Applied Behavior Science in Organizations
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Applied Behavior Science in Organizations

Consilience of Historical and Emerging Trends in Organizational Behavior Management

Ramona A. Houmanfar, Mitch Fryling, Mark P. Alavosius, Ramona A. Houmanfar, Mitch Fryling, Mark P. Alavosius

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Applied Behavior Science in Organizations

Consilience of Historical and Emerging Trends in Organizational Behavior Management

Ramona A. Houmanfar, Mitch Fryling, Mark P. Alavosius, Ramona A. Houmanfar, Mitch Fryling, Mark P. Alavosius

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Applied Behavior Science in Organizations provides a compelling overview of the history of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) and the opportunity it presents for designing and managing positive work environments that can in turn have a positive impact on society.

The book brings together leading experts from industry and research settings to provide an overview of the historical approaches in Organizational Behavior Management. It begins with an introduction to recognized practices in OBM and the applications of fundamental principles of behavior analysis to a variety of performance problems in organizational settings. The book then highlights how organizational practices and consumers' behavior combine in a complex confluence to meet an organization's goals and satisfy consumer appetites, whilst often unintentionally affecting the wellbeing of organizational members. It argues that the science of behavior has a responsibility to contribute to the safety, health and wellbeing of organizational members, consumers of organizational products, and beyond. Finally, the book recognizes the essential role of organizations in initiating, shaping, and sustaining the development of more nurturing and reinforcing work environments, through discussion of the need for innovation while adapting and responding to growing social upheaval, technological advances, and environmental concerns, alongside crises in the global economy, health, education, and environment.

Showcasing emerging work by internationally recognized scholars on the application of behavior science in organizations, the book will be an essential read for all students and professionals of Organizational Behavior Management, as well as those interested in using organizational applications to create new models of management.

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Performance Management in Organizations

David A. Wilder, Daniel Cymbal, and Nicole Gravina
DOI: 10.4324/9781003198949-1
Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) is a sub-discipline of applied behavior analysis (ABA) that focuses on the application of behavior analytic principles and procedures to improve performance in business, industry, government, and human service settings. This chapter describes the relationship between performance management (PM), a sub-discipline of OBM, and related disciplines and provides a brief history of PM (and OBM more generally). We then review performance analysis, the assessment component of PM, and describe various PM interventions. Finally, we conclude by noting the strengths and limitations of the field and by recommending future directions for PM research and practice.


Although much behavior analytic work focuses on teaching skills to children or decreasing problem behavior exhibited by individuals with disabilities, behavior analytic principles have been applied to a variety of populations and settings. When these principles are studied and applied to organizations, the resulting discipline is called OBM (Wilder et al., 2009). PM is a replicable technology applied at the individual level in an organization; its focus is on all aspects of individual behavior in organizations. Performance is a function of an interaction between a person’s behavior and her environment (Gilbert, 1978). Although PM is sometimes used as a synonym for OBM, it is better thought of as a sub-discipline of OBM; other OBM sub-disciplines include behavioral systems analysis (BSA) and behavioral safety. BSA focuses on processes and systems within an organization (e.g., Chapter 5), and behavioral safety focuses on assessing risk and increasing safe behavior, often at the individual level (e.g., Chapter 2). Table 1.1 provides a diagrammatic overview of the relationship between behavior analysis, ABA, OBM, and PM. A fourth area of behavior analysis, behavior analytic practice, is sometimes included in descriptions of the discipline, but has been excluded in Table 1.1 for efficiency.
TABLE 1.1 Relationship between Behavior Analysis, OBM, and OBM sub-disciplines
OBM and PM are also related to Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology (Bucklin et al., 2000). OBM and I-O Psychology both focus on the application of psychological (behavioral) knowledge to work settings. These disciplines also share a common history in that they were both influenced by the Hawthorne experiment, which is a series of studies conducted in the 1920s at an electric power plant outside of Chicago. One of the most important findings of the Hawthorne studies was that a variety of environmental changes in work settings, including simply observing employees, can affect worker performance and productivity.
OBM and I-O Psychology differ in that I-O Psychology uses a more traditional, hypothetical deductive model of inquiry, in which a formal hypothesis is tested. OBM, in contrast, uses an inductive model of inquiry in which researchers study topics of interest as they arise. Formal hypothesis testing is generally not used. The use of the inductive approach is partially a result of one of the tenets of behaviorism (the philosophy of the science of behavior). That tenant says that the behavior of individual organisms is of primary interest. One of the benefits of the inductive approach is that it encourages studying topics of immediate interest, even if the findings upon which a study is based are accidental.
The two disciplines also differ in that, unlike I-O Psychology, OBM has a unified theoretical foundation (behaviorism). I-O Psychology has a more eclectic theoretical foundation, and draws mainly from cognitive and social psychology. Also, practitioners of I-O Psychology spend much of their professional time on selection and placement, whereas OBM practitioners focus on analyzing the variables that contribute to performance deficits and then implementing performance improvement programs with employees (Bucklin et al., 2000). Finally, I-O Psychology, which is represented by the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP), is quite large. It includes more than 8,000 members ( In contrast, the OBM Network (OBMN), a special interest group of the Association for Behavior Analysis, International, includes just over 300 members.


