Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA5

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Refining Performance Appraisal


Thomas F. Patterson
Extension Associate Professor and Chair
Vocational Education and Technology Department
University of Vermont-Burlington

Probably no other organizational function strikes as much terror in the hearts of Extension agents as the annual job evaluation or performance appraisal. Defined by Schneier and Beatty as, "...the process of identifying, measuring and developing human performance in organizations,"1 performance appraisal tries to:

  1. Give feedback to employees to improve subsequent performance.
  2. Identify employee training needs.
  3. Document criteria used to allocate organizational rewards.
  4. Form a basis for personnel decisions-salary (merit) increases, disciplinary actions, etc.
  5. Provide the opportunity for organizational diagnosis and development.
  6. Facilitate communication between employee and administrator.
  7. Validate selection techniques and human resource policies to meet federal Equal Employment Opportunity requirements.

Appraisal Formats

Over the years, many different formats and procedures have been tried to meet these multiple objectives.

    For each of these purposes, someone in the organization must make some decisions about the kinds of characteristics of people or their performance to be evaluated and about the manner in which the evaluation will be done, by whom, and how well. There are relatively few special rules or special principles applicable only to the specific purposes.2

Common performance appraisal formats include:

  1. Global ratings: A one-dimensional rating that uses a rater's overall estimate of performance without distinguishing between critical job dimensions (poor, fair, good, excellent).
  2. Trait-based scales: A multidimensional (or graphic) approach used to measure performance. Some commonly used traits are: loyalty, dependability, cooperation, initiative, and self-confidence.
  3. Effectiveness-based systems: A system based on "objective" results, representing the measurement of an employee's contribution, not an employee's activities or behaviors. Management by Objectives (MBO) is a popular example of this kind of performance appraisal format.

Problems with Standard Practice

Despite its standard practice in most public and private organizations for more than 50 years, performance appraisal still has many problems. Raters show resistance to criticizing subordinates, and the judgmental aspect of evaluating human performance is subject to both covert (subjective and individual) and overt (prejudice and bias) errors. Raters often aren't trained in employee counseling and may be forced to conduct performance appraisals with inadequate or erroneous information about ratee performance.

Also, the critical effect on the ratee can sometimes be devastating. Some studies have shown that employees tend to remember only negative comments, which can have a negative effect on job performance for up to three months afterward. Appraisals are often taken as personal criticism or a challenge to self-worth.

Another consideration is that federal legislation, court decisions, and guidelines of several federal agencies have recently targeted performance appraisal as a validation procedure for employee selection techniques and preventing discrimination in the workplace. The courts have found organizations in violation of civil rights laws in failing to validate performance appraisal criteria and methods.


To try to rectify some of the above problems, Smith and Kendall developed Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales, better known as BARS.3 The BARS format deals with measurable behaviors, not personality, provides raters and ratees with clear statements of performance goals, and is based on a specific, thorough job analysis.

Using BARS, raters focus on specific ratee behaviors. These behaviors are compared to specific examples (job dimensions and anchors developed from the job analysis) that provide concrete benchmarks for making appraisal judgments.


The BARS format was used to develop the Extension Agent Behaviors and Results Anchored Rating System (EABRARS). Job dimensions and anchors were derived from a 1979 Extension agent job analysis commissioned by USDA and conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).4 Nine job dimensions (5 behaviors and 4 results) were selected from the AIR analysis (Table 1). Within each of these job dimensions, anchor statements were rewritten and grouped in categories from 1 to 7, according to AIR weightings. An example of the final EABRARS performance appraisal format is shown in Table 2.

Table 1. EABRARS job dimensions.

Program planning
Program promotion and public relations
Program implementation
Program support
Interpersonal and personal behaviors generally related to job
Program planning
Program promotion and public relations
Program implementation
Program support

Table 2. Examples of EABRARS performance appraisal format.

Job Dimension: Program Promotion and Public Relations Behaviors

This section includes standards for appraising the agent's behaviors in promoting programs and the Extension Service, raising funds, and using the mass media.

This agent can be expected to:
7* Conduct one of the best public information programs in the state.
* Always get extensive media coverage for his/her programs.
6* Constantly develop good public relations and not just at budget time.
* Be willing to work with all groups and organizations for promotion of Extension regardless of personal feelings.
* Communicate effectively with publicity media.
5* Have developed a countywide mailing list of interested individuals.
* Make some original use of mass media.
* Localize some of the promotional material supplied by the Extension office.
* Make reports to advisory groups and public officials on request or as opportunities arise.
4* Maintain communication with some local leaders, organizations, and groups.
3* Assist with planning and implementing public relations programs even though efforts may lack consistency.
* Insufficiently use one or more of the mass media.
2* Make no effort to speak to community clubs or organizations.
* Continually mention mass media that should be contacted to increase potential audiences, but do nothing about it.
* See some parts of the program as being unimportant and thus not be concerned with them.
1* Show disrespect for local values and customs.
* Fail to communicate events and activities to those interested.


In a 1984 study in New England, 16 raters (Extension administrators designated by their state Extension director as having agent performance appraisal responsibility) completed EABRARS on 141 rural New England Extension agents.5 Reliability analysis of the total ratings indicated that EABRARS was an internally consistent, highly reliable instrument. Differences between New England agents were detected at the .05 confidence level with respect to age, subject-matter area, years of experience, and state of employment. Raters reported that the EABRARS format was easy to use and straightforward.


In the 1984 study, I discovered that the existing performance appraisal systems weren't sophisticated or tested and some weren't even legal. EABRARS overcame these problems. It's based on a thorough job analysis of Extension agents' duties and responsibilities; it focuses on measurable behaviors and results, not personality; and it provides specific benchmarks for raters and ratees alike. In addition, it has undergone statistical testing that meets legal requirements.

The Future of Performance Appraisal

"Performance evaluation," wrote Glueck, "is a personnel activity which, while not new, has not matured. Some significant studies have been done, but there are conflicting results, and a complete body of knowledge is years away."6 Further use and refinement of EABRARS will be a major step in the development of a performance appraisal system for Extension agents. EABRARS represents the beginning of a new wave of performance appraisal formats that must meet legal mandates as well as serve a variety of organizational purposes in identifying, measuring, and developing human performance.

Copies of the EABRARS performance appraisal may be obtained from the author.


1. Craig Eric Schneier and Richard W. Beatty, "Integrating Behaviorally Based Effectiveness-Based Methods,"The Personnel Administrator, XXIV (July 1979), 66.

2. Robert M. Guion, "Performance Assessment in Personnel Selection and Evaluation" (Paper presented at the Fourth Johns Hopkins University National Symposium on Educational Research, Performance Assessment: The State of the Art, November 5-6, 1982), pp. 3-4.

3. Craig Eric Schneier and Richard W. Beatty, "Developing Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS)," The Personnel Administrator , XXIV (August 1979), 59-68.

4. American Institutes for Research, "Development of Performance Evaluation and Selection Procedures for the Cooperative Extension Services" (Washington, D.C.: AIR, 1979).

5. Thomas F. Patterson, Jr., "A Study to Determine the Relationship Between Rural New England Extension Agent Educational Orientation and Job Performance" (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington, October 1984).

6. William F. Glueck, Personnel: A Diagnostic Approach (Dallas, Texas: Business Publications, 1978), p. 285.