How to choose the best scales in the performance evaluation


Scales are widely used mechanisms in performance evaluation. Why? Because they are intuitive, almost always visual, and provide us an immediate understanding of what is occurring.


Now, there are many types of scales and many different ways to use them. In fact, there is literally a science that classifies them! ! Would you know what are the characteristics of each type of scale? And would you know how to choose the best one to structure a good performance appraisal?


This post will answer exactly that!


We will show in detail the scales most used in HR systems. And also show their respective advantages and disadvantages. Stay with us!


  1. After all, what are scales? And why are they important for performance evaluation?
  2. Understanding a little more about data and how scales work
  3. Most common types of scales in performance appraisal. Advantages and disadvantages
  4. Some tips for choosing the right type of scale for your company
  5. So, which scales to choose after all?
  6. Scales are part of the HR departments life! From the selection process to the performance evaluation of the team


1. After all, what are scales? And why are they important for performance evaluation?


To Scale is to measure a seriesof degrees or levels, arranged according to the importance of one another, in ascending or descending order.


In other words, it is a feature of gradual measurement, the results of which are presented within an order of magnitude. For example


  • from the worst to the best
  • from unsatisfactory to satisfactory
  • from below average to above average
  • etc.


As for the presentation, the graphic format of the scales is the most common. The manager is able to allocate the data in a continuous measurement of “horrible, bad, average, good and excellent”.


So, you may have already figured out why scales are used so frequently by HR departments, right? Simply because with them you can easily compare the performance of your employees.


Differentiate high performance from low performance, , identify areas for improvement and offer transparency in decision making. Without this instrument, it is difficult to act systematically and strategically.


But the utility of scales is not just about measuring performance! No, they are also used to assess profiles and personalities, employee behaviors and even level of reasoning through por meio de psychometric tests.


It is also worth mentioning that the scales can be customized according to the needs of the organization.


2. Understanding a little more about data and how scales work


Escalas, dados e gráficos


Before we get into the types of scales available on the market, let's first understand how they work at the most elementary level. Specifically, to understand the nature of the data collected and the responses formulated.


Nominal, binary and ordinal data


Fundamentally, there are three types of data that are collected in the performance appraisal: nominal, binary and ordinal.


Nominal = Categorias

This is the least numerical situation of all! Nominal data are those that fit into categories, that is, when the answer options are unrelated to each other. Therefore, there is no numerical relationship, the answers are only nominal.

Example: “Which of the behaviors below have to do with you?”


Binary = Yes or no

Circumstance in which there are only two possible options : yes or no, 0 or 1, a or b, positive or negative.

Example: "Does this employee know how to program in Java?"


Ordinal = Ordered list

Finally, the data we will use on performance scales! They are contained in a list of possibilities in a clear order. As you move up the scale, the options are "better". And, as you go down, the options are "worse".

Example: "On a scale of 1 to 5, how much did the employee contribute to the success of Project X?"


Numerical and descriptive responses


There are two common ways of presenting responses on a rating scale: numerically and descriptively. See below for a brief explanation of each one.



As shown in the previous item, it is the scales whose classification indexes are numerical. For example, the famous “rate from 0 to 10” or “from 1 to 5” etc. Although intuitive, it is not always easy to answer accurately.


How can we objectively deal with strongly subjective competences, for example “assertiveness”? How to choose a grade between 3 and 4? Or between 4 and 5?

Example: "Rate the employee's leadership ability between 1 and 5."



Descriptive rating scales include descriptions of each step. This can be as simple as different levels of agreement / disagreement. Or as complex as a set of specific actions that an employee should have taken to achieve each grade.

Example: basically everything, from Agree to Disagree, and even Rating Scales anchored in behavior (as we will see below).


3. Most common types of scales in the performance evaluation. Advantages and disadvantages


Now, the icing on the cake! Let's talk a little about each of the scales that exist on the market. And how they are used in HR. We will also mention some of its advantages and disadvantages.


In other words, a very complete guide for you and your organization!


Three-point scale


Very well known by companies! The three-point rating scale has, by definition, questions with 3 possible answers..


And it can be anything: "On a scale of 1 to 3, how well does this person handle team conflicts?" And the answers are usually of the type: "bad - reasonable - good". Or, more elegantly:


  1. Below expectation (or “does not meet expectations”)
  2. Within expectations (or “meets expectations”)
  3. Above expectations (or “exceeds expectations”)


By now, you may have realized what the advantages and disadvantages of this type of scale are. Its simplicity makes it easy to use, this format is not always able to appropriately describe the scenario. It may even work with certain criteria, but it often lacks the nuance necessary to make a suitable assessment.


Despite these points, oddly enough, it is still widely used by companies! You understand why, right? Maybe it's time to start thinking about more sophisticated solutions ...