The history of PM largely mirrors the history of OBM. Although applications of behavior analysis to business and industry began to appear as early as the late 1960s, the precursors to the discipline of OBM date back even further (see Dickinson, 2001, for a detailed history of OBM). In the middle of the century, B.F. Skinner (1953) wrote about wage schedules and reinforcing high-quality work performance. Later, the first organization devoted to performance improvement, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), was established in 1962. Although not entirely behavior analytic in its approach, ISPI claimed many behavior analysts among its founding members (Dickinson, 2001). Edward Feeney started the first behavior analytic consulting firm in the mid-1960s; his success was even highlighted in the popular press, including the Harvard Business Review and Fortune magazines.
In the 1970s, the discipline expanded rapidly, with the founding and expansion of consulting firms. The flagship journal in the field, the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM) was founded in 1977. Aubrey Daniels served as JOBM’s first editor; he was also the founder of one of the first OBM consulting firms (Behavioral Systems, Inc.). (Dickinson, 2001). In the years since, there have been many firms specializing in OBM and the practice is now also provided by some insurance companies.
JOBM’s mission is to publish articles on “scientific principles to improve organizational performance through behavior change.” Conceptual, experimental, and applied articles are published, and both academics and practitioners contribute to the journal. JOBM is the official journal of the OBMN, and many OBMN members meet bi-annually at an OBMN-specific conference.
Today, by many measures, OBM is doing quite well. The number of JOBM submissions has steadily increased, and the journal’s impact factor has followed suit (R. Houmanfar, personal communication, June 20, 2019). OBM consulting firms, many of which focus on performance management, provide services to fortune 500 clients around the globe. The number of academic training programs in OBM has increased, and additional programs are planned.


PM is based upon the science of behavior, or behavior analysis. A number of basic principles constitute this science. A very basic description of these principles follows and will help to illustrate the importance of the scientific foundation of PM. Reinforcement is an increase in the future frequency of a behavior as a result of the addition of a stimulus (positive reinforcement) or the removal of a stimulus (negative reinforcement). As an example, a praise statement by a manager may function as positive reinforcement for an employee’s performance. Removal of protective equipment, when it enables easier movement, may function as negative reinforcement for an employee’s performance.
Punishment is a decrease in the future frequency of behavior as a result of the addition of a stimulus (positive punishment) or the removal of a stimulus (negative punishment). As an example, a reprimand from a manager may function as positive punishment for an employee’s performance. Decreasing the amount of bonus money available may function as negative punishment for an employee’s performance.
Stimulus control involves the control of behavior by environmental stimuli. These stimuli acquire control over behavior because they have been correlated with reinforcement or punishment in the past. For example, the presence of a manager may come to control employee performance because the manager himself has been correlated with punishment in the past. These principles, and others, guide decision making in PM.


PM applications involve multiple formal steps. First, the performance of interest is pinpointed, or operationally defined. This is an important first step, as a poorly defined pinpoint may derail assessment and intervention. In some cases, pinpoints are precise descriptions of a behavior. These topographical pinpoints, or descriptions of what behavior looks like, enable PM practitioners to clearly identify the occurrence of behavior. However, the outcome of behavior, or an accomplishment, is often more important, so pinpoints describing results or accomplishments are more often used (Gilbert, 1978).
Next, the pinpoint(s) are measured repeatedly. Then, a performance analysis is conducted. Based on the results of the performance analysis, a PM intervention or performance improvement plan is devised and implemented. Measurement of the pinpoint continues during this phase. If the plan is effective, management is trained to implement it. Finally, the cost–benefit ratio and the social validity of the plan are assessed. Although each step is important, much of PM centers around two major phases: conducting a performance analysis and implementing a PM intervention. These phases are crucial; poor execution of either may lead to a suboptimal outcome.


