Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) is the application of behavior analysis in the workplace. With an emphasis on improving processes and human performance, OBM examines and arranges work environments that promote productivity and drive business results. OBM is not a consultant-exclusive job, because behavior applies to all settings, even clinical practice.
OBM for the BCBA
In clinical organizations, most Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) work as program coordinators or clinical directors. Rather than working with clients “in-the-chair,” BCBAs supervise others doing the work. Developing programs and training staff might be old hat, but managing and engaging staff and families—long term—requires new skills. Ongoing education and training in OBM can equip behavior analysts with the knowledge and skills to practice the science every day—even in subtle ways that matter, like interacting with employees. These skills are often critical to address issues that lead to high burnout rates in clinical applied behavior analysis (ABA). Deliberate use of OBM can impact and shape the culture of any workplace.
An Interview with Kelly Therrien
Kelly Therrien, MS, BCBA, recently produced a continuing education course on this very topic. Kelly has experience as a consultant and product manager for business-behavior change with companies such as ALULA, Inc., (previously CLG) and Aubrey Daniels International (ADI). Before focusing on OBM, she worked as a behavior analyst for Intervention Services, Inc. Kelly sat down with us to discuss her new CE and answer some commonly asked questions about OBM.
Can You Tell Us About Your New CE?
My new CE titled, “Introduction to Organizational Behavior Management: Behavior Analysis in a Business Setting,” offers an overview of some of the core practices of OBM. I try to bring home important points often brought up with peers in the ABA community, or that I deliver in trainings for other organizations or at conferences. Most conversations on the topic usually start with someone working in a clinical field saying they wish they had learned more about OBM during their graduate studies. Then it often leads to a follow-up comment about wanting to make the switch from the clinical to the business world.
What is the Difference Between OBM and ABA?
Initially, many ABA practitioners find OBM challenging, in part, because their coursework lacked thorough coverage of OBM topics and examples. I always remind people that we are behavior analysts first! Regardless of application, our worldview and principles remain the same. As a sub-discipline of Applied Behavior Analysis, clinicians use their observation and contingency analysis skills to unpack behavior-environment relations everywhere they go. Though the language and application may be different, we start at the same place: What is important and significant to the given population?
Can You Give Us an Example of How to Apply OBM in a Business Setting?
In business, you start with what the company does and cares about. As OBMers we ask specific questions:
- What is the mission for the company?
- How does the company make money?
- What are some things that could be done to help the company achieve its mission?
- Who are the key performers that impact how the company meets its mission and organizational goals?
- What employee behavior contributes to the overall business result and goal?
For example, in clinical organizations, one must bill for services rendered as it impacts cash flow for the business. Here, one group of critical performers are the clinicians. The critical behaviors of those clinicians is submitting completed billing paperwork weekly.
We then ask, “What types of antecedents and consequences can contribute to complete, timely paperwork?” The answer would be supervisors providing clear expectations of what “complete and timely paperwork” means and offering feedback when clinicians do (or don’t) meet the expectation.
Behavior analysts identify how behavior leads to the improved results for the organization and then work toward that goal. It’s all part of making socially significant change. Business knowledge can help contribute to the outcome, but it isn’t required. Much like behavior analysts working with children and not having their own, OBMers needn’t run a business to apply their behavior-science expertise.
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Looking to Make a Career Switch to OBM
Before jumping, you might do the following:
- Reach out and find mentors in your area of interest. OBM experts can be of great help in guiding you through the initial hurdles of changing professions.
- Keep your focus broad. Our science and its tools can take businesses far.
- Complete the CE. Get an introduction to the field of OBM and find the practical tools to put into motion right away.
- Look for ways to apply OBM strategies in your current role. Again, you don’t have to be an OBM consultant to apply OBM strategies. Create opportunities where you are and get practice. This CE provides a few tools to help diagnose performance in your current workplace.
Learn more about human behavior in a recent interview Kelly did on Viewpoint with Seeta and Friends. Kelly also discusses more work-related topics in several Florida Today articles, including: delegating responsibilities, finding your focus, and adjusting your work attitude.
Guest blog by Andy Lattal, Ph.D
Sitting here at my desk on a cold, snowy morning watching the snowflakes gently descend to blanket the landscape outside my window (such descriptions reveal why I am a behavior analyst and not a poet), reminds me of the operant (another reminder, too, of why I am not a poet). The operant is one of our most important concepts. Operants are classes of responses that have a similar effect on the environment. That effect can be to operate something that allows their measurement (like a child’s block stacking or a pigeon’s key peck) or to produce a reinforcer or punisher.
Now, you may ask, what does an operant have to do with the snowstorm that is the impetus for this commentary? Well, just about everything. Everyone alive heard in elementary school science class that “no two snowflakes are alike.” It turns out, probabilistically speaking, that this probably isn’t true, but for all intents and purposes let’s say it is close enough to true for me to make the following point: like snowflakes, no two responses are identical. A child solves the same problem slightly differently when confronted with the problem on different occasions or in different settings. A pigeon’s pecks at a key are slightly different on each occasion. Slightly.
