WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 26, 2012) -- Col. Andrea Thompson just returned from California, where she met with employees from Google, aircraft designers from Lockheed Martin's "Skunk Works," IT professionals from IDO, and others.

Besides being innovators in cutting-edge technologies, Thompson said they all had at least one other thing in common -- their use of a peer evaluation process for selecting their senior leaders.

Thompson, a fellow at the Army chief of staff's Strategic Study Group, wondered why the Army -- also an innovative institution -- isn't integrating peer review in its new evaluation system.

So she asked that question to panelists during the Q&A period at the end of the Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare's "Developing Leaders: The Key to Readiness, Sustaining the Profession, and Ensuring our Legacy" forum here, Oct. 24.

Peer review, which is usually thought of as an objective evaluation of a person by others of equal rank or standing, was studied by the Army when it began revamping its evaluation process for officers and noncommissioned officers, said Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mustion.

He said the study group didn't disagree with the concept of peer review, but that it faced "some institutional and some legislative or statutory resistance on what selection boards can look at."

Mustion, who is the commander of U.S. Army Human Resources Command, suggested that peer review aside, "Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback, 360-Degrees," or MSAF 360, is a good assessment tool, "a step in the right direction."

MSAF 360 is an evaluation approach the Army is now using for officer evaluations. As its name suggests, MSAF 360 provides a peer review-like approach.

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno has said "feedback is an important component to holistic leader development. By encouraging input from peers, subordinates and superiors alike, leaders can better see themselves and increase self-awareness."

Mustion said the prime consideration in evaluating senior leaders and others is capturing a "fair, accurate and fact-based" assessment in the documentation.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson said what peers think of us is just as important as what is currently part of an evaluation.

Anderson, commander of the 4th Infantry Division (mechanized), said that senior leader review is important as well.

"It sucks to be the guy who has to say you're 10 out of 10, when he thought he was one out of 10," Anderson said, referring to rank-ordering of peers in the evaluation process. While all 10 individuals might be outstanding performers, the Army needs leadership to rank subordinates for the purpose of promotion potential.

Anderson said it's critical to tell subordinates where they're "racked and stacked" so they are not surprised when evaluation time rolls around.

Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III had a different twist on the topic. Cucolo, commandant of the U.S. Army War College, said peer-to-peer review is already being done at the senior level, at least in an informal sense.

He added that "when I do senior rater counseling, I do it en masse with senior raters present, I tell them 'I'm going to grade you on how you take care of your peers.'"

"We can't say as an Army that selfless service is a value and then reward those who are not selfless because they torpedo their peers, inadvertently, unconsciously or somehow because we missed it," he continued.

Brig. Gen. Gordon B. Davis Jr. said that as an executive officer, he once surveyed all the officers in his brigade. They were asked, among other things, to provide input on their more senior officers.

He said two captains, who he characterized as "toxic leaders," were rated off the scale at the low end. In this way, subordinate review --- as opposed to peer review -- became a useful assessment tool and those two captains, who he said would have otherwise gone unnoticed, were counseled, pointed in the right direction, and went on to have successful careers.