Best Practices for Using Performance Rating Scales

Août 6, 2020 | Performance Management

Having a clear framework that managers use in performance reviews promotes fairness and accuracy. As a result, it will give you a more realistic perspective of how each employee is performing. Strong rating scales will also deliver clearer insights from your 360 reviews. 

Rating scales help managers evaluate different aspects of employees’ performance, and well-chosen rating scales allow for more accurate evaluation. Without structure, managers are prone to bias in performance reviews, like the following types of bias:

  • Perceiving employees they strongly identify with as being the star employees.
  • Believing the employees they work with most closely contribute the most (because they see more of their contributions). 
  • Feeling that an employee who excelled in one aspect of the role is excelling in all aspects.

Let’s delve into a few ways of making sure your scale has a high level of validity, meaning it provides accurate measurements.

Create a balanced range of options.

Ranking scales allow you to go beyond simplistic “yes” or “no” answers. You don’t want to include too many options, which can be confusing. Here are two key tips:

  • Offer five choices instead of two or three for many of your questions, to allow for more accurate and nuanced answers.
  • Make sure the rating levels are evenly spaced apart.

Let’s delve into each of them in a bit more depth.

Adding nuance to your answers

Reduce the spread of “above average” ratings by adding nuance. Create several options indicating different levels of strong performance to help you better distinguish how employees are contributing. This will help you to differentiate between your higher performers so you’ll know who your star employees are, while pinpointing who needs the most support.

Spacing answers evenly

Make sure there is an equal difference between each of the options on the scale. The difference between options 1 and 2 should not be vastly greater than the difference between 2 and 3, for instance. In the widely used Likert scale, which presents a statement and asks reviewers to select their response to it, options may include: 

  • “Strongly Disagree” 
  • “Disagree” 
  • “Neither Agree Nor Disagree” 
  • “Agree”
  • “Strongly Agree”

Choose your language wisely.

Some employers choose more positive language for all of the options on their scale, because people may be more inclined to answer honestly if none of the options feel extremely negative. Managers tend to “drift upward” in their rankings, meaning they gravitate toward more positive answers—leading to the “everyone is above average” syndrome. 

Descriptors like these can feel too negative:

  • “Performing poorly”
  • “Fair”
  • “Not meeting requirements”

Meanwhile, answers like these can encourage managers to provide honest answers that don’t feel overly negative:

  • “Making an effort”
  • “Learning the role” 
  • “Working to grow”

Use verbal “anchors” rather than just numerical ratings alone. These verbal answers help the reviewer grasp what each ranking means. Anchors are brief statements attached to a ranking, like “Strongly agree” and “Disagree.”

Anchors can stand alone or be attached to a numerical ranking. When using numerical rankings, anchors help the reviewer understand what each number represents more clearly. That way, it’s not open to interpretation. 

For example, on a 1 to 5 scale, options could include

  • “1: Not at all” 
  • “2: Rarely” 
  • “3: Sometimes” 
  • “4: Often” 
  • “5: Always”

That way, different raters won’t perceive “2” or “3” in different ways.

Define your terms. 

As mentioned, you don’t want the meaning of each answer to be open to interpretation by each reviewer. Instead, clearly define the terms in your scale. 

Here’s why this is so important: People may have different ways of defining “average.” That can lead to these issues with a rating scale:

  • Some managers might view “average” as the average performance of your organization’s employees.
  • Others may view it as the average of the broader workforce.
  • Employees’ ratings won’t be as accurate if you allow everyone to follow their own scale.

In your rating guidelines, define what you mean by “average.” It shouldn’t be a comparison against other employees in your organization—the average in your workplace—because you might truly have a staff of above-average performers. Someone’s rating doesn’t need to decrease just because everyone boasts excellent performance. 

In fact, that could veer dangerously close to forced ranking. This system compares employees against each other, which tends to hurt morale. Under forced ranking, certain employees could be performing better this year than last, yet their ratings decline because everyone else has also improved! Needless to say, this could create unnecessary confusion for your team.

Focus on specific behavior.

One way to promote accuracy in responses is to focus your questions on particular behaviors. This has a few key benefits:

  • Giving you a deep level of insight about the employee’s performance level.
  • Allowing you to see exactly where improvements are needed.
  • Helping you to easily share this information with employees.

A behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS) tool focuses on assessing specific behaviors that apply to a given role. For example, if you ask how much hands-on training a manager provides to newly onboarded employees, answers could include statements such as these:

  • “1: Provides little if any hands-on training.”
  • “3: Provides hands-on instruction throughout the first week of work.” 
  • “5: Provides hands-on instruction throughout the employee’s first month.”

BARS assessments target the specific skills used in a particular employee’s job rather than a standardized set of questions that applies to all employees. 

It takes more time to develop BARS questionnaires, since they each have to be tailored to a particular job. Make sure the person creating the questions understands the job well.

Discuss your ranking system carefully with managers or other employees who will be conducting reviews so that they fully understand how to use it. That way, you’ll get the most valuable information possible from your appraisals and 360 surveys!

Primalogik allows different types of rating scales to accommodate the most diverse needs in surveys. Start your free trial today and see how Primalogik can help you with your performance management needs.

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