Confronted with this problem of slight differences in form of responses, Skinner proposed that psychology not consider the response to be its basic unit, but rather classes of responses that have the same effect on the environment, as noted in the first paragraph above. And with that proposal, the operant was born, in the 1930s.
Skinner’s ideas about operants consolidated the idea of functional definitions of behavior. For example, widely different-appearing responses—complicated things like “attention getting” or “avoidance”—can look very different from one another and yet be maintained by the same consequences—“getting my way”—and thus be more alike than different, even though they may look different.
Functional definitions deriving from Skinner’s notion of the operant, then give us ways of deciding whether or not two responses are related to one another or not. If they are maintained in the same way by the same reinforcer, regardless of their physical form, then they are at least functionally similar. This, in turn, suggests that if we understand how to increase or decrease one member of the operant class, we have a big head start on managing the others. And if two responses “look just alike” but one is controlled by attention and one by negative reinforcement, then we can predict that changing the reinforcer for one will not affect the other.
I often draw looks of skepticism when I first tell my students that if I present a pigeon with a red light and green light and its behavior is the same to both, then the two stimuli are, as far as the pigeon is concerned, the same. But when I put this in the context of the above considerations, the students can begin to discriminate formal or structural definitions (in terms of the properties of “red” and “green”) from the functional control (similar responding to red and green) exerted by the stimuli on behavior. Like the red and green light to the pigeon, all the snowflakes coming down outside my window are functionally similar to me because they control the same response: “beautiful.”
Shauna V. Costello, MA, BCBA
Humans are constantly in search of the newest, brightest solution for problems in everyday life. We download countless apps for tracking calories, learning languages, working out, budgeting—you name it. In education, we do the same. But the newest, brightest thing in teaching and learning might not be the solution.
Education in America: Has it Changed?
The United States of America continues to report abysmal statistics on the state of education. As a nation, we spend more money than any other country on education and schools without reaping better benefits (Kubina & Yurich 2012), known in business terms as little return on investment. No doubt, creating a system that works for teaching the large majority of young people is an enormous feat. B.F. Skinner spent his life studying the science of learning and teaching and made several discoveries on the matter. Early on, he identified less than ideal methods used by schools: rod and cane, stripping of privileges, criticism and ridicule, failing grades, and (ironically) giving extra school work (Skinner 1968). Times have changed and many of those practices have been removed, yet some still remain. For sure, aversive control is alive in classrooms today.
Toward Student Success
Ogden Lindsley, a student of Skinner’s, took initial findings in learning and behavior and applied them to the field of education. In the trenches of classrooms, with practicing teachers, Lindsley built the technology of Precision Teaching (PT) (Lindsley 1990). He extended Skinner’s “the rat knows best” mantra to say, “the learner knows best.” This statement is central to the decision-making process of precision teachers everywhere.
Precision Teaching in Classrooms
Dr. Rick Kubina continues to build on Lindsley’s legacy. In a new CE course titled “What Is Precision Teaching? Learn the Four-Step Process of Precision Teaching and Its Link to Behavior Analysis,” Kubina explains how PT can supplement the already existing curricula of a classroom. Precision Teaching doesn’t necessarily tell us what to use, instead it tells us if what we’re doing works. It’s a measurement system!
Kubina defines Precision Teaching as a “system for precisely defining, measuring, recording, analyzing, and facilitating the subsequent decision making of behavior” (2018). In practice, precision teachers use four steps to bring that technology and system come alive with their students.
- Pinpoint: Selecting a precise label for the behavior of interest.
- Record: Measuring the corrects and errors of the student’s performance.
- Change: Charting performance on the Standard Celeration Chart and making changes when necessary.
- Try Again: Finding other interventions to tackle the pinpoint until the student masters it.
Over the past five decades, PT has made headway toward students excelling and teachers making important decisions regarding their teaching methods. It is time to exit the rut of practices that have become the American educational system. When properly implemented, PT can lift the burden on classroom teachers and put the focus on students.
“The teacher who uses natural contingencies of reinforcement really abandons his role as teacher. He has only to expose the student to an environment; the environment will do the teaching.” (Skinner 1968).
Register for Kubina’s CE course and recent publication, The Precision Teaching Implementation Manual to maximize the potential for teaching children what to learn, how to learn, and the evidence-based teaching procedures for arranging environments that move in that direction.
Shauna V. Costello, MA, BCBA Professional Development Specialist
Shauna Costello earned her Master of Arts degree in behavior analysis from Western Michigan University, while studying under Dr. Jessica Frieder, in May of 2015, and became board certified that same year. Within six months of certification, she became the Behavior Analysis Program Coordinator of Total Education Solutions in Metro Detroit where she focused on in-clinic, in-home, and school consultation for children and young adults. Shauna has a background in college teaching at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, MI, in their BCaBA course sequence. She now works full-time for ABA Technologies, Inc., as the professional development specialist creating online continuing education courses to disseminate the science and technology of behavior analysis.
Kubina, R. M., & Yurich, K. K. L (2012). The Precision Teaching Book. Lemont, PA: Greatness Achieved.
