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360-degree evals for commanders start Oct. 1

Dec. 28, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Soldiers in Afghanistan listen to Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. Soon, leaders will get assessments of their performance from soldiers subordinate to them, part of an effort led by Odierno to rid the Army of toxic leadership. (Staff Sgt. Ashley Bell/Army)
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Battalion and brigade commanders across the Army likely will be required to undergo 360-degree assessments beginning in October.

The Commander 360 is part of the Army’s continuing push to rid the ranks of toxic leaders and help commanders further develop their skills and abilities. The effort is the result of a plan spearheaded by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

The Army also just approved a 360-degree assessment for general officers that will begin in the next few months, and a similar assessment for senior noncommissioned officers is expected to follow in another year or so, Odierno said.

“It’s really for self development, self improvement,” he said. “It never stops, even as you get more senior.”

The new assessment is similar to the Army’s existing 360 Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback, which is required of officers from the time they’re lieutenants.

But unlike the MSAF, the assessment for battalion and brigade commanders will not allow the officer to choose who participates and provides feedback.

“The intent behind this is development, and how to make us the best we can be, to get our soldiers to be the best they can be,” said Col. Christopher Croft, director of the Center for Army Leadership.

The commander can nominate two assessors — one subordinate and one peer — but the commander’s current rater will be the one to choose who provides feedback.

The rater and the commander will then receive the feedback report and be required to participate in a “developmental discussion” on the results, Croft said.

The rater and the commander will have access to leader development coaches who can help with the interpretation and usage of the report, he said.

The results of the assessment will not be used as part of the officer evaluation system, nor will it be shown to the commander’s senior rater, Croft said.

“They are developmental assessments that are not to replace or sway evaluations of performance or potential,” he said. “It’s like a unit training [after-action review], but focused on the commander. What does the commander do well? Is there anything that could be improved?”

Army officials expect to finalize details of Commander 360 and fully roll out the program this spring. But beginning Oct. 1, the almost 1,200 active-duty colonels and lieutenant colonels on the centralized selection list for command will be required to complete two assessments during their command tour, Croft said.

Both events will be initiated by the commander’s current rater, he said.

Sequence of events

The first event will take place three to six months after assumption of command, and the second will occur 15 to 18 months into command, Croft said.

For Army Reserve and National Guard commanders — about 1,150 in the Reserve and about 800 in the Guard — the goal is to have this in place by October 2015, he said.

Commander 360 was approved after a pilot test conducted from April to July, said Melissa Wolfe, a research psychologist with the Center for Army Leadership.

Eight lieutenant colonels and colonels participated in the test; on average, eight subordinates, six peers and four superiors responded to assess each commander.

Each of the eight commanders completed all portions of the Commander 360 event, which included a developmental discussion between the commander and his or her rater.

Raters also received coaching from a leader development expert on the interpretation of the 360 report.

The pilot did not have to be big because it is a variation of the MSAF, which has more than 1 million participants and has assessed about 100,000 leaders, Wolfe said.

The results of the pilot were favorable, she said.

“The pilot participants, both commanders and their raters, thought the process was insightful and positively contributed to the development of the participating commander,” she said.

Training for 360s

As the program is implemented across the Army, raters will be able to get online training and participate in coaching sessions to learn how to execute Commander 360 and how to interpret the data, Croft said.

The coaches belong to the same cadre of coaches who work on the MSAF, said Jon Fallesen, a research psychologist with the Center for Army Leadership. All of them are former military members who undergo “rigorous training” on how to be coaches, he said.

The MSAF and the Commander 360 are developmental tools, and there are no plans to tie Commander 360 to the officer evaluation system, Croft said.

“This is an opportunity to see what others believe about you, and make some corrections and move on and be the best leader and get the best out of your soldiers,” he said.

Research also has found that the officer being assessed is more likely to get honest feedback when the program isn’t tied to an Officer Evaluation Report, he said.

One key difference between the assessment for commanders and the MSAF, however, is that the feedback report for commanders is provided to the commander and his or her current rater.

In self-initiated or unit MSAF events, the participating leader keeps ownership of the feedback and can voluntarily provide it to his rater, but he’s not required to do so, Falleson said.

The distinction was something Odierno pushed for, he said.

“He wanted to really make the [commander] 360s have more impact, more value,” Falleson said. “In [MSAF], the owner of the feedback is the individual leader, so if they choose not to do anything with it, there’s no penalty, there’s no recourse for that.

“For commanders, the chief really wanted this to make a difference. He was really going after the accountability piece.”■

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