DeM Banter: WARNING: CULTURE CHANGER…Always tough for the military to face a culture change, but this is huge! Many more benefits than drawbacks… so now let’s sit back and observe who fights it, where, when, and why…Wonder if it will work? Note which service is the most resistant? Why do you think that is?
May 6, 2013
The Pentagon’s top brass has agreed to adopt widespread use of “360-degree” reviews for officers across all military services in the most far-reaching effort yet to root out “toxic leaders” before they reach senior ranks.
Exactly how each service will institutionalize the controversial evaluation tool remains to be seen. Each is studying the issue and will draft its own plan to draw evaluations not only from superiors in the chain of command but also from peers and subordinates. The aim: to provide a complete picture of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses as seen from every angle in the chain of command.
Whether the reviews will be used to rate all 217,000 officers in the force or just the 920 or so general and flag officers, or something in between, will be decided by the individual service chiefs, who may take very different approaches.
For now, the Air Force has little to say about the issue beyond confirming that planning is underway. “The Air Force is looking at how we can integrate the 360 evaluation into the process we currently use to assess senior leader performance,” said Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer.
In contrast, the Marine Corps’ vision is more defined. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said in an interview that the Corps plans to institute 360-degree reviews only for general officers, and use broader “command climate” surveys for other officers. Whether the 360-degree reviews will be read only by the subject for self-development, or whether it might be applied more broadly and directly within the promotion process, is another uncertainty.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recommended the services implement their own 360-degree evaluation processes in a March report to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who promptly approved the recommendation.
Dempsey has put the new policy on the fast track, calling for the services to produce “implementation plans” within six months.
“The chairman does not want this to sit still,” said Marine Lt. Gen. George Flynn, director of Joint Force Development on the Joint Staff, who is helping to coordinate the services’ plans for putting 360 evaluations into practice.
That will be a challenge. There is clear disagreement about how far and how fast to adopt the concept of allowing subordinates to rate their bosses. But at its core, the push is a rare top-down effort to reform an aspect of military life that is almost sacrosanct — the power of each service to develop its own system to train, evaluate and promote its officer corps.
Building better leaders
“The big goal here is better leader development,” Flynn said in an interview in which he sketched out a possible policy in which many, or even all, officers could be subject to the new reviews. He said the results could be shared with an officer’s senior rater and therefore influence formal evaluations.
“Your senior raters, they are the ones who are still going to rate your performance,” Flynn said. “But this 360-degree assessment is going to be a tool that they can use to help in your evaluation as well as in your development. Many times the senior has a picture that your unit is doing great things, your unit does everything you ask. They don’t realize that behind the scenes you are doing everything you can to demoralize that unit.”
It’s too early to say how each service might link the reviews with its formal evaluation process. “I’m not sure it’s going to exist in a personnel file,” he said, but “as part of your evaluation, an assessment will be done.”
That’s exactly what worries some officers. But Flynn said he hopes officers don’t focus on the punitive potential of the new reviews, but rather what it could do for them.
“It’s about leader development, it’s not about leader evaluation,” he said. “It’s not ‘How do you expose toxic leaders?’ It’s about, ‘How do you never even get to be the toxic leader?'”
Keeping reviews ‘top secret’
Up to now, experiments with 360-degree assessments, or “multirater” reviews, have been confined to a leadership development exercise, meaning the results are shared only with the officer under review for his own self-assessment and not shown to any senior officer linked to the traditional evaluation and command screening process.
“One of the problems is when they use 360 reviews for development, it’s almost like it’s top secret — they don’t sit down and talk to anyone about it,” said Tracy Maylett, a management consultant who has worked with several Army commands to implement small-scale 360-degree reviews.
Expanding the use of these reviews likely will face significant cultural resistance.
“The senior people who have thrived under the current system will be suspicious… that this will change the leadership style, perhaps in a negative way, by encouraging officers to pander to their peers and subordinates,” said Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Given all the unanswered questions, the changes may take time to evolve. And each service is likely to move forward at its own pace.
*Army. So far, the Army has been the most aggressive of the services using 360-degree evaluations — an effort that Dempsey strongly backed during his brief tenure as Army chief of staff in 2011.