Scales with more points


Basically, the same thing as the previous one, but with more measurement points. In general, five. But they can reach up to 10, 12, 15, 20... How many the HR deems is necessary!


These scales offer greater distribution in the performance evaluation. Therefore, they help HR to identify more subtle variations between the results of its team. And, with that, being able to locate and eventually reward high-performance employees.


Escala Likert, para avaliação de desempenho
                            Example of a numerical scale with 11 points, from 0 to 10 - Source: MeasuringU


The problem with this type of scale has been mentioned before, remember? It is the question of subjectivity. The more points there are, the more difficult it is to make a correct classification.


Imagine a scale that goes from 0 to 10. The manager wants to evaluate the performance of an employee. He understands that this employee is performing above expectations. But above how much? What does this represent in numerical terms? Would it be 7? Or 8, or 9?


And even after choosing, will he be able to maintain that same weight when evaluating other employees?


That is why a scale with only 5 points ends up being the most used. It has a format, so to speak, close to the ideal for this type of evaluation! Because it offers a gradation (and, therefore, a nuance) greater than that of 3. But not so exaggerated as to make the manager get lost in very small and difficult to measure details.


Likert scale


Likert scales are a particular type of point scales. (Although there are those who use it as a synonym for scales with more than 3 points.) In general, your options of choice express relations of agreement or disagreement:


Strongly disagree - disagree - neither agree nor disagree - agree - strongly agree.


Note that there is a symmetry between the number of positive responses and the number of negative responses. Namely, two disagreement options and two agreement options. There is also a neutral option. This balance gives the idea of an equivalence in terms of distance between each option.


In this case, the options were written in full, but we can have numerical options representing the same thing. For example: "From 1 to 5, how much do you agree with such behavior by a leader?"


Escala Likert - Tipo de escala usada na avaliação de desempenho
                                                           An example of a Likert scale - Source: Wikipedia


So, on a Likert scale do we always have 5 options? No, no! Five is a very common number, but these scales can count on other quantities. Such as, even quantities! In that case, there would be no neutral option. Look:


Strongly disagree - disagree - agree - strongly agree.


If the evaluation is made with, for example, only 4 options, we will have a “forced choice”system. The user will be required to take a stand! He either disagrees with the statement, or agrees with it. No space to stay teetering on the fence!


Advantages and disadvantages of the Likert scale


Currently, Likert scales are the most common in the HR area. And why are they used so much? Well, for several reasons:


  • They are easy to structure, making life easier for managers
  • They are ideal for questionnaires, making life easier for respondents
  • Promote consistent profile and performance analysis, efficiently collecting data


But not everything is perfect! There are some (few) disadvantages to this scale. The main one is the lack of depth of the answers. They are excellent for research and quantitative questionnaires, but fail a little when looking for something more qualitative.


Anyway, it remains a very interesting choice for assertive questions and / or “forced choice”.


BARS – Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales


These are very remarkable scales and extremely useful in assessing employee performance. The term “BARS” comes from English and means, Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale. Therefore, BARS is a type of anchored scale.


Anchored scale? What does that mean? It looks complicated, but it is not! “Anchored in behaviors” is a beautiful way of saying that each note on the scale is described by a specific type of behavior..


For example, imagine a scale from 1 to 5 used to measure an employee's conduct in a high-pressure situation. The lowest grade (grade 1) can be described as “he does not have the lowest profile of a leader, has a nonstrategic thought and attitude”. And the highest score (note 5), as "he is a born leader, and contains a strategic vision at all times".


Therefore, for each note there is a behavior linked to it describing it in a more profound and exclusiveway. And why do it this way? Are there any benefits?


Yes, there are! Precisely for combining quantitative data with qualitative data! It is a method that adds critical incidents to the narrative, suggesting classifications with a greater degree of detail.

BARS, tipo de escala para avaliação de desempenho
                An example of the BARS method - Source: Businesstopia


Scales of these types can be displayed both vertically and horizontally. Above you have seen an example of vertical BARS, but it is also quite common to use horizontal bars.


Check the video below for a brief explanation of the BARS method:



Advantages and disadvantages of the BARS method


This method is ideal for use in performance evaluation. Its advantages are numerous:


  • Behavior-based - These are scales focused on assessing employee performance. Ideally, they remove all uncertainty regarding the meaning of each note
  • Easy to use - Specific behavioral indicators make the process easier for the manager and the employee
  • Fully individualized - Designed and applied individually for each position
  • Action-oriented - With an understanding of specific performance expectations, employees can take far more assertive measures to improve performance.


However, like any method, BARS is not perfect. Here are some disadvantages to your approach:


  • Implementation time and cost - The creation and implementation process are more time consuming and difficult. And it also tends to be a little bit more expensive
  • More complex maintenance - As the items are very descriptive, they need to be updated according to the changes in the processes
  • Demanding with managers - Managers need detailed information about the actions and behaviors of their employees.