Performance analysis (PA) focuses on the assessment of contingencies affecting individual performance in organizations. Although there are some differences, PA is akin to functional assessments in clinical applications of behavior analysis. Clinical applications of behavior analysis focus on behavioral excesses or problematic behavior, such as aggression or property destruction that occurs too often. In PA, the focus of assessment is typically an employee performance problem, such as inadequate job completion, tardiness, or unsafe performance. PA is typically conducted before a performance management intervention or performance improvement plan is implemented; PA results are used to inform the performance improvement plan. Although focusing on the organization as a system is preferable to focusing only on a specific performance deficit exhibited by an employee (Abernathy, 2010), it is nevertheless important to describe PA and PM as part of an overall systems approach.
Three methods of PA exist: indirect, descriptive, and experimental. Indirect methods include interviews, checklists, and questionnaires completed by a supervisor or manager. Largely due to their efficiency, indirect methods have become the most popular method of PA (conducted in about 14% of studies describing an intervention in JOBM; Wilder et al., 2018). Austin (2000) describes a number of indirect tools that have been developed. For example, Mager and Pipe (1970) utilized a flowchart consisting of questions designed to determine whether a performance problem was due to a skill deficit or a problem with motivation. Based on the results, the consultant is instructed to design an intervention to address one or both of these issues. Gilbert (1978) provided another informant-based troubleshooting method to be used when consultants initially assess performance. This method includes questions in six areas, including information, equipment, incentives, motivation, knowledge, and the capacity of the performer. Finally, Kent (1986) provides a “problem diagnosis algorithm” that includes 25 questions designed to identify some of the reasons for poor performance. Questions about priorities, distractions, and motivation are included. Marilyn Gilbert (2019) cautions against the sole use of verbal report to assess performance and suggests direct observation should also be used; some recent informant methods have incorporated this.
Perhaps the most common, empirically-supported indirect method of PA is the Performance Diagnostic Checklist (PDC; Austin, 2000). The PDC is an informant-based tool designed to identify the variables contributing to poor employee performance. The PDC was developed based on research examining the ways in which experts solve performance problems. The tool includes four domains, each with five questions. The domains are Antecedents and Information, Equipment and Processes, Knowledge and Skills, and Consequences. The PDC was designed to be conducted during an interview. That is, the consultant or behavior analyst interviews a supervisor or manager about an employee performance problem. The original PDC includes no formal scoring mechanism, but consultants are instructed to count the number of questions indicating a problem in each domain. Based on PDC results, consultants then design an intervention that addresses the domains that are problematic. The PDC has been used in health care, restaurant, and retail settings.
Shier et al. (2003), in the first empirical evaluation of the PDC, used a package intervention to increase compliance with cleaning tasks at a grocery store. The PDC was used to assess and determine intervention components, and indicated problems related to Antecedents and Information as well as Consequences. Two intervention components, task clarification and feedback, were implemented, resulting in performance increases in all departments.
Doll et al. (2007) evaluated the PDC at a ski shop. The PDC was one of two performance analyses conducted. Though researchers did not identify the deficient domains indicated by the PDC, they concluded that both antecedents and consequences were needed to occasion and maintain the desired performance. The researchers implemented a package intervention consisting of task clarification, graphed and task-specific feedback; cleaning behaviors improved.
Gravina et al. (2008) used the PDC to inform an intervention to increase task performance at a physical therapy clinic. A package intervention was implemented based on PDC results, with a component from three indicated domains: task clarification, equipment manipulations, and feedback, which corresponded to Antecedents and Information, Equipment and Processes, and Consequences, respectively. The percentage o...

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Normes de citation pour Applied Behavior Science in Organizations

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2021). Applied Behavior Science in Organizations (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2021) 2021. Applied Behavior Science in Organizations. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2021) Applied Behavior Science in Organizations. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Applied Behavior Science in Organizations. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.