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It’s commonplace for officers undergoing a 360-degree review to pick the sailors who’ll gauge their performance — an approach many believe leaves little room for the kind of eye-opening opinions they need most to hear.
The surface Navy is eschewing that practice in a new attempt to garner more honest and frank assessments, with the choice of nine raters falling squarely on the prospective leader’s commanding officer and executive officer.
“It’s a true feedback,” said Capt. Richard Brown, the head of the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, R.I., where the new reviews — mostly for lieutenants, some for lieutenant commanders — are set to start in June. “It’s not someone that they got to pick,” he said, “so you’re really kind of getting an unvarnished view of their leadership style.”
These reviews are the latest effort to see whether so-called “multirater assessments,” used throughout corporate America, are effective tools to develop midcareer officers. Proponents — including the military’s top officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey — believe such assessments early in an officer’s career will better shape leadership styles and may also flag questionable behavior before that person reaches command.
The remodeled reviews are the surface Navy’s response to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert’s order a year ago to experiment with 360-degree reviews, a move that came amid what would become a nearly record-setting year for CO firings, with 25 by year’s end. The reviews will be conducted at the SWO school once each department head has been recommended for command on their fitness report.
“We want to be able to provide them an honest assessment of their leadership, and so we can sit down and say to them, ‘Hey shipmate: You did really good during the command qual[ification] assessment, but all the folks that work for you kind of viewed you as a toxic leader, and here are the specific comments that they said about you,’” Brown explained. “‘So that’s a significant issue that you need to work on.’”
The Navy has used 360 reviews for about a decade. This approach differs significantly from the 360 reviews given to prospective COs, who’ve already been chosen for command, as well as admirals and surface warfare ensigns, all of whom choose their reviewers.
Review can't be failed
Officers will come to the SWO school for a brief stop, typically between their first and second department-head tours. Brown explained that most officers are recommended for command during their first such tour; those who are recommended later will arrive after their second tour.
The 360 review is only one part of the four-part command qualification, which also includes a written test, a ship-driving scenario and a tactical assessment. As part of new, tighter screening standards, SWOs have just two chances to pass all portions.
But unlike those other parts, there is no way to fail the 360 review. Undergoing the assessment is all that’s required; information gathered from reviewers will be used to counsel the officer.
Results of the review will not be entered into the officer’s service record or used for disciplinary purposes. But Brown said the review’s timing, just before the officers start their next tours, will make an impact.
“It’s going to make better second-tour department heads,” he said. “They will have had that formal, unvarnished 360-degree assessment that they’re going to put in their back pocket. And yeah, there are going to be some people that go, ‘That’s BS,’ and rip it up.
“But that debrief is still going to be in the back of their head as they immediately, within days, start their second department-head tour.”