills-based appraisal methods so well.

Development of BARS evaluations

Compilation of behaviorally anchored rating scales must be a team effort involving HR, management and employees. It’s crucial to have subject matter experts onboard for each role as well to ensure that the criteria are precise and critical incidents are accurately scaled. Performance dimensions must also be developed accurately.

It takes considerable leg-work to compile a BARS system correctly. Although there’s a distinct framework, each position has to be analyzed individually. In-depth scrutiny and understanding of key responsibilities as well as behavioral traits must be compiled for each role. Behaviors must be rated and then anchored on a rating scale for each principal responsibility.  

The Critical Incident Technique (CIT)

CIT is the most widely used method of gathering data. It’s a predefined set of procedures to collect observations of behavior that have a critical impact on defined criteria. The critical implications range from positive to negative and the defined criteria are specific job responsibilities.

Observations are known as “critical incidents” which are used to track and gather data. CIT relies on determining an incident, fact-finding, and identifying issues. The next step is to categorize different possible solutions to potential problems. Finally, it must be determined which solution is the most likely to solve the root cause of the issues to ensure that they don’t reoccur.

CIT can also be used to construct typical scenarios of user behavior towards different technologies, including IT systems. This can be very helpful if your business is looking at implementing new technology to replace existing systems. Managers can get a heads up on who will cope with the changes and who will resist. Questions and a rating scale can be built into BARS forms.

BARS performance appraisal example

A good example is teamwork which is a crucial requirement of many jobs. Not everyone is inclined to cooperate with team members for a whole variety of reasons, not all of them negative. The result, however, of placing someone with a prevailing sense of individuality in a team can be disruptive and yield catastrophic results.

Pointed questions must be as designed around daily cooperation, irrespective of the circumstances or personalities in the group. Effective teams work towards the best interests of the group and the project outcome. They can put their own opinions and needs second to what will lead to team success.

Everyone will inevitably, at some time, be in a team with someone that they don’t really like and find it challenging to get along with. A good team player will be able to put this aside and focus on the job at hand.

The BARS performance appraisal could read:

5 – exceeds the acceptable level of performance:

  • Is professional, respectful and courteous in all interactions.
  • Proactively tries to resolve differences by acknowledging underlying issues.
  • It makes compromises or concessions to improve relations.
  • Offers help and is willing to listen to constructive criticism through mediation with a third party.

4 to 3 – meets the acceptable levels of performance:

  • Retains a professional and neutral manner but only interacts when necessary.
  • Keeps all focus on work-related issues.
  • Is willing to report the situation to management if it’s hampering team progress.

2 to 1 – fails to meet the acceptable levels of performance:

  • Refuses to speak to the other person and continually ignores them.
  • Aggressively confronts the other person.
  • Passively accepts the situation without reporting the consequences to management.
  • Resigns or insists on being moved to another team.

Behaviorally anchored rating scales are assessed in interviews with existing employees or candidates. Employees can also complete questionnaires that are then evaluated by their manager or supervisor before a face to face meeting. Feedback from BARS can help an employee develop and improve over time.

Pros and cons

Behaviorally anchored rating scales advantages and disadvantages depend on the level of buy-in and commitment from HR, managers and employees. Without across the board commitment, the BARS method can’t work properly.

Advantages of the BARS method includes:

  • It’s easy to use, and clearly defined behavioral indicators eliminate confusion. Managers can effortlessly conduct the appraisal process and employees can easily understand and accept outcomes.
  • Data collected is from the employees’ perspective encouraging employee engagement.
  • Clarity removes any uncertainty around the meaning of each numerical rating.
  • It’s focused on employee performance because it’s behaviourally based.
  • It’s fair. Because the emphasis is on behavior, the evaluation process is transparent and unbiased.
  • It’s consistent. BARS rating scales are designed for individual application for every role.
  • It’s designed for proactive results. Clearly defined performance levels allow employees to take steps to improve in areas where they are lacking.
  • It can identify rare events that don’t happen daily.
  • It’s a flexible method and templates can easily be integrated with HR systems, including your applicant tracking system.

Disadvantages include:

  • Creating and implementing BARS appraisals is complicated, time-consuming and costly.
  • Considerable effort must be put into accurately creating a BARS form for every job in the organization.
  • If behaviors aren’t adequately broken down into all potential actions, managers can have difficulty assigning a rating.
  • Employees can be put off by ambiguity that can lead to a skewed appraisal result.
  • Data relies on events recorded by HR, employees and management; inaccurate or untruthful reporting can lead to unreliable data.
  • There can be an inclination to built-in bias because we tend to focus on more recent events simply because they’re easier to remember.
  • BARS forms must be living documents that are reviewed and updated regularly. Jobs evolve and requirements change. This can make the BARS method high maintenance.
  • Gathering detailed information from employees is time-consuming. Managers often don’t have the necessary time to compile and maintain data resulting in the process waning.

Is the BARS method of performance appraisal right for you?

BARS ratings are an excellent method of appraisal if you are willing to put in the long hours to compile an accurate system upfront. Once the parameters have been created, they must be regularly reviewed and updated to match current requirements. That too is time-consuming.

Before you implement a BARS system, consider whether HR and management have the time available to maintain the system. Also, think about whether your organization has the existing skills to define key responsibilities, performance dimensions and rating scales accurately. If you are in an industry that evolves rapidly, time constraints can become an issue.

If your business is more stable and form reviews aren’t required regularly, BARS scales can improve management systems, increase employee engagement and lead to improved productivity and employee retention.

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