Marine Corps dress blue uniforms hang on a rack during the first uniform fitting at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on March 21, 2023.

Marine Corps dress blue uniforms hang on a rack during the first uniform fitting at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on March 21, 2023. (Francisco Angel/U.S. Marine Corps )

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps is testing a program that allows subordinates to give feedback and rate their leaders to better develop Marines who are in charge of others and maximize talent, the service said.

The pilot program is part of the Marine Corps’ Talent Management 2030 plan that was announced in 2021. Some of the plan’s goals are to modernize the Marine Corps, increase career flexibility and improve leadership through 360-degree feedback by the start of the next decade.

The program launched in 2022, but under a new phase implemented this year certain Marine leaders will be reviewed and rated by five to 10 subordinates. The subordinates’ ratings will be anonymous and the test group will involve selected commanders and some sergeant majors, the service wrote in a memo.

“This program will implement a customizable leadership development survey tool specifically designed for the Marine Corps,” the memo adds. “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.”

Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marines, said when Talent Management 2030 was unveiled that it would help keep “toxic” leaders from being promoted. The plan also lists that as a priority.

“This feedback is thus an important vehicle for expanding our understanding of a Marine’s strengths and weaknesses, which are critically important as boards and service leaders select, form, and assign leadership teams across the Corps,” according to the 20-page plan released in November 2021. “Further, 360-degree feedback … are a proven means for identifying traits of toxic leadership and can help reduce the incidence of toxic leaders advancing to senior levels within the service.”

However, the Marine Corps said the feedback given this year from subordinate Marines – at least during the trial program – will be used only for development purposes, not evaluations. Also, the reviewed leaders will nominate the subordinates who rate them. After the reviews, the leaders won’t know who gave which ratings.

“Participation for the Marine being reviewed is nonpunitive and is for personal and professional development purposes only,” the Marine Corps memo said. “Participation by the raters is anonymous and no identifying information will be collected or stored.”

The 360-degree feedback program will expand to a new phase in 2024 that will include Marines from the rank of gunnery sergeant to colonel across the Marine expeditionary forces. After that, the service will decide whether to make the program permanent.

If the Marine Corps chooses to keep the program, it could make any number of changes. The service has already said leaders will no longer get to nominate their reviewers after the trial program. In the future, reviewers will be randomly selected.

If the Marines keep the program, the service could also change it to use the feedback to influence evaluations and promotions, though there are concerns about using the information for that purpose.

“Perhaps the key concern in using 360s beyond developmental purposes is the potential impact on selection boards and the promotion process,” California-based think tank Rand Corp. concluded in a 2015 study into the issue. “The information from raters is usually anonymous and therefore cannot be challenged by the ratee. Information in 360s can sometimes be inaccurate because of rater lack of care or skill in providing ratings. 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.”

Talent Management 2030 seeks to fundamentally improve personnel models within the Marine Corps to modernize, develop and grow the force. Part of its goal is also to “give individual Marines a say in the trajectory of their careers” and streamline recruiting.

Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps met its recruiting goal in 2022 and it has said it expects to meet its target in 2023 too. However, Berger has acknowledged potential recruiting troubles could be lurking around the corner in an ever-evolving world.

“We have to adapt and overcome,” he said in March about the service’s Force Design 2030, a plan to update and reshape its forces and shed outdated assets and strategies. “We have an obligation to our country to win whatever conflict we’re put in.”

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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