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Research Questions

  1. What is known about 360-degree assessments?
  2. Are the military services already using 360s? If so, how are they using them?
  3. Would it be advisable to implement 360s for development or evaluation purposes for all officers in the military? Why or why not?
  4. What implementation challenges should the services be aware of to ensure success?

In response to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014, which directed the Secretary of Defense to assess "the feasibility of including a 360-degree assessment [360] approach... as part of performance evaluation reports," the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (OUSD/P&R) asked the RAND Corporation to provide an outside assessment of the advisability of using 360s for evaluation purposes in the military. In addition, OUSD/P&R also requested information on the role of 360s more broadly. Thus, this report explores the pros and cons of using 360s for evaluation and development purposes in the military.

The research was based on information gleaned from a number of sources: existing research literature and expert guidance on 360 best practices; policy documents and other sources summarizing current performance and promotion practices in the military services, including the use of 360s; and interviews with a sample of stakeholders and subject-matter experts in the Department of Defense. The results suggest that using 360 feedback as part of the military performance evaluation system is not advisable at this time, though the services could benefit from using 360s as a tool for leader development and to gain an aggregate view of leadership across the force.

Key Findings

Each of the military services and the Joint Staff uses some version of 360-degree assessments. In all cases, the purpose is entirely for individual development, not for evaluation

  • The Army has the most widespread implementation. In the other services, the use of 360s is more targeted — generally directed at senior leadership or toward high-potential officers as part of the military education system.

Based on our research both within and outside the military setting, we advise against incorporating 360s in the officer evaluation system at this time

  • The use of 360s for evaluation purposes could ruin their use for developmental applications; implementing two systems could create confusion to raters, increase the survey burden on the force, and create distrust in the process.
  • Even more important is the potential for negative impact on selection boards and the promotion process. Information from raters is anonymous, can be inaccurate, could be slanted in an attempt to influence high-stakes decisions, and often requires an understanding of context that may not be available to the board.

We do advise the use of 360s for development purposes for people at higher grades or in leadership positions, which is essentially how the tool is being used today

  • The tool could be made available as a service to individuals hoping to improve, along with coaching to help service members evaluate the results and incorporate them into self-improvement goals.
  • 360s could also be used to provide an aggregate view of leadership performance across the force — something that current tools are not necessarily well positioned to provide. Leaders could use aggregate 360 results to identify force-wide strengths and weaknesses.

Overall, our interviews showed that the spirit of 360 clearly resonates with the services

  • The services value good leadership behaviors and tools that can help develop good leaders; 360s are one such tool.
  • Rather than mandate the use of 360s force-wide, it is more advisable to allow the services to continue on their current paths, expanding the use of 360s in a way that is tailored to individual service needs and goals.

Recommendations

  • The U.S. military should not incorporate 360-degree assessments into the officer performance evaluation system at this time.
  • The U.S. military should continue to utilize 360-degree assessments for development purposes within the higher grades and for people in leadership positions.
  • The services should be allowed to continue on their current paths, expanding the use of 360s in a way that is tailored to individual service needs and goals.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    What Are 360-Degree Assessments, and How Are They Different from Other Assessments?

  • Chapter Three

    Performance Evaluation and Promotion Processes in the Military Services

  • Chapter Four

    360-Feedback Systems Currently in Use in the Military

  • Chapter Five

    Using 360 Feedback: Evaluation Versus Development

  • Chapter Six

    Using 360 Feedback: Other Implementation Issues

  • Chapter Seven

    Implications for the Military Services

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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