The Marine Corps is asking some leaders’ subordinates and peers to review them anonymously, but it won’t use the feedback for promotion decisions.
The Marine Corps initially touted 360-degree reviews as an evaluative tool that could help identify toxic leaders and prevent them from getting promoted. But now, as the Corps tests out the reviews on a select group of leaders, it has decided to use them only for professional development, Marine spokesman Maj. Jordan Cochran told Marine Corps Times.
“When we began conducting our background research on how to execute a 360-degree review we identified incongruities with our objectives when used as an evaluation tool,” Cochran said in a statement Monday. “These incongruities are not a concern when the tool is used strictly for development purposes.”
The 360-degree reviews come as part of a larger revamp of the Marine Corps’ personnel policies, known as Talent Management 2030. The Corps is billing the reviews as a way to improve the quality of leaders.
In the initial Talent Management 2030 document, released in November 2021, Marine commandant Gen. David Berger wrote that feedback from 360-degree reviews would be incorporated “into the selection board and assignments processes to ensure that this important input is properly considered by those selecting and assigning our future leaders.”
But in the few years since then, the Marine Corps has reworked 360-degree reviews into “a development opportunity for our leaders which will ultimately lead to more self-awareness and a higher quality of Marine,” Cochran said in the statement.
A pilot program, launched in 2023, is for now limited to lieutenant colonels and colonels and their sergeants major, according to a Marine administrative message Thursday. Leaders at that level typically are in charge of battalions or regiments.
“We started there because it’s a manageable population and they’re the ones who have the most influence over Marines,” Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant, said on the BruteCast podcast in August 2022.
Those leaders will receive assessments based on the anonymous polling of one to three supervisors, three to seven peers and five to 10 subordinates.
For now, the leaders being evaluated will nominate their raters. Once the pilot program has completed, though, any 360-degree reviews would include randomly selected raters, according to the Marine message.
“The feedback will be presented in a detailed report that the Marine will use to construct a development plan that leverages their identified strengths and addresses any blind spots,” the Marine message stated.
A more senior Marine will also review that report.
The current assessments are a test run, according to the Marine message. The Marine Corps is still refining the questionnaire and the administrative process.
In 2024, the pilot program will expand to selected Marines from the ranks of gunnery sergeant through colonel, from across the three Marine expeditionary forces, according to the Marine message.
After that, it will be up to Marine Corps leadership to decide whether to make 360-degree reviews a program of record.
The 360-degree reviews are far from a fringe idea. Top companies, ranging from Netflix to Goldman Sachs, have put similar programs into place.
Yet while many companies use 360-degree reviews for development purposes, like training, it’s less common for them to use it for evaluations, according to a 2015 Rand report.
The report cautioned the military against using 360-degree reviews for evaluations, noting that the approach could “engender paranoia and distrust in the system.”
The anonymous nature of the responses — which is meant to encourage honesty — could backfire, according to the report.
“In a high-stakes situation, such as promotions, raters could be dishonest in attempts to positively or negatively impact board selection decisions with no potential for recourse,” the report read.
The Marine Corps awarded the contract for the pilot program to Envisia Learning, a company that focuses on 360-degree reviews, according to Cochran.
The contract will last until the end of fiscal year 2023 in the fall, with the Corps maintaining the option to extend the contract through fiscal year 2024 before making a final decision on whether to make the program permanent.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.