R. Lindsley, Ogden. (1990). Precision teaching: By teachers for children. Teaching Exceptional Children. 22. doi: 10.1177/004005999002200302.
Skinner, B.F. (1968). The Technology of Teaching. Inglewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
GUEST STUDENT BLOG BY CLEDIA CABERLON
Effective tools and interventions are the hallmark of behavior analysis. Across disciplines and populations, applied behavior analysis improves people’s lives. While the science of human behavior can be implemented wherever behavior is found, according to Dr. Dean Fixsen, of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute “Students do not benefit from interventions they do not experience.” Interventions that actually happen (implemented with fidelity) and maintained long-term make the difference. Continuing from last week’s post, we turn to thinking about dissemination in a new way.
Education is a Public Health Problem
In a recent CE titled, “Education is a Public Health Problem: How Behavior Analysis Can Help,” presenter Ronnie Detrich, Ph.D., reviews common approaches schools take when selecting interventions, often in the complete absence of research. He offers five recommendations to make implementations effective and more sustainable. Of his suggestions, manualizing interventions, is worth highlighting here.
Technical principles and jargon pervade our field. When we use (or even translate) those for our audience, we can turn people away and ruin implementation potential. Detrich, aware of such possibility, notes the potential of tucking the principles of behavior analysis into intervention packages that are easily adopted and implemented.
Case in Point: D.A.R.E Failure
Educational packages have a long history of being implemented in public schools, for better or worse. Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E)—a program intended to decrease drug use among youth—is a prime example of the “worse” category. D.A.R.E was widely adopted and federally funded (over $1 billion), but ended with negative outcomes, including increased drug use among participants. What’s the point? It was a packaged program adopted, funded, and implemented by an entire nation. Hence, packages sell, even when they don’t work.
Behavior analysts have major potential to influence, using effective and scientifically-validated programs, of course. Manualizing interventions bridges decision making to get outcomes that last. We have the expertise: instructional design, organizational behavior management, and behavior change procedures. Detrich charismatically lays the groundwork for us to tell our story and achieve greater influence.
Cledia Caberlon speaks fluent Portuguese and will graduate with a Master’s degree in OBM from Florida Institute of Technology in July 2019. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Westfield State University in Massachusetts, where she studied Psychology and Ethnic and Gender Studies. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Cledia worked at the New England Center for Children for two years where she worked directly with adults with developmental disabilities and helped train new employees. This is Cledia’s second semester at ABA Technologies. Cledia’s research interests include: behavioral coaching, performance management, training, and developing systems/processes.
Beyond Behavior Reduction
Often, BCBAs are called to fix the problem behavior of an individual student or address overall classroom management. In both cases, management only accounts for half of effective schooling, leaving the other 50 percent–instruction–untouched. Influencing teacher instruction and classroom management can make a world of difference for every child.
Freshly-minted school-based clinicians should consider two repertoires that can maximize their impact: applying contingency analysis broadly and using storytelling to communicate with others.
Contingency Analysis in Schools
Contingency analysis is our anchor for observing and dissecting functional relations–making sense of environments, behavior, and areas for improvement. In schools, we tend to fixate on student-level contingencies without looking at the meta and macro levels of influence affecting the entire school ecosystem. Rather than insisting on strict behavior-analytic procedures, we can use our far-reaching contingency analysis skills to observe what’s naturally occurring and its effect.
Read up on behavioral systems analysis, metacontingencies, implementation science, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Each offer pearls for analyzing complex systems and opportunities to practice those skills.
Narration and Storytelling
Second, is learning to translate observations, research findings, and interventions into convincing messages. Perspectives on Behavior Science recently dedicated an entire section to the topic of storytelling and narrative analysis. It frames stories as vehicles for influencing people and shaping behavior. Every culture, society, and politician knows how stories can change people and systems. Again, not a new idea.
Ronnie Detrich’s contribution to Perspectives suggests that “…expanding our repertoires and learning how to tell stories that are compelling and engaging” is even more necessary to dissemination than we previously considered. Unfortunately, BCBAs master hardcore technical language and get little practice translating that well for different audiences.
TED Talks are quite successful at presenting messages that move people to think and act. Akash Karia, a world-renowned speaker, inductively studied the influential and effect-driven properties of TED Talks. He identified 23 storytelling techniques that make the most difference. Among them included, show don’t tell, stay positive, and story structure. To Detrich’s points, we could stand to learn and practice such techniques to craft and share our story with the larger community.
Contingency Analysis and Storytelling Converge
Both repertoires are critical for the well-rounded BCBA. Learning to observe complex contingencies, unencumbered by procedures, puts the clinician in a place to find creative solutions for age-old problems. Narration offers a vessel for sharing those insights with people who don’t speak in differential reinforcement and establishing operations.
Learn More: Work Ethically and Effectively
In a recent CE offering, Nicole Postma, BCBA overviewed the current landscape of public school interventions and how to work within them. Be wise to such trends and thoroughgoing in your contingency analysis and narration.