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Behavior Management

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Until recently supervisors have not had a reliable methodology for changing employee behavior. This chapter will discuss how to develop, implement, and evaluate a behavior change program and what specific techniques to use in such a program. The underlying premise is that undesirable or anti-productive behaviors are learned and maintained by events in the environment. Change is accomplished by arranging environmental conditions that promote unlearning undesirable behavior and learning desirable behavior.

Behavior change programs based upon behavior modification technology always follow a systematic procedure. There are five basic steps:
  1. Specify the problem behavior

  2. Observe current levels of the target behavior

  3. Intervene

  4. Evaluate

  5. Maintain

The problem/target behavior can be some undesirable behavior that you want to reduce or eliminate, or some desirable behavior that you want to increase. Desirable behaviors in an organizational setting are those that eventually lead to the accomplishment of predetermined organizational objectives; undesirable behaviors are those that directly or indirectly detract from or inhibit organizational objectives. Contrary to popular opinion, the definition of behavior goes beyond visually observable actions. Research has demonstrated that internal or covert behavior operates by the same principles and can be modified by the same techniques as external or overt behaviors.


One mistake supervisors often make is to begin intervening before they have adequately observed the target behavior as it is. Once we have become aware of a problem, it is very difficult to withhold instituting a change, but careful observation is an essential step in a successful behavior modification program. In addition to making a specific definition of the target behavior, you must analyze how the behavior is controlled and then establish a baseline from which to measure the success of the intervention. These three tasks can often be performed simultaneously.


All behavior modification intervention strategies have the common goal of changing the frequency of the target behavior by increasing desirable behaviors or decreasing undesirable ones. Throughout the intervention the occurrences of the target behavior are counted and charted in order to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Strategies not resulting in the desired increase or decrease can be quickly identified and either modified or discarded.

Before selecting an intervention strategy, it is necessary to identify a desirable behavior to be increased. When the problem behavior is undesirable, translating it into desirable behavior will deemphasize punishment and focus attention on positive behavior change techniques. If the target person knows how to perform the desired behavior but is not doing so, consider using the contingency management strategies. If the target person is not aware of the behavior necessary to perform, you will need to use the shaping technique to teach the employee how to perform the desired behavior.

A number of ethical concerns should be considered as you are developing a program to alter another person's behavior. Primary are the immediate and possible long-term effects upon the target person. A secondary consideration is the potential impact of the intervention and the resulting behavior change upon others in the environment. Whenever possible the target person should be included in each step of the change program. Not only does this assist in resolving some of the ethical issues, but it speeds up the change process and increases chances of success as well as assisting the person in learning how to manage his or her own behavior. Behavior management is not a crisis intervention approach; rather, it is aimed at long-term problem solving and problem prevention. By inviting the employees' active participation in contingency management, you solve the problem at hand at the same time that you teach them how to work and how to solve their work problems. Over the long run you will be relieved from close monitoring and crisis intervention and will be free to invest more in functions such as deciding, planning, coordinating, and directing.


Evaluation is not a separate activity that occurs after the termination of the plan; it is an ongoing process in behavior change programs. Through constant monitoring and counting, the current behavior frequencies are compared with the baseline. As long as the desired behavior steadily increases, the program continues. When a plateau or drop in target behavior frequency occurs, the program should be critically reviewed and revised. By charting Otto's behavior (Figure 5), Georgia can easily evaluate her intervention. Because the frequency of Otto's negative comments about the program has dropped, she can conclude that her intervention has been successful.


All behavior change programs should contain a precisely stated goal. The goal can specify a behavior, such as being on time or making problem-solving comments, or it can specify an outcome, such as a completed proposal or a successful sale. It is important that the goal be quantitative: How many sales? How many days on time? Without a numerical statement you cannot determine when the goal has been reached. The behavior occurring at the desired frequency is the signal for termination of the intervention phase. Maintaining a behavior at the desired frequency is the final step in the behavior change program.

