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Contingency Management Strategies

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Rearrange the Contingencies

This is the simplest intervention. Contingencies describe the behavior-consequence sequence, "If you work eight hours, then I will pay you $40"-this statement describes the contingency relationship between work and pay. The "then-consequence" is contingent on the "if-behavior": Receiving $40 is contingent on working eight hours. A functional analysis (identifying the ABCs) is performed in part to discover the current contingencies, or the "if-then" relationship between the behavior and the consequences. "If Otto makes a negative comment about the program, then I will pay attention to him." Rearranging the contingencies means altering the if-then relationship so that the then-consequence follows a different if-behavior. For example, "If Otto makes a problem-solving comment, then I will pay attention to him; if he makes a negative comment about the program, then I will ignore him." Here, Georgia has rearranged the contingencies so that positive attention follows problem-solving comments but not negative comments. This strategy does not require adding anything new to the environment. It does not require new programs or bonuses or more money or more attention; the existing reinforcers and punishers are simply rearranged.

Contingency rearrangement is most frequently employed with undesirable behaviors that occur often and that are reinforced by a positive consequence. A desirable behavior is identified and substituted into the if-then statement. Usually the desirable behavior selected is one that is incompatible with the undesirable behavior. Two behaviors are said to be incompatible when they cannot be performed simultaneously. Examples of incompatible behaviors include: talking, being silent; sitting at desk, walking around; making a positive comment, making a negative comment; being on time, being late.

Rearrangement of contingencies is also appropriate when the if-then sequence is out of order. Consider Jim's example: "Charlie has a really bad attitude, so I thought if I gave him a few breaks he'd shape up and be more committed. But it doesn't work. Last week he wanted to take off a couple of hours early. I said it was OK with me if he got his sales log in the next afternoon. Well I didn't see that log for four days!" This is a then-if sequence. In such situations the contingencies need to be rearranged: The consequence must follow the behavior if it is to effectively increase that behavior. The consequence of getting off a couple of hours early must be made contingent on a completed log sheet.

The final situation in which contingency rearrangement is employed is when a low-frequency desirable behavior is followed by no consequence or a negative one. For example, if Ralph is on time, then his supervisor Sam says nothing. Or if Betty makes a suggestion, then her supervisor Varner criticizes the suggestion. Ralph's on-time behavior is being extinguished, and Betty's suggestions are being punished. Here, the then-consequence needs to be changed from negative to positive.

Identify Existing Reinforcers

Once again observation is the primary tool. The necessity of detailed and systematic observation cannot be overemphasized. The points of observation are the consequences following behaviors that the target person performs often (high-probability behaviors) and activities or behaviors that the person chooses to engage in during discretionary time.

The technical definition of a reinforcer is "an event that increases the future probability of the behavior it follows." Therefore, those behaviors the target person performs frequently are usually followed by a reinforcer. Of course, sometimes the reinforcer may be the avoidance of punishment. For reasons discussed earlier, negative reinforcement is difficult to observe. Furthermore, it is not suggested that supervisors employ negative reinforcement in rearranging contingencies. That is, an if-then statement such as "If Betty makes a suggestion, then I will not criticize her" is less desirable than "If Betty makes a suggestion, then I will make an appreciative comment." The use of negative reinforcers (withholding punishment) promotes working to avoid punishment and generally results in the need for constant close monitoring of the employee. This obviously reduces the time supervisors have available for other management functions. It also deprives employees of satisfaction in their work.

The task is to identify positive reinforcers that currently exist in the target person's environment and to insert them into the if-then statement. Thus, identify several behaviors the person performs of ten, and look for positive consequences. Just as in identifying the problem behavior, other high-probability behaviors should be clearly defined. Keep a record of each behavior and its consequences.

For example, Ralph's supervisor identified two of Ralph's high-frequency behaviors: telling jokes and talking to the secretary. Through observation, the supervisor noted that Ralph's joking behavior was usually followed by statements of the secretary indicating that Ralph was funny and clever, and Ralph's talking to the secretary was usually followed by her rapid completion of his work. This suggests that hearing that he is funny and clever and seeing rapidly completed typing are reinforcing to Ralph.

Betty's supervisor identified making agreeing statements and volunteering to do busywork as high-probability behaviors. For Betty, the consequence of agreement was usually a statement attesting to her competence, and volunteering to do busywork was followed by comments indicating her indispensability. Betty's supervisor can consider these as possible reinforcers for Betty. Now Ralph and Betty's super visors have some possible consequences to insert into the if-then contingency statement: "If Ralph is on time, then I will tell the secretary to make his work high priority." "If Betty makes a suggestion, then I will comment on her competency."

The second source of existing positive reinforcers is the high-probability behaviors or activities themselves. These may be actual work activities or leisure activities, but they must be activities or behaviors over which the target person has some discretion. Except for those who perform repetitive menial tasks, most employees have choices of which assignments they will work on at any given moment.

Brian, for example, is a secretary. He types memos, letters, short reports, and long reports; copies material; and files papers. Brian has considerable discretion in choosing when he will perform each of these tasks. Suppose that Brian generally types memos, letters, and short reports first, leaving filing and typing long reports until last. For Brian, typing memos, letters, and short reports can be considered high-probability behaviors. Likewise, Brian's supervisor might observe that Brian drinks eight or nine cups of coffee each day and during breaks he usually makes personal phone calls. These can be considered high-probability leisure behaviors.

The Premack principle of reinforcement states that a high-probability behavior can reinforce a low-probability behavior. Thus, Brian's supervisor can consider any of Brian's high-probability behaviors as potential reinforcers to insert into an if-then statement. If Brian tends to put off typing long reports and filing, his supervisor can assist him in being more productive by rearranging the contingencies and using work to reinforce work. The contingencies are rearranged so that high-probability work behavior follows low-probability work behavior. For example, if Brian types a long report, then he can type five letters. The Premack principle is one of the most valuable and potent tools for supervisors. Once again it is not necessary to add anything new to the environment to increase performance.

When observing consequences of employee behavior, supervisors all too frequently discover to their dismay that there are few positive reinforcers in operation. This is common-most work environments are not very reinforcing. Rarely are supervisors deliberately punitive; they become punitive through frustration. Punishment gets immediate (although temporary) results, and the vicious cycle of being punished by the supervisor and working to avoid that punishment becomes entrenched.

There are two situations when contingency rearrangement is difficult to use. First, when the target behavior is one in which the reinforcer is consumed by the employee, it is not usually possible to rear range the contingencies, because the reinforcement cannot be separated from the behavior. The employee who drinks too much at lunch and the one who makes frequent personal phone calls are examples: Each sip of the cocktail is immediately reinforced by the alcohol, and the friend's response reinforces the personal call. Second, when the target behavior is intermittently reinforced, it is resistant to extinction. Because intermittent reinforcers occur so infrequently, it is difficult to identify them so that they can be rearranged.
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