Behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS) are scales used to rate performance. BARS are normally presented vertically with scale points ranging from five to nine. It is an appraisal method that aims to combine the benefits of narratives, critical incidents, and quantified ratings by anchoring a quantified scale with specific narrative examples of good, moderate, and poor performance.
BARS were developed in response to dissatisfaction with the subjectivity involved in using traditional rating scales such as the graphic rating scale. A review of BARS concluded that the strength of this rating format may lie primarily in the performance dimensions which are gathered rather than the distinction between behavioral and numerical scale anchors.
Benefits of BARS
BARS are rating scales that add behavioural scale anchors to traditional rating scales (e.g., graphic rating scales). In comparison to other rating scales, BARS are intended to facilitate more accurate ratings of the target person’s behavior or performance. However, whereas the BARS is often regarded as a superior performance appraisal method, BARS may still suffer from unreliability, leniency bias and lack of discriminant validity between performance dimensions.
BARS are developed using data collected through the critical incident technique or through the use of comprehensive data about the tasks performed by a job incumbent, such as might be collected through a task analysis. In order to construct BARS, several basic steps, outlined below, are followed.
- Examples of effective and ineffective behavior related to job are collected from people with knowledge of job using the critical incident technique. Alternatively, data may be collected through the careful examination of data from a recent task analysis.
- These data are then converted into performance dimensions. To convert these data into performance dimensions, examples of behavior (such as critical incidents) are sorted into homogeneous groups using the Q-sort technique. Definitions for each group of behaviors are then written to define each grouping of behaviors as a performance dimension
- A group of subject matter experts (SMEs) are asked to re-translate the behavioral examples back into their respective performance dimensions. At this stage the behaviors for which there is not a high level of agreement (often 50–75%) are discarded while the behaviors which were re-translated back into their respective performance dimensions with a high level of SME agreement are retained. The re-translation process helps to ensure that behaviors are readily identifiable with their respective performance dimensions.
- The retained behaviors are then scaled by having SMEs rate the effectiveness of each behavior. These ratings are usually done on a 5- to 9-point Likert-type scale.
- Behaviors with a low standard deviation (for examples, less than 1.50) are retained while behaviors with a higher standard deviation are discarded. This step helps to ensure SME agreement about the rating of each behavior.
- Finally, behaviors for each performance dimensions, all meeting re-translation and criteria, will be used as scale anchors.
Uses of BARS throughout employee lifecycle
Most organizations use behavioural anchors because they serve as a comprehensive system that aligns each role with business priorities. They guide the entire employee life cycle by providing a complete profile for every individual. You can use a Behaviourally Anchored Rating Scale in the following HR activities:
- Talent Acquisition: When your recruiters know what behaviors you need, they can do a better job sourcing candidates. Hiring managers then use the BARS to conduct and evaluate structured interviews.
- Learning and Development: Coaching and development are easier for managers when they have specific behaviors to target. Most enterprise-class learning management systems use them to help create individualized learning paths.
- Performance Management: Behavioral anchors guide managers in performance feedback and evaluation.
- Career Pathing: A career path is essential to attract and keep top performers. Behavioral anchors provide direction for mentoring and planning their growth.
- Succession Management: Identifying talent gaps is easier to do when you have specific performance dimensions to identify high potential employees (HI-POs) and select potential successors.
- Culture: Nurturing behaviors that drive your culture can have a significant impact on your organization. Anchors also provide behaviors for leaders to model.
Advantages of BARS
- Easy to use: Because behaviors are well-defined, managers and their employees understand them without extensive explanations or training. As a result, managers don’t have to spend hours writing long narratives to justify ratings. Behaviors are present, or they are not.
- Validity: Jobholders and their supervisors who know the job develop the behavior descriptions. Their expertise creates construct validity, which means BARS measure what they are intended to measure. For example, if you evaluate whether a customer-facing employee treats visitors well, you can specify that the expected performance is greeting them with a smile. The evaluation matches the operational definition. Their content validity means they represent actual behaviors of good customer service.
- Clear standards: BARS create mutual understanding between managers and their employees on what they are reviewing and opportunities for improvement. That understanding facilitates a developmental discussion.
- Consistent: Because behavioral statements are simple and straightforward, there is little variance regardless of who is the assessed and the assessor.
- Individualized: There are commonalities among roles across the organization, but each position in the organization will have a unique set of role-related behaviors.
- Impartial: The focus is on behavior, not the value of the person being evaluated, which enables frank, open discussions.
Disadvantages of BARS
- Expensive: Developing a BARS requires job analysis and advanced skills to review behavioral statements written by subject matter experts. You may need an industrial psychologist or consulting company’s services. Experienced workers, supervisors, and HR staff must be away from their jobs to write down the behaviors.
- Complex implementation: Although many roles will have similarities in soft skills, citizenship, and leadership behaviors, every role will have different behavioral indicators that require analysis. You must develop, review, and calibrate every performance level for each behavior. Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale is easier to maintain in businesses like retail, insurance, or contact centers with many similar roles.
- Time-consuming: Especially in businesses with similar roles, it can be a burden on managers to discuss the performance of 60 or more behaviors with each individual. In industries like contact centers, first-level managers often have a span of control of up to 30 workers.
- Leniency bias: BARS removes or reduces many bias errors, but it doesn’t eliminate leniency error. The assessor must focus on each behavior in the review.
- Frequent updates: In today’s workforce, where skills have a short half-life, you must update behaviors frequently. In some cases, roles can change with every job posting.