The Army already has a 360 process for its generals. Army general officers annually complete a “360-like” assessment, according to spokesman George Wright, but they currently include only general officers and do not get input from colonels, so it is not yet a complete 360 for brigadier generals.
Dempsey’s successor, Gen. Ray Odierno, recently launched a pilot program targeting battalion and brigade commanders — lieutenant colonels and colonels — to receive 360-degree reviews that will be shared with their chain of command as an accountability tool.
That pilot, which will extend through July 3, will assess six lieutenant colonel-level commanders and two colonel-level commanders from Forces Command, Installation Management Command and Training and Doctrine Command.
“I’m looking at what is the best way to implement a 360 process at the battalion and brigade levels that will help us to identify concerns to the individual, and also to those who are with him, so they can try to correct that behavior,” Odierno said in a March 27 interiew. “If the behavior is not corrected, we’ll take whatever action is appropriate.”
The 360s used in that pilot will be similar to the Army’s existing 360 Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback progam, which is now required for all officers at least once every three years.
The MSAF allows an officer to select the subordinates and peers who provide feedback, with the responses being aggregated so the officer can’t pinpoint who said what. The officer is the only person who receives the report, which is not put in their official personnel files.
One big difference: The pilot for brigade and battalion commands will not allow those officers to choose who participates in their asssessments.
Odierno said these evaluations, combined with command climate surveys and sensing sessions, will give leaders a developmental tool and help weed out toxic leaders. “Leadership development is my No. 1 priority,” Odierno told students at the Command and General Staff College on April 10.
*Navy. The Navy has experimented with 360s for about a decade, but uses them only informally. Prospective commanders and XOs who have already been screened for command select peers and subordinates to rate them, and the results are for self-development only, not a part of the officer’s personnel record. Admirals and surface warfare ensigns have similar reviews.
*MarineCorps. The Marines have not widely used 360-degree reviews. As the service develops its plan, Gen. James Amos, the Corps’ commandant, is intent on using them only for general officers, with the results possibly being used by the commandant and other senior generals when assigning people to high-level positions.
Amos also plans to expand the use of command climate surveys, and the results will be shared with the commanding officer as well as the CO’s seniors.
*Air Force. The Air Force has not widely used 360-degree reviews, but plans to start are underway. But it’s too early to say how the Air Force may use the 360-degree evaluations in the formal evaluation process, if at all, one official said.
Formal or informal?
Dempsey advocated integrating 360s into the command screening process when he was Army Chief of staff, and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William Mullen, head of the Corps’ Education Command and Marine Corps University, said that would help identify bad leaders before they rise in the ranks.
“You can always fool people above you,” Mullen told Military Times last fall. “But you can never fool the people below you. They know.”
But Maylett advised the military to move cautiously. “It can create damage in the organization if it’s not done correctly,” he said, adding that when formal appraisals become a factor, the situation can turn into “a real mess.”
He envisions a possible hybrid solution in which raw 360 results could be translated into specific goals and only those goals would be included in formal evaluations.
Mark Edwards, a Naval Academy graduate and former management consultant who authored the book “360-degree Feedback,” argues that 360s can be more effective than the military’s current two-dimensional review process. And once an organization implements a 360 process, it’s hard to keep them from seeping into formal assessments, he said.
Edwards said making full use of the reviews makes practical sense: “It’s too expensive and takes too much time to do it purely for developmental reasons.”
Simply sharing it with bosses will have an effect, he added. “Once you see that information… how the heck are you going to forget it?”
There is also common-sense logic in favor of letting troops rate their bosses, said retired Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, former head of the Center for a New American Security think tank.
“The good officers… who lead by example rather than rule through fear, I can’t imagine any of them not wanting their subordinates to go on the record,” he said. “For those who oppose this, I would ask them: ‘What is it that you don’t want your subordinates saying about you? Which behaviors would your subordinate downgrade you for?'”
Staff writers Gina Harkins, Sam Fellman, Michelle Tan, Jeff Schogol and Andrew deGrandpre contributed to this story.
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