Staff Functions

Subordinates Should Get a Vote

By Wendy Say October 27, 2021


Performance management in the Australian Army is a systematic approach to improving individual achievement through focusing on goal setting and the achievement of stated objectives and areas for development. But it is one-dimensional, and for that reason it does not meet the requirements of the high-performance organisation that is the Australian Regular Army.

Army’s current Performance Appraisal Report (PAR) is a system where individuals are managed on the views of an incomplete profile. The PAR reflects the boss’ opinion while ignoring the views of those most influenced by an individual – subordinates and peers. For leader development practices to be most effective, multiple perspectives are required to create an all-inclusive picture of performance. This can be achieved through multi-rater feedback, commonly referred to as 360-degree assessment.

A theme in the Chief of Army’s Good Soldiering is developing people to be ‘self-aware, comfortable with feedback and self-correcting.’[1] The establishment of the Centre for Australian Army Leadership, the ongoing IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry, and transformations in Army training and the Future Ready Workforce highlight the time is right for Army to employ supplementary methods to determine professional advancement and inform and target individual development requirements.

If people are the Army's greatest resource, should Army not be maximising opportunities to enhance self-awareness in order to contribute to personal and professional growth and leader development? By providing Army’s officers and soldiers a tool to enhance insight and self-awareness, Army will set the conditions to produce senior leaders with higher degrees of emotional intelligence and values aligned to the organisation. 'Happenstance' leadership is not best practice. A high-performance organisation which is serious about true lifelong learning and Professional Military Education will facilitate longitudinal data collection and open communication.

Studies have shown that best practice in leadership development includes multiple perspectives to provide a holistic picture of performance. The US Military Academy has employed multi-rater feedback for more than forty years, requiring cadets to report on the performance of their peers.[2] The longevity of this program as well as the value placed in the feedback demonstrates the perceived success of multi-rater feedback in a military training environment; however, the utility of multi-rater feedback extends beyond the training environment.

The multi-rater feedback serves to inform and target development and learning requirements. The intended outcomes for course members through their involvement in multi-rater feedback is as follows:

  1. Increase self-awareness. Self-awareness increases a leader’s potential and performance.[3] Multi-rater feedback highlights the discrepancies between self-assessment and others’ assessment.
  2. Target areas for improvement. Army can target the behaviours they wish to obtain information on to create a complete picture of performance. Multi-rater feedback provides increased opportunities to gather evidence on how effectively individuals are achieving the performance dimensions as detailed in the PAR and their performance goals.
  3. Tailor training, education and learning experiences. The multi-rater feedback does not produce the learning or change, but it does provide a vehicle for individual development to occur. It is possible to develop individualised development programs to maximise opportunities for individuals to achieve the performance dimensions, individual or collective learning objectives, and personal and professional growth.

To achieve maximum benefit, Army must foster a psychologically safe environment that minimises potential negative impacts to morale, increased competitiveness, or reduced cohesiveness. Studies of multi-rater feedback have shown this program is most effective when the feedback is used to inform and target development requirements.[4] The purpose of multi-rater feedback should not be the final determinant of someone’s suitability for merit selection, but instead should be used as another data source when determining professional advancement.[5]

There is a degree of risk with all performance management tools, and multi-rater feedback is no exception. Studies have shown bias can impact on the quality of feedback, in particular the ‘halo effect’[6] and ‘response bias’.[7] Furthermore, some opponents to multi-rater feedback contend multi-rater feedback is subjective information feeding into an objective system. However, there is a strong argument that these risks already exist with the current PAR. Multi-rater feedback recognises the complexities of management and provides another data source to check the validity of assessments and ensure a more holistic picture. Additionally, clear administrative procedures and good practice can mitigate the majority of potential issues.

Studies have shown that the majority of leaders who are performing badly do so because they lack self-awareness and insight into the effect of their behaviour on others.[8] Army has an obligation as a high-performance organisation to provide opportunities for Army members to develop greater self-awareness that enhances their individual leadership potential and performance. Multi-rater feedback provides a holistic picture from multiple perspectives. The current PAR process of providing feedback from supervisors only provides an incomplete profile. Given Army is in a state of growth and change, incorporating multi-rater feedback as standard practice will contribute to the achievement of individual and organisational learning outcomes and objectives.

“360-degree surveys of themselves do not produce learning or change but that, with sound facilitation, the 360-degree process is a vehicle whereby learning may occur.”[9]

References

[1] Chief of Army. Good Soldiering. https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/army-motion/good-soldiering Accessed 25 Sep 21

[2] Whitesides, C. ‘From One to three Sixty: Assessing Leaders’ in Military Review: Sep-Oct 2004. 87-88.

[3] Burke, W. Organization Change: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002.

[4] Lee, GG. ‘Caution Required: Multi-rater Feedback in the Army’ in Military Review: July-August 2015.

[5] Fisher, Z. ‘Everyone Gets a Vote: 360 Assessments the Human Factors System’ in Air and Space Power Journal: Spring 2019, 64.

[6] Fisher, 65-66.

[7] Brown, A, Inceoglu, I and Lin, Y. ‘Preventing Rater Biases in 360-Degree Feedback by Forcing Choice’ in Organisational Research Methods; Vol 20(1). Sage: 2017, 142.

[8] Drew, G. ‘A “360” degree view of individual leadership development’ in Journal of Management Development, Vol 28 No 7, 2009, 582.

[9] Drew, 589.


Portrait

Biography

Wendy Say

LTCOL

Wendy Say is Directing Staff on the Australian Command and Staff Course. She holds a Masters in Leadership and Management; Training Development and Military Studies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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