Mindsight has developed a Performance Management solution that can use this type of scale: the M360. In fact, being a fully customizable system, the customer can tailor it to his needs.


Botão para ver vídeo demonstraçao


You configure the questionnaire as you like and use all the scales you want! From there, the system will run the processes and make the evaluations operational.


Result of that? Graphs, tables and percentages, giving you a complete understanding of what needs to be maintained and what needs to be optimized.


With the M360 you will have the best and most impartial assessment of team performance! Gain agility in the processes and follow the evolution of your employees. As a manager you have a powerful and intelligent tool at hand. 


Be sure to check it out!


4. Some tips for choosing the right type of scale for your company


It’s not that simple a job to choose scales for performance evaluation. After all, how many are needed? What types to use? Is one sufficient or would your company need more? These are all pertinent questions, with answers that are not so obvious.


But we are here to help you. With a little information and a dose of patience, we are sure that you will be able to make the right choice!


Before we dive in, let's give you some valuable tips on how to customize a scale that works for your organization.


Tip 1 - Understand dispersion and validity concepts


Two important concepts must be taken into account when creating scales: dispersion ("spread") and validity ("validity"). And why are they important? Simple, because they are the two areas where most traditional analysis have issues. So, the best way is to understand what they mean.


Scatter: You are using a meter to measure the performance of different people. But is this meter capable of capturing subtle differences in performance? Can you notice nuances?


Some tools just can't. And worse: they can produce a huge dispersion! This means that, over time, responses tend to become random. Therefore, they are unsuitable for a scenario where intricacies are important.


Designing a scale with well-defined response options for “above average performance” is a good tactic. In addition, always try to train appraisers and run calibration sessions.


Validity: Does the tool actually measure what we say it measures? And the way the organization wants the indicator measured? Are the ratings well done and do they really help you choose the best alternatives based on what's important?


This kind of questioning is important to know if there is validity of what we are trying to measure. That is, if the answer options really identify and differentiate significant and relevant results.


Tip 2 - Customize your writing


It is essential to ensure that you structure a rating scale in line with your brand and the measurement objectives. That means paying close attention to the text of the questions and, of course, the text of the answers!


Both should translate what you are trying to measure, from real corporation scenarios to possible employee behaviors.


The more specific the descriptions of the response options (the “anchors”) are, the better and more consistent the performance evaluations will be.


In fact, creating clear and differentiated descriptions is all the more important as the number of response options increases. Keep that in mind!


If centrality bias is a problem for analysis, it is advisable to eliminate neutral options from your balance. We already know this concept, don't we? It is the “forced choice”, we see in lots of cases.


Tip 3 - Be transparent


Finally, be prepared to share and train your employees to use scales that you have formulated. The idea is to ensure that everyone understands how the company defines "success" or "good performance".


Transparency helps to create trust and perceptions of justice in the team's imagination. They need to feel that they are being judged fairly and impartially. And, obviously, performance appraisal needs to be fair and even-handed!


One of the biggest mistakes is telling employees that you are eliminating the evaluation system to do it behind closed doors with the board of directors. What employee likes that kind of attitude?


5. So, which scales to choose after all?

Então, qual escala escolher no fim das contas?
                                                                                                 Do you already know which scale to choose?


Look, the best answer is: it depends! What exactly do you want to measure?


Is it something very simple, which requires a direct and straight answer, without much detail? So, a good choice is the 3-point scale. Easy to implement and easy to care for. However, don't expect detailed insights


Do you need something more refined, which requires a more detailed and careful evaluation? So, better put more points on your scale!


Generally, for performance evaluation, 3-point scales are not enough. They do not have the necessary nuance to separate employees with good performance from employees with excellent performance.


An excellent choice is the Likert scale. Structure the essay well, reflect deeply on the approach to the issues. And go for the application!


Now, if you want to invest in something more finished, sophisticated and refined, it may be time to opt for the BARS method . At least, consider thinking about it.


Link responses to specific behaviors. Make a more thorough assessment. It is an excellent scale method for assessing employee performance!


6. Scales are part of HR's life! From the selection process to the performance evaluation of the team.


As we have seen, scales are extremely functional tools for assessing an employee's performance. It helps the manager to measure the conditions of his team. It also allows the team members themselves to know what needs to be done to continue to develop.


There are many, many types of scales. And they are almost always customizable. In this way , organizations can customize them to fit their needs.


By opting for a Performance Management system , such as, for example, the M360, you can keep up with the steps of your employees. And make the most strategic and assertive decisions.


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Invest in smart solutions and with greater transparency that the result comes! This is what we always recommend to HR personnel.


If you still have any questions about the use of scales in our products, or any other more specific question, make an appointment with our representatives. We are available to help you!


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