Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An SK BARS System: Ongoing Performance Management with Municipal Police

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

An SK BARS System: Ongoing Performance Management with Municipal Police

Article excerpt

The way we evaluate and develop employee performance is gamering increased attention. On one hand, employers and employees alike have grown weary of the compulsory, perfunctory, and paternalistic annual performance review, with many leading companies abandoning them in favor of ongoing feedback (Schultz, 2015). On the other hand, low levels of public trust and increasing demands for accountability call for more deliberate performance management that takes all stakeholders into account (U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 2015; Wholey, 1999). So, even though the field is dissatisfied with it (Pulakos, Hanson, Arad, & Moye, 2015), performance management is unlikely to go away (Smither, 2015). Therefore, more research is needed that identifies successful performance management systems (Greiner, 1996). We provide such an example by way of an extension of Smith and Kendall's Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS; P. C. Smith & Kendall, 1963).

Originally introduced in the early 1960s by P. C. Smith and Kendall (1963), BARS continue to receive a lot of attention from researchers and practitioners (Debnath, Lee, & Tandon, 2015). Smith-Kendall (SK) BARS are a specific form and process based on a combination of the Fels parent-behavior rating scales and Thurstone's attitudes scales (Bemardin & Smith, 1981; Guilford, 1954). However, BARS have become frequently characterized rather generally as graphic rating scales with vertical response anchors to guide assessments of the effectiveness of various types of behavior (e.g., Catano, Darr, & Campbell, 2007; Colquitt & Zapata-Phelan, 2007; Oswald, Schmitt, Kim, Ramsay, & Gillespie, 2004). This popular view of BARS has introduced a conceptual difficulty: BARS in this general sense do not always fully follow Smith and Kendall's process (see Bemardin & Smith, 1981). For example, they may use some of the SK procedures, such as using critical incidents to generate behavioral statements and retranslating and scaling behavior, but not necessarily other key features such as presenting behavior as expectations, recording actual observations, communicating ratings to the ratees, and/or maintaining a shared frame of reference. Therefore, SK BARS refers more specifically to behaviorally anchored scales that do follow Smith and Kendall's formalized process, whereas BARS refers more generally to a graphic rating scale with the purposeful development and use of behavioral anchors.

The distinction between SK BARS and BARS helps situate our current contribution: an SK BARS system. Developed by Smith and Guion in the late 1990s, the SK BARS system builds on the original SK BARS by spanning multiple levels of an organization, tracking observations and ratings longitudinally, and including corrective mechanisms to help sustain itself overtime (see Guion, 1998). Here, we describe a 2007 update to the SK BARS system that Smith and Guion initially implemented in 1997 within a local police division (PD; see Guion, 2011). Although our example applies specifically to police, the SK BARS system itself is applicable to other industries.

There are plenty of examples of BARS forms being used in a variety of contexts. However, there are fewer illustrations of the SK BARS processes for developing and using the forms, and this is the only instance we are aware of that elaborates the SK BARS process into a larger performance management system. We delineate the features of the system, highlighting what we updated and why, along with directions for the future development, use, and maintenance of SK BARS systems like this one. Finally, we provide results from a satisfaction survey, which asked respondents to compare features of the system before and after the update.


SK BARS System: Development

Smith and Guion's SK BARS system was initially developed for a PD in the late 1990s because the procedures in place at the time resulted in a series of grievances and were not necessarily aligned with the mission and goals of the division (for more detail, see Guion, 2011). …

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