Over the last several years, the topic of “how-to-do” Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) project comes up from individuals who are new to the field and those who have been practicing OBM for years and yet are looking to raise their professional game. This is not an introduction to OBM, check out this article for an intro. The purpose of this article is to answer the question –

How does one do an OBM project?

Let’s put some stakes in the ground.  First stake, an OBM project is the specific use of applied behavior analysis, the science of behavior, to positively influence change, any change, in workplace performance.  The project could be a small or large-scale change from procedural changes on daily activities to a major merger/acquisition. The project could be focused on a small team or a large department or business unity. The OBM project can be to improve an end to end process incorporating multiple departments (e.g., HR, Operations, Sales, Marketing), or a daily work practice (e.g., proper lifting techniques).  Second stake, an OBM project follows the scientific method towards achieving tangible results such as revenue/sales, quality, productivity, safety, etc. From setting clear goals and expectations, measuring performance, determining the contributing factors to the problem at hand, and managing solutions through analytics and evaluations, an OBM project is precise and scientific in implementation. Third stake, OBM is interdisciplinary.  The foundation is in behavior analysis, founded by Dr. B.F. Skinner. However, the fields of industrial engineering, industrial/organizational psychology, organizational design and development, and the theory in organizational behavior have influenced both OBM has a scientific discipline, and the world of business.

With those stakes in the ground, allow me to describe what an OBM project is. Can you think of at least one problem at work you would like to see improve?  When I ask this question to clients or to an audience when presenting on the topic of OBM, a resounding “yes” comes through either from a head nod, or a hand raise, or an actual vocal “yes!”  An OBM project starts with an important area for change that impacts business results. The purpose is clear, improvement is needed. Once we have our “yes,” we define it clearly for all stakeholders.  What is the “yes” and why is it so important. The next set of questions by clients inevitably shape to something like ‘ok, so how do we go about improving it? How do we use OBM to make a difference?” The consultant answer of “it depends” doesn’t help anyone. This article is intended to provide a framework for how-to conduct an OBM project. The elements of the framework are intended for the OBM practitioner, as well as any executive or manager to focus their efforts when implementing a project with OBM as the methodology for positive change. The framework is what I call the 5 P’s of an OBM project which I have found to be a successful framework no matter how small or large the project is.

 

Purpose

The purpose of the project sets the tone, direction and overarching goal of the project.  Without clarity in purpose, what the heck are we working towards. You know you are doing an OBM project when:

  • There is a clear vision statement of the project, giving everyone an inspiring picture of the change and the goals to achieve.
  • Everyone can answer the question “why are we doing this project now versus last year versus wait until next year?”  From the CEO chair to the hourly employee, the “why” to a project should be answered by everyone.
  • There is no guessing of what success looks like.  We know how we are measuring progress related to the change, the end result, and the satisfaction of those affected by the change.  From productivity to lag time in a process, to revenue and customer satisfaction – measuring success is key.
  • Who does what is absolutely clear.  Change projects require people to behave in new ways, teams to make the change happen, and managers to manage the change.  The roles and responsibilities of an OBM project are clear from the onset.

 

Policies

Every company has policies, in some cases too many.  OBM projects are strongly supported by corporate policies, and in some cases new policies need to be written to ensure a successful OBM project. You know you are doing an OBM project when:

  • The executive team is driving the change with policy.  Existing policies are reviewed and possibly modified, new policies are written, and executive speak to the policy to ensure clear link between policy and the OBM project.
  • The policy guides the way people make decisions.  An OBM project looks to make decision making clear and data based.  One set of data is the very policies that are intended to govern decision making.  
  • The policy is enforced, lending strong consequence management to the OBM project. No surprises, follow the policy, positive reinforcement can be the focus, don’t follow the policy, negative consequences will follow.  This helps the OBM project maintain its course to making a positive difference. Loosely executed policies don’t make for a successful OBM project.
  • Large scale OBM projects include new policies, governing new behavior. Typically, large scale changes require new behavior, thus policies set new rules to follow at a minimum.
  • The intention of the policy is to see behavior governed by rules and expected consequences, is actually happening. OBM projects are served well by such governance.

 

Procedures

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Everyday people behave to make work happen.  Behind the behavior there are expected steps to follow (hopefully).  These steps are what make up a procedure. Fundamentally, an OBM project includes written procedures to achieve the desired behavior and results.  You know you are doing an OBM project when:

  • The procedures are Linked to a policy.  There is no guessing, the procedure reinforces the policies, thus the desired behavior occurs as do the results.
  • Implementing procedures includes
    • engaging the people who do the work,
    • written job aides linked to the procedure, such as a one-page quick reference guide,
    • a detailed, no kidding, every step and decision point, multi-page procedure is written by the very people doing the work and a subject matter expert,
    • a process flow map, illustrating the sequence of steps, who does what when, and the outcome linked to the steps.
  • Procedures are intended to influence behavior; thus, performance measures are in place to evaluate successful compliance to the procedures.

 

Preparing

Every change project looks to ensure people are prepared for the change.  What this translates to is work before the change is implemented, and the larger the scale of the change, the more preparation goes into supporting people for the change.  You know you are doing an OBM project when:

  • Communications are constant and consistent. Organizations are served well when implementing an OBM project includes various communication vehicles such as kick off meetings, town halls, ongoing stewardship meetings, and ongoing communications about progress.
  • Training is targeted, focusing on skill knowledge and acquisition, and transfer of training to the job.  The OBM practitioner makes great use of instructional design principles, behavioral skills training, and work to fluent performance.
  • Materials are designed to help people on the job. From communication materials (Brochures) to specific job aides such as checklists.  All materials help prepare people to perform the job, again design such materials before you implement.
  • Technology today is abundant and necessary to drive performance.  The OBM practitioner looks to utilize technology (hardware, software, machinery) to maximize performance as well as evaluate is technology hinders performance.

 

Positive Reinforcement

The use of positive reinforcement (R+) is fundamental in an OBM project. I won’t