Graphic Rating Scale: Advantages, Limitations, Examples, and Best Practices

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One of the key responsibilities of every Human Resources department is to facilitate conducting regular employee evaluations to ensure staff understand their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve and progress within an organization. A graphic rating scale is a popular, tried, and tested performance appraisal method. But how does it work? What are its advantages and limitations? And what are the best practices for using the graphic rating scale for performance appraisals? Let’s dive in.

Contents
What is a graphic rating scale in performance appraisals?
Graphic rating scale examples
Advantages of the graphic rating scale method
Limitations of the graphic rating scale method
Tips for using a graphic rating scale effectively

What is a graphic rating scale in performance appraisals?

A graphic rating scale (sometimes called a Likert scale) is a performance appraisal method that lists desired traits and behaviors for each role, then rates workers on each of those on a numbered scale. The attributes might include punctuality, quality of work, job knowledge, teamwork, accountability, responsibility, etc. 

This helps an organization determine employee performance levels, increase efficiency and productivity, and make salary adjustments or promotions. The graphic rating scale method also helps HR managers obtain quantitative data regarding various employee attributes in relation to a specific job description. 

A pre-determined number of questions (or behaviors) are listed and answered using a numbered scale (e.g., 1-5, or 1-10). On a scale of 1-5, a score of 1 would usually signify that the behavior is non-existent in the employee. A score of 5 would rate the employee as excellent regarding that particular behavior. 

Depending on the question asked, two different possible numerical scales might be used. 

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A discreet scale will list specific responses, such as “unlikely,” “hard to say,” or “likely.” The manager must select the response that most fits the employee.

A continuous scale will list two extreme values at either end of the scale and ask the manager to rank the employee somewhere on that scale.

Other popular scales used in employee performance evaluation are behaviorally anchored rating scale and behavioral observation scale.

Graphic rating scale examples

Here are some examples of graphic rating scale questions and answers.

Example 1

Question: How effective is this employee at managing their time? 

Answer: 

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Select the most appropriate statement from below. 

  1. Very poor (always misses deadlines, is not punctual)
  2. Needs improvement (sometimes misses deadlines)
  3. Average (average at managing their time, neither good nor bad at time management)
  4. Good (is aware of deadlines and able to work to them fairly well)
  5. Excellent (very effective at managing their time, always meets deadlines)

Example 2

Statement: This employee is a team player and thrives in a team environment.

Answer:

Select the most appropriate statement from below. 

  1. Extremely unlikely (does not work well in a team, sabotages colleagues, is difficult to work with)
  2. Quite unlikely (doesn’t particularly enjoy working in a group)
  3. Hard to say (hasn’t worked in many team situations, is neither good nor bad at working in a group)
  4. Quite likely (team player, enjoys working with colleagues, colleagues want to work with them)
  5. Extremely likely (always thrives in any team environment, exceeds expectations within a team).

Example 3

Question: Rate the employee on their quality of work.

Answer:

Give the employee a score between 1 and 10. 

1 = The employee’s quality of work is consistently poor. 

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10 = The employee’s quality of work is always excellent. 

Advantages of the graphic rating scale method

Let’s have a look at some of the graphic rating scale advantages and why it’s generally considered an effective performance appraisal method.

  • Easy to understand and use

The graphic rating scale method is straightforward and easy to understand. Most people have likely filled out a similar questionnaire in the past; therefore, it requires minimal extra training to implement and can be grasped by both managers and employees. That’s why it’s a popular choice for performance rating.

  • Quantifying behaviors makes the appraisal system easier

This method quantifies behavioral traits, making it far easier to analyze the feedback and spot trends, patterns, and developments. Areas for improvement can be easily identified and actioned, and progress can be tracked. This streamlines the entire appraisal system.

  • Inexpensive to develop

A graphic rating scale can be developed quickly, while many questions will overlap across roles in the organization, which means they can be used again. This makes it an affordable employee performance method for almost all organizations.

Limitations of the graphic rating scale method

As with all performance appraisal forms, there are some limitations to this type of performance appraisal method.

  • Subjectivity of different evaluators

Although everyone in the organization may be using the same numerical scale, this doesn’t guarantee that the way managers rate employees will be uniform across the board. Each person will have a different perception of the scale and what each rating means. What one manager sees as “excellent”, another one might take for granted and rate it as “good”.

Similarly, there may be subjectivity between the scores a manager gives and how an employee receives them. 

  • Different types of biases

One of the most common biases of this method is the “halo effect,” which can skew the evaluation results. This happens when employees have a handful of exceptional strengths which overshadow any glaring weaknesses that need addressing. The reverse is also a possibility—one significant weakness can bring down an overall score and detract from an employee’s many strengths. There’s also the recency effect – the tendency to remember the most recent events best.

  • Difficult to understand employees’ strengths

The scores are added at the end of the questionnaire, and each employee is given an average final score. However, as mentioned above, this may not accurately represent an employee’s total performance, which can be considered a disadvantage of this type of s

For example, employee A consistently scores as average across the scale, while employee B scores at both extreme ends of the scale, but they will end up with a similar total score. Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest similar changes and improvements to both these employees, as they are clearly in different situations. 

Tips for using a graphic rating scale effectively

Although the graphic rating scale method has advantages and limitations, the limitations can be minimized with a clear plan, asking the right questions, and training managers effectively. 

Here are some helpful tips for using a graphic rating scale effectively, so that it provides useful information for managing your employees’ performance.

1. Define your desired outcomes

Before you create your appraisal, it’s essential to get clear on your desired outcomes. What do you want to measure? What are your goals? How will this data help the organization work towards the overall goals of the business? 

2. Try to use questions that are as objective as possible

An example of a poor question would be: “Do you think the employee is excited to be at work?”

An example of a more objective question would be: “How effective is the employee in their role?”

All of the questions you select and the specific criteria you evaluate should directly be tied to the employee’s job description and requirements. Be selective with your questions and avoid including too many.

3. Use behavioral questions

For each role you want to use the graphic scale for, define the key desired behaviors. 

For example, should the employee be a team player? Should they be innovative and creative? Should they be friendly and personable with customers? 

Go through each role, list the desired behaviors, and then create questions that help measure these behaviors most appropriately. 

4. Get answers to reflect the questions

Once you’ve determined your questions, the next step is to create appropriate answers for them.

For example, let’s say your question is: Does the employee deliver work on time and adhere to deadlines? 

Your scale should include answers such as “late,” “on schedule,” and “ahead of schedule.”    

5. Combine it with other appraisal methods

While the graphic rating scale can be useful for employee evaluations and appraisals, you shouldn’t use it in isolation. Combining this appraisal method with others, such as an essay performance appraisal method, checklist scale, ranking appraisal, etc., helps minimize limitations and provides a more accurate insight into an employee’s performance.

6. Train managers on how to use the graphic rating scale

To avoid definition bias, providing a guide for each answer on the scale (as outlined in our examples above) can be effective and help maintain consistency across evaluations. As we’ve already mentioned, this is because what “satisfactory” means to one manager may mean something entirely different to another manager. Educating managers on these types of biases also helps create awareness of them and reduces the risk of skewing results.

A graphic rating scale can be a valuable tool

If you decide to use a graphic rating scale as part of the appraisal method in your organization, ensure you spend time planning and developing it, educating managers on how to use it, and helping employees understand their scores.

Combining this method with various others can help you obtain an accurate picture of your employee’s performance, enabling you to create the right action plan to boost engagement, productivity, and effectiveness throughout the organization. 

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