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  • Mark Shaw

Why BARS are the Best Solution for Performance Reviews

There are many well recognised problems with staff performance reviews including the facts that they are used for too many reasons, are confusing, too bureaucratic, generate meaningless data and add zero or very little value to employees, managers or the organisation.


And remember, this has been acknowledged for almost 50 years.


That is not to say they should be abandoned. It does however, support research released in 2021 that claimed over 85% of HR decision makers were actively looking at replacing their current performance review processes and tools.


Recall that there are many models available to choose from including graphics rating, ranking, forced choice, critical incidence, BARS (behavioural anchored rating scales), behavioural observation scales, essay, field review, assessment centres, group assessments, MBO (management by objectives) and 360 degree feedback.


Before I explain why in my experience, BARS are the best solution, we need to challenge some basic assumptions.


1. What is the goal of the process?

Is it for pay point progression? Employee development? Staff promotion? Bureaucratic compliance? Continuous improvement? Performance improvement? Poor performance? You will already realise that the questions, conversation, data captured, reporting requirements, and use of the data will be very different depending on the required goals.

2. What data is necessary to collect?

While the discussion between the employee and their supervisor/manager is important, it is not always the key reason.

For example,

If the goal is employee development, then the critical element is the data collected so someone (HR?) can produce an annual training and development plan that meets the broader organisation objectives and the available budget.

However, if the goal is managing poor performance, the data required needs to be suitable to defend the organisation’s management actions and decision should the legal profession get involved.

3. Can you easily summarise, analyse and interpret the collective data?

Using ratings, essays or filed assessments are great for the individual employee/manager discussion but incredibly difficult to collate and summarise for corporate analysis and reporting.

4. Why use the bell curve?

Manipulating results from the employee/manager discussion into the bell curve is wrong and dangerous.

For example,

50% of employees must always be performing at less than the average rate.

Where teams of high performers exist, only some of those team members will be eligible to be considered high performers. How demotivating for the others.

5. Why use Performance Improvement Plans when they do not work?

The evidence is clear. Something needs to change.




Before explaining why BARS are the best solution, we need to remove poor performance from the equation. When we proactively resolve the problems caused by individual poor performing employees (or managers) the assumptions are successfully addresssed.

1. The goal is clear. Resolve the problems caused by their behaviour.

2. The data relates to the individual’s behaviour, the problems such behaviour causes, and the management action to resolve the problem. Clear.

3. No need for summary data. It’s an individual case.

4. No bell curve required. It an individual case.

5. No PIP required. We are focusing on solving the business problem not trying to improve performance.


Now BARS can be applied to everyone else.

1. Make the goal employee development. BARS statements can be developed for specific employment categories.

2. The data is clear. Training and development needs.

3. Summarising, analysing and interpreting data is simple as you use the ‘ratings’ aspects of BARS

4. Bell curves are irrelevant as assessments are based on rating statements

5. PIPs are irrelevant as we have independently resolved the problems caused by the counter productive behaviour.


In summary, performance reviews processes built on BARS

(a) Are easy for line managers and employees to converse with.

(b) Provide a fully transparency, consistent and defendable process and outcomes

(c) Focus on development or other goals as necessary

(d) Can incorporate other data such as field reviews and critical incidents, and

(e) Meets the needs of executives

(f) Provides big data for corporate analysis


If you are one of the 85% of HR decision makers or a line manager frustrated with your current process, step back and consider the basic assumptions currently being applied, your organisation’s desired goals, and how a system designed on BARS can give you all the data you want in a simple, transparent and user-friendly way.

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