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Using 360 Degree Feedback as a Tool

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

This post comes from COL Eric McCoy, former battalion commander who finished up his time at the US Army War College earlier this year and is selected for Brigade Command. COL McCoy and Chevy both served together teaching cadets at West Point in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, and COL McCoy previously wrote a blog entitled The Importance of Understanding How Members of Your Team Learn. In this piece, he calls for a new approach to 360 feedback not for the individual, but for the unit. His point of view if backed by a growing number of military and DoD leaders.

On June 4, 2018, the Secretary of the Army published Update 8 to Army Directive 2018-7-8; his continued prioritization of Army efforts to improve lethality by reducing or eliminating requirements that detracted from readiness. Specifically, Secretary Esper eliminated the requirement for Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback (MSAF). Poor participation from the field, institutional resistance to future use as a potential promotion and/or retention tool, frustration with website access and misinformed feedback from critics who associated the MSAF product with similar programs used in professional military education (PME) were factors in Secretary Esper’s rationale for eliminating the MSAF.[1][2] However, I believe the Army may have shelved an important tool for improving leader effectiveness in the long-term. Rather than rely on individual MSAFs, the Army would be better served by encouraging wider use of the Center for Army Leadership (CAL) Unit 360 MSAF as a tool for facilitating better self-awareness and collective leader development.

Rather than attempt to incorporate 360 feedback into evaluations, the Army could benefit from using 360s as a tool for leader development and to “gain an aggregate view of leadership across the force. COL Kevin McAnich’s essay on how the MSAF could catalyze leader development supports this view on changing our culture. He offers four realistic policy recommendations that support Secretary Esper’s intent for improving readiness without eliminating the value of reflective feedback that the MSAF provided: enforcing a formalized feedback process for follow-up to the MSAF, incorporating individual leader development plans into the counseling process, educating Army leaders on coaching and mentorship as part of our PME, and restructuring MSAF tools to support vertical development as leaders transition from direct to organizational leadership instead of using a “one-size fits all” MSAF. Similar arguments are also made by Wike in his blogpost for The Military Leader advocating for changes to the 360 degree review process. He provided a summary of the RAND study and provided recommendations on enforcement and coaching that were like McAnich’s. However, Wike also expounded on the topic of assessor selection. He argued that many respondents display a self-serving bias through the selection of assessors that will give feedback reinforcing their self-perceptions.

The Unit 360 encourages commanders to leverage the MSAF as a tool in organizational leader development programs by providing both individual and cohort feedback on leader competency strengths and weaknesses. Unlike the individual 360, the commander directing a unit MSAF can select assessors. This mitigates self-serving bias from the responders and provide richer feedback than what could be found in a command climate survey regarding leader performance. Moreover, CAL has the capability to visit organizations that conduct a unit MSAF and provide support not found during individual assessments such as information campaigns and onsite coaching. Finally, Unit 360 results are aggregated to show trends in the organization. This helps commanders tailor their leader development programs to the needs of leaders in the unit.

Self-awareness through feedback from multiple sources like the MSAF provides leaders with insight into their own leadership capabilities. Organizations with leaders whose perceptions of themselves more closely match subordinates’ perceptions enjoy greater long-term health and are more successful in terms of mission accomplishment.[3] If human capital is to remain a component of U.S. strategic land power, then we must continue to invest in the development of our leaders and their self-awareness. The unit MSAF better aligns efforts between the operational, self, and institutional domains to promote better self-awareness as well as collective leader development.

[1] Email interview with Dr. Jon Fallensen, Center for Army Leadership, dated September 28, 2018.

[2] Chaitra M. Hardison, Mikhail Zaydman, Tobi Oluwatola, Anna Rosefsky Saavedra, Thomas Bush, Heather Peterson, Susan G. Straus, 360 Degree Assessments: Are They The Right Tool for the U.S. Military? (RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA, 2015), iii

[3] Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), 93-94.

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