Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)

Workforce Management

The Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale is a performance management scale that uses different positions on a point scale to compare employee behaviors.

There are scale points ranging from:

  • a Five-point-scale, to
  • a Seven-point-scale, to
  • a Nine-point-scale.

These rating scales leverage both quantitative and qualitative information meaningfully in the employee appraisal process.

Most people in management or HR understand how important it is to measure each individual’s performance in a business. Human resources like to accomplish this through surveys conducted every quarter or annually.

A significant problem that is often faced with this approach is that the questions are highly homogenized and do not provide a deeper understanding of individual employees. Understanding motivations will provide a better understanding of behaviors.

The Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale or BARS method provides a much clearer picture of performance dimensions than traditional rating scales.

What is the BARS System?

The Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS), as we have mentioned previously, consists of rating scales that are based on specific behavioral patterns. Its design allows it to avoid common rating errors that tend to occur with traditional rating scales (the use of graphic rating scales is integral in this).

Performance levels are measured from good to poor and can be rated from one to five or five to nine. The BARS method uses a vertical scale for rating employees in this way and allows for the inclusion of an example with each rating.

In addition to qualitative and quantitative data, the BARS approach also includes narratives, qualified ratings, and critical incident techniques. By not limiting information to quantified ratings alone the BARS becomes more inclusive and comprehensive in rating employee’s performance dimensions and is, therefore, more valuable to performance appraisals, which are critical to complete before raises or promotions.

Highlighted features of the BARS include:

  • Ratings are individualized, so employees are rated on their own individual merit.
  • This way of rating performance allows management to understand specific behaviors and critical incidents in individualized contexts.
  • This measuring system allows managers to evaluate how performance measures up to job expectations.
  • Behaviorally anchored rating scales are detailed and based on performance and behavior.
  • It provides an objective way to assess an employee’s performance.

What Roles does the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) play in the BARS method?

Behaviorally anchored rating scales convert data into performance metrics. The data used is collected by analyzing specific incidents for individual rating points. Incidents that are used must have had a clear business impact. Individual experiences about the incident are shared and analyzed. These narratives are translated into numerical ratings as part of a performance dimension appraisal method. Subjectivity is minimized in the use of a rating scale that focuses on specific behaviors. When evaluating employees, subjectivity is not what we are looking for.

Cons of BARS

Unfortunately, there are also some downsides to the behaviorally anchored rating scale.

Leniency bias accusations

While most opportunities for bias are removed with the use of BARS, there are some who still believe that leniency bias is possible.


The BARS method offers a lot to a company, and this level of detail and personalization results in a pretty costly project.

Not Inclusive

The job details and overall expectations that can be included in BARS are limited which can result in some issues.

Requires highly committed managers

The process can be quite time-consuming as the person conducting the test is required to include very detailed notes on each employee. It requires a high degree of engagement, even for basic steps, which might be difficult to achieve in fast-paced environments.

Pros of BARS

Behaviorally anchored rating scales have concrete advantages for your appraisal process. These may include:

Clear standards

A set method for evaluation, like the BARS method, supports mutual understanding between management and staff on evaluation.


The behaviorally anchored rating scale specifies where an employee needs to improve, how a job should be done, and what can be done to improve performance.


The final scale is based on behavioral examples only.


This is a highly individualized way to measure different behaviors in an employee compared to their job description.

Ease of use

The final product that is produced by BARS that managers and employees receive is easy to understand and offers detailed and specific examples. There is not much room for subjectivity and an HR professional can easily apply improvements to the company culture with the information provided here.

Who does the BARS approach work best for?

Performance management through the BARS approach is time-consuming and resource intensive, so it is only effective when managers have the time and resources to complete the tasks effectively. Due to the high degree of individuality associated with this test, it might also be better suited to organizations with general job descriptions for a number of employees, instead of businesses that rely on highly individualized roles.

How can the BARS be Applied?

Analysis of behavioral outcomes for performance evaluation helps to align corporate priorities with performance management. The entire employee life cycle can be guided by creating a detailed profile for an individual employee.

Company culture

The behaviorally anchored rating scale can help to identify ideals that company leaders want the entire organization to strive for.

Career pathing

The behaviorally anchored rating scale allows for individualized career growth plans and coaching opportunities. This will help to keep ambitious employees on a path that helps them achieve their optimal growth.

Succession management

When there are clear performance indicators in place, it becomes easier for management to identify top performers and estimate their potential for future ventures.

Performance management

Feedback can be personalized in BARS performance appraisals.

Training and learning

Learning and training pathways can, therefore, also be personalized.

Other rating scales that can be used for performance evaluation

There are some alternative rating scales available that differ from the BARS method. Each will have its own pros and cons:

Five-level graphic rating scale

This scale is exceedingly common and usually includes a description for each score. Although it is easily understandable, it is usually prone to biases.

Stacked ranking

This was a rating scale that placed employees into one of three categories: A, B, or C. C-class employees were dismissed, while A-class employees were high performers. While this method simplified the identification of top performers, it was known to lead to destructive competition between employees.

The Best way to go about designing a BARS Scale

The BARS can be very successful but requires complete buy-in on all fronts and, takes a lot of planning, preparation, and is a lengthy process to implement. The entire process should be between 18 months and two years.

Establish a governance team

BARS cannot succeed if it is only implemented at an HR level; it needs to be a complete organizational change. Getting senior leaders and high performers involved in the implementation process can be greatly helpful as they will already have a good idea of the kind of behaviors that are needed for business success.

Identify “subject matter experts”

To ensure SME agreement there should be two groups per department. One will identify behaviors and the other will convert behaviors into performance indicators.

Behavior identification

The critical incident technique can be used to pinpoint behaviors associated with the job. These can be either positive, neutral, or negative.

Establish performance dimensions

Behavior statements are then grouped together into suitable categories that will become performance dimensions.

Retranslate behaviors

Data is then realigned to a behavior indicator that fits best.

Scale behaviors

Behaviors are then put into a rating scale based on their effectiveness. This will be based on employee behavior that is specific to the needs of your individual business.

Ensure relevance

Empirical data should back up the relevance of behavior categories.

Edit the final product

Ensure that there are no language errors and is easy to understand and that nothing gets lost in translation.

Things to remember while developing a BARS Scale

Without adequate preparation for change, even the most efficient performance management system stands a chance of failing. When implementing a complete evaluation like the BARS allows, it can take up to 2.5 years to adequately prepare. This is due to the following:

  • Top management must be hugely committed to BARS rating and developing BARS as part of the company. A lack of commitment from the top is often the reason why they fail.
  • Depending on where your company is in terms of SME, it can take a very long time to develop performance dimensions.
  • In some cases, management might need upskilling to have tough performance conversations when required.

Now it’s up to you

How individuals and teams within a business perform can be a strong determining factor for the success of the business. In order to optimize how a team performs, management needs to have a deep understanding of the needs of each employee, performance indicators, and employee dynamics.

This is where the BARS method comes in. Designing individual BARS can be challenging, but those who are dedicated enough will draw benefits from this rating scale which is personalized and free from bias.

This provides employees with a clear idea of how they need to improve, as opposed to having to make sense of generalized feedback, which keeps them motivated to keep growing and learning.