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What Is A Graphic Rating Scale In Performance Appraisals?

Akshit Dangi

In a world that’s filled to the brim with inconsistent and inefficient appraisals, it's important to remember the lessons of Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War': Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.That’s where the different methods of performance appraisals come to your assistance.

Now, there are many different performance appraisal methods, such as the 360-degree feedback, the Critical Incident Method—each with advantages and disadvantages. . All of them are great in their own peculiar ways—however, one stands tall above them all.That, of course, is the method of using the graphic rating scale (GRS). This baby is a simple and effective way to evaluate an employee's performance based on predetermined criteria. 

Considering everything we’ve talked about so far, it's crucial to understand how you can use tools like the Graphic Rating Scale to conduct effective performance appraisals. That said, let us dive straight into the rabbit hole, explore the scale in detail, and dig out some practical ways for you to use it in your organization.

What is the Graphic Rating Scale?

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of using the Graphic Rating Scale (GRS) in performance appraisals, let's take a moment to understand what it exactly is. 

The Graphic Rating Scale is a performance appraisal method used to evaluate an employee's performance based on predetermined criteria. It's a popular method due to its ease of use and the ability to provide a simple visual representation of an employee's performance.

The Graphic Rating Scale is typically a table with various rating categories that measure different aspects of an employee's performance, such as communication skills, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities. Each category is assigned a rating scale, usually ranging from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, with each consecutive number representing a specific level of performance in an ascending order. It’s a valuable tool that can help managers assess employee performance and identify areas for improvement.

Source: AIHR

To understand it a little better, think of it this way—if you've ever played a game where your character has a set of stats that you need to improve, such as strength or dexterity, you've already got a pretty good understanding of what the Graphic Rating Scale is all about.

In essence, it's a way to measure an employee's performance across different areas of their job in the same way that the stats of a video game character measure their abilities.

How to use the Graphic Rating Scale in performance appraisals

Now that we know what the Graphic Rating Scale is all about, let's see how you can use it to conduct effective performance appraisals.

So, we’ve pretty much established that the GRS method is an efficient way of measuring employee performance against predefined metrics and providing feedback to help your people improve their performance. It’s a  "wax on, wax off" kind of a situation where this method helps your team members level up through consistent evaluation and feedback.

To achieve that desired level of consistency, you must follow a few key steps:

1. Define the performance metrics

To use the GRS method effectively, you must first define the performance metrics you will measure. These metrics should be clear, measurable, and directly related to the employee's job responsibilities.

You should also consider including qualitative and quantitative metrics for a well-rounded view of employee performance. Most managers prefer beginning with metrics like quality and volume of work, communication skills, initiative, attendance, etc. Once such base metrics are covered, they tend to focus on job-specific competencies and responsibilities that can serve as appropriate metrics for the appraisal.

Basically, think of this step as defining a the rules of a game—you need to know what you're measuring to accurately measure it.

2. Develop a rating scale

Once you have defined the performance metrics, you need to develop a rating scale to measure the employee's performance against those metrics. The rating scale can be numerical, alphabetical, or descriptive.

Most organizations prefer the rating scale of 1 to 5. It’s simple, succinct, and usually gets the job done. But you may move forward with any other scale of your choice as well, as long as it is consistent across all employees and all metrics.

We recommend doing this with the help of a matrix that maps the performance metrics against the rating scale. This will help you ensure that you are measuring performance consistently and fairly.

3. Provide training

If it’s your organization’s first time using the Graphic Rating System, you need to train the people who will be using it. This training should cover the performance metrics, the rating scale, and how to conduct the appraisal.

It should also include guidance on how to provide constructive feedback to employees and how to set goals for improvement. This step is critical to ensuring that everyone involved in the process is on the same page and uses the method correctly.

4. Initiate the appraisal process

Once the training is complete and the rating scale is developed, it's time to conduct the appraisal. The manager will evaluate each employee's performance against the predetermined metrics and rating scale during the appraisal.

The manager should provide specific examples of their team's performance to support the ratings given. It's important to remain objective and fair while conducting the appraisal and to provide constructive feedback to help the employee improve their performance.

The appraisal should be conducted privately to ensure confidentiality and allow for an eventual open and honest discussion between the manager and their team member.

Lastly, it's essential to document the appraisal and keep it on file for future reference. This can help ensure consistency in evaluations and record the employee's performance over time.

5. Review the results

After the appraisal, you need to review the results and ensure that they are accurate and fair. 

