Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS): A Comprehensive Guide with Examples

The concept of Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) in performance management has been around for almost six decades. The reason this approach has endured over the years is simple: it’s defensible. BARS provide a structured and objective way to assess performance by focusing on direct observations of behavior. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what BARS are, their significance in today’s talent management practices, and how to develop one. We’ll also provide examples to help you grasp the concept better.

What are Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS)?

A Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale, or BARS, is a performance management scale that uses behavior “statements” as reference points instead of the generic descriptors commonly found on traditional rating scales. In 2023, the BARS approach remains a widely adopted method for performance appraisals. It is designed to combine the benefits of qualitative and quantitative information in the appraisal process. BARS measures an employee’s performance against specific behavior examples, assigning ratings to these behaviors for data collection.

The key distinction of BARS is that it establishes specific behaviors for grading, resulting in a more accurate assessment of performance. This is achieved by focusing on unique behaviors required for each position within an organization, rather than evaluating behaviors in a generic, one-size-fits-all manner.

The underlying assumption of using a rating scale with specific behaviors for selected roles is that it reduces subjectivity compared to basic rating scales.


Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales offer several advantages over traditional rating methods:

  1. Increased Objectivity: BARS provide specific and observable behavioral examples, reducing the ambiguity associated with generic rating scales.
  2. Customization: BARS can be tailored to the specific needs of different job roles within an organization, ensuring relevance and accuracy in performance evaluations.
  3. Clear Communication: Using behavior-based descriptors helps in clear communication with employees, as they know what specific behaviors are expected.
  4. Development-Focused: BARS can be used not only for performance evaluation but also for identifying areas where employees can develop and improve.

Now, let’s delve into some examples to illustrate what BARS might look like.

BARS Examples

Sales Representative

Behavior: Actively engages with potential clients during sales calls.

  • Rating 1 (Unsatisfactory): Rarely initiates conversation with potential clients.
  • Rating 2 (Needs Improvement): Initiates conversation but struggles to engage potential clients.
  • Rating 3 (Satisfactory): Consistently initiates conversations and engages potential clients effectively.
  • Rating 4 (Exceeds Expectations): Proactively initiates conversations and effectively engages potential clients, leading to a higher conversion rate.

Project Manager

Behavior: Manages project timelines effectively.

  • Rating 1 (Unsatisfactory): Consistently misses project deadlines.
  • Rating 2 (Needs Improvement): Struggles to meet project deadlines and often requires extensions.
  • Rating 3 (Satisfactory): Generally, meets project deadlines but may occasionally require extensions.
  • Rating 4 (Exceeds Expectations): Consistently delivers projects on time or even ahead of schedule.

Customer Support

Behavior: Demonstrates empathy and patience when dealing with customer complaints.

  • Rating 1 (Unsatisfactory): Lacks empathy and patience when addressing customer complaints.
  • Rating 2 (Needs Improvement): Shows limited empathy and patience in addressing customer complaints.
  • Rating 3 (Satisfactory): Demonstrates empathy and patience when dealing with customer complaints.
  • Rating 4 (Exceeds Expectations): Consistently goes above and beyond to show empathy and patience, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What is the fundamental difference between BARS and traditional rating scales?

  • A: BARS use specific behavior-based descriptors for each job role, reducing subjectivity and increasing the accuracy of performance evaluations. Traditional rating scales often rely on generic descriptors that may not be role specific.

Q2: How can I develop a BARS for my organization?

  • A: Developing a BARS involves identifying and defining specific behaviors that are critical to success in each role within your organization. This often requires input from employees, supervisors, and HR professionals. Once the behaviors are defined, they are rated and used in performance assessments.

Q3: Are BARS suitable for all types of organizations and roles?

  • A: BARS can be adapted to various types of organizations and roles. While they are particularly beneficial for roles where specific behaviors significantly impact performance, they may require customization to align with the organization’s unique needs.

Q4: Can BARS be used for employee development, not just evaluation?

  • A: Yes, BARS are versatile and can be used for both performance evaluation and development. They provide employees with clear expectations and areas for improvement, making them a valuable tool for employee growth.

In conclusion, Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales are a robust approach to performance management that has stood the test of time. They offer organizations a way to assess performance objectively, communicate expectations clearly, and drive employee development. By using specific behavior-based descriptors, organizations can enhance the accuracy and relevance of their performance evaluations.

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