Change programs in which the contingencies were rearranged become self-maintaining as long as the new arrangement of contingencies stays in effect. Suppose that you want to reinforce your staff's prompt arrival at meetings. You might rearrange the existing contingencies (waiting or avoiding waiting) by starting on time instead of starting late and thus reinforce promptness. This behavior change will probably stay in effect as long as the contingencies remain the same-that is, as long as you start the meeting on time. Some change programs have built-in contingencies that reinforce the desired behavior. These programs could be considered self-maintaining. For example, a salesperson's improved skills will be continually reinforced by increased sales. But with interventions that require additional or new reinforcement, building in natural reinforcers becomes an important step. For example, if Arlene's supervisor stops reinforcing her for independent problem solving, Arlene is likely to begin asking for assistance again. Arlene's supervisor needs to develop natural reinforcers as a maintenance procedure.

Natural reinforcers generally fall into two categories: self-reinforcement and reinforcement from others. For example, Arlene's supervisor could encourage Arlene to implement a self-management program to teach herself to use self-reinforcement ("I just made a good suggestion!"). In addition, the supervisor could encourage others in the work environment to reinforce Arlene's suggestions. This is done by reinforcing the reinforcer. For example, positive remarks about Arlene's suggestions from her peers could be prompted ("Lorrie, what did you think of Arlene's suggestion?") and then reinforced ("Fm glad I asked your opinion, Lorrie, because you made a good point."). To do this you simply set up a behavior change program that has as its target behavior increased mutual reinforcement among peers. Collect baseline data on your staff and use appropriately ap plied contingent reinforcement. Monitor the frequency of peers' mutual reinforcement. This barometer reveals the cohesiveness of your team. Reinforcing the reinforcer is an important technique for building a team. Once this has been achieved, the demands on you are reduced, because the team maintains itself and can actually energize you. If you read between the lines in Michael Maccoby's analysis, you will see that this is a technique unique to gamesmen. Another necessary maintenance strategy is to alter the frequency or schedule of reinforcement. Reinforcement of each instance of the behavior {continuous reinforcement) is important in increasing a behavior, but intermittent and unpredictable reinforcement is most effective in maintaining a behavior at a high frequency. But don't make an abrupt switch (that would be contingency shock); slowly stretch or fade out the reinforcement. If a feedback system was used as part of the intervention, continue it into the maintenance phase. Employees can use the feedback to prompt self-reinforcement.

Another tool in maintenance is the antecedent. Whenever possible, build stimulus control into your program. Arrange for antecedents in the environment to prompt the behavior. Reinforce peers for prompting one another, and don't let the antecedent become contaminated. If you want the office to retain stimulus control over work behavior, make sure that socializing occurs only in the social area. Clearly defined rules and limits adhered to fairly and consistently maintain stimulus control. "Smoking in the social area only and never by anyone in the stockroom"-such a rule is a statement of stimulus control. Rules do not have to be rigid, but they must be consistent.

And it is the consequences of rule-following or rule-breaking that reveal consistency. Rules and norms can maintain work-oriented interactions. "People work together around here." This creates an expectation. If cooperative work is subsequently reinforced, the expectation can become a maintaining antecedent. In a similar manner, goals can maintain high productivity. Goals become a maintaining antecedent when goal attainment is consistently reinforced.

The Target Person: You or the Subordinate?

A behavior is not an isolated event; it occurs in an ongoing chain of antecedents and consequences. And a behavior is not merely a behavior-it also functions as a consequence to the behavior that precedes it and as an antecedent to the behavior that follows it.

A functional analysis revealing that your behavior is an antecedent or consequence of a subordinate's undesirable behavior indicates that you must change your behavior to change the subordinate's behavior.

When Georgia discovered that it was her responses to Otto's negative comments that were maintaining his behavior, she had to change her behavior to eliminate the negative comments. A self-management program can help you effect the desired change easily.
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