This involves checking the rating scale, reviewing the feedback provided, ensuring that all relevant information has been considered, and of course, calibrating the ratings in collaboration with other managers. You should also compare the employee's performance against their past performance and against the performance of other employees in similar roles.

6. Take action

Finally, your last step in using the Graphic Rating Scale is to develop and follow action items based on the appraisal results. This can involve setting goals for improvement, providing additional training or resources, or taking disciplinary action if necessary.

The goal is to use the appraisal to improve employee performance and achieve business objectives. Communicate the ratings with your team members, identify any discrepancies, and work together to achieve collaborative growth.

Formats of Graphic Rating Scales

As we've previously seen, the Graphic Rating Scale is a powerful tool for performance appraisals. However, we now know that, as per the second step, organizations can use different types of rating scales, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

Unlike Michael's performance appraisals on The Office (ugh!), using the correct type of graphic rating scale can help you effectively evaluate your employees. 

1. Numerical rating scale

The Numerical Rating Scale is the most common format of the Graphic Rating Scale, requiring managers to rate employees on a numerical scale for each performance criterion. This scale typically ranges from 1-5, with 1 being the lowest rating and 5 being the highest.

This format provides a quick and easy way to evaluate employee performance and enables managers to compare performance across different employees. However, using numerical scales may oversimplify performance evaluation and lack specificity, making it difficult for managers to identify and address specific areas for improvement.

2. Descriptive rating scale

The Descriptive Rating Scale requires managers to use descriptive words to rate employees on each performance criterion. This format provides more detailed feedback and evaluation than the numerical rating scale, allowing managers to objectively evaluate performance. On the other hand, it may be challenging for managers to compare performance between different employees due to the subjective nature of the feedback.

3. Behavioral rating scale

The Behavioral Rating Scale requires managers to rate employees on specific behaviors critical to job performance. This format provides objective criteria for evaluation and enables managers to identify specific behaviors that need improvement.

But at the same time, it may not account for differences in individual work styles and personalities, and it may be challenging to identify and evaluate all critical behaviors.

4. Pictorial rating scale

The Pictorial Rating Scale uses pictures or symbols to represent different performance levels. This format is visually appealing and easy to understand, making it useful for employees who may have difficulty understanding numerical or written feedback.

The thing is, though, this type falls short of providing enough detail for a thorough performance evaluation, and it may be challenging to identify and assess specific areas for improvement.

5. Mixed-standard scale

The Mixed-Standard Scale uses a combination of different rating methods, such as a combination of numerical and descriptive rating scales. This format allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of employee performance and enables managers to provide more specific feedback.

However, it can be more complex and time-consuming for managers to administer, and comparing performance across different employees may be challenging.

Benefits and limitations of the Graphic Rating Scale in performance appraisals

So far, we've covered the different steps involved in using the Graphic Rating Scale to conduct effective performance appraisals andthe various formats organizations can use to implement this method.

But before you dive into its usage, it's essential that we understand its benefits and limitations.

As with any tool or strategy, there are pros and cons to using the Graphic Rating Sscale, and it's crucial to be aware of both to make an informed decision about its suitability for your organization. As famed author Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Benefits of the Graphic Rating Scale

  1. Ease of use: One of the key advantages of using the Graphic Rating Scale is that it's a straightforward and simple method for evaluating employee performance. The rating scale can be easily customized to reflect an organization's specific goals and expectations and can be quickly administered to many employees.
  2. Standardization: The scale offers a degree of standardization in performance evaluations, which can help to ensure consistency and fairness across different departments and teams. By using the same set of metrics and rating scales for all employees, managers can ensure consistency.
  3. Clear feedback: Because it uses a clearly defined rating scale and performance metrics, employees are more likely to understand what is expected of them and how their performance will be evaluated. This can help reduce confusion and anxiety during the appraisal process and provide employees with explicit feedback on areas where they may need to improve.
  4. Objective comparisons: By using GRS, managers can more easily compare the performance of different employees and identify areas where one employee may excel or struggle compared to their peers. This can help managers to identify top performers and offer opportunities for career advancement or additional training while also addressing performance issues with employees who may be struggling.

Limitations of the Graphic Rating Scale

  1. Limited scope: One of the limitations of GRS is that it may not capture all aspects of an employee's performance. Because it relies on a pre-determined set of metrics, it may not be able to account for certain intangible factors, such as an employee's creativity, leadership skills, or ability to work collaboratively with others.
  2. Potential for bias: Although the scale is designed to minimize the potential for bias in performance evaluations, there is still a risk that managers may be influenced by personal opinions or factors irrelevant to an employee's performance. For example, a manager may give a high rating to an employee who is well-liked or shares similar hobbies or interests, even if their job performance is subpar.
  3. Inflexibility: It may be seen as inflexible or too rigid for some organizations or job roles. Because the rating scale and performance metrics are pre-determined, there may be limited room for customization or adaptation to specific job duties or responsibilities.
  4. Lack of context: GRS may not always provide enough context for evaluating an employee's performance. For example, an employee rated poorly in one area may actually be excelling in another area not covered by the rating scale. Additionally, GRS may not account for external factors that may impact an employee's performance, such as changes in job responsibilities or personal issues

Best practices for using the Graphic Rating Scale in performance appraisals

Using the Graphic Rating Scale in performance appraisals can be an effective way to evaluate employee performance and provide clear feedback. However, following best practices for using the rating scale is essential to ensure the process is fair, objective, and practical.

Keeping that in mind, let’s cover some of the best practices to keep in mind when using the Graphic Rating Scale.

1. Use multiple sources of feedback

While the Graphic Rating Scale can be a useful tool for evaluating employee performance, it's important to also incorporate feedback from multiple sources. This can include input from co-workers, subordinates, and customers and self-assessment from the evaluated employee.

2. Regularly review and update the process

To ensure that the appraisal process remains effective over time, it's essential to regularly review and update the metrics and rating scale used. This helps to ensure that the process aligns with organizational goals and objectives and to identify and address any issues or limitations with the current process.

3. Ensure consistency and fairness

To ensure that the appraisal process is fair and consistent, it's essential to use the same rating scale and performance metrics for all employees. Additionally, managers should be trained to avoid bias or favoritism in the appraisal process and should be held accountable for adhering to the established process and guidelines.

4. Always provide feedback and follow up

Finally, it's crucial to provide clear feedback to employees following the appraisal process, as well as to establish a plan for follow-ups and improvement. This includes identifying areas where the employee excels and where they may need to improve and establishing clear goals and action steps for the coming year.

Alternatives to the Graphic Rating Scale

As a manager, evaluating employee performance can be challenging. You want to ensure that your assessments are fair and accurate and effective in motivating employees to improve. 

You may wonder whether the Graphic Rating Scale is the right method for your organization or if better alternatives are available. If you're out there feeling a little like this about using the scale—


Don’t worry, we've got you covered. Let’s explore some of the most popular alternatives to the Graphic Rating Scale and how they can be used to enhance performance evaluation.

1. Behavioral Observation Scales (BOS)

Rather than rating an employee's performance based on a predetermined set of metrics, the Behavioral Observation Scale focuses on specific behaviors and actions that are essential to job performance. Managers observe and rate an employee's behavior in real-time, providing feedback on what they are doing well and where they may need to improve.

2. Critical Incident Method (CIM)

The Critical Incident Method involves collecting specific examples of behavior that illustrate both positive and negative aspects of an employee's performance. These incidents then evaluate the employee's overall performance, allowing for a more comprehensive and specific evaluation.

3. Management by Objectives (MBO)

With the Management by Objectives method, employees and managers work together to establish clear goals and objectives that are aligned with the organization's overall objectives. Progress toward these objectives is then evaluated periodically, with feedback provided to the employee as needed.

4. 360-degree feedback

360-degree feedback involves soliciting feedback on an employee's performance from various sources, including managers, peers, subordinates, and customers. This provides a more comprehensive view of an employee's performance and can help identify areas where improvement is needed.

5. Assessment centers

Assessment centers involve evaluating an employee's performance through a series of structured simulations and exercises. These exercises are designed to simulate the specific skills and abilities required for the job, providing a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of an employee's performance.

Building a Better Workplace Through Effective Performance Evaluation

As a manager, choosing the right performance appraisal method for your organization can make all the difference to employee growth and development. While several methods exist, the Graphic Rating Scale (GRS) stands out as a popular and effective tool.

As we have seen throughout this guide, the GRS method  is a simple and straightforward one that allows managers to define performance metrics, develop a rating scale, provide training, conduct the appraisal, review results, and take action.

But, as with any tool, the graphic rating scale also has its limitations. It is up to the manager to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using it, and determine whether it is the right fit for their organization. In some cases, alternatives such as 360-degree feedback or the Critical Incident Method may be a better choice.

As Frederick Herzberg once said, “The true test of the effectiveness of any organization is whether or not it can change...and whether it can change faster than its competitors.” 

By choosing the best performance appraisal method for your organization, you can drive change and growth, and stay ahead of the competition. So, take the time to assess your organization's needs, weigh the options, and choose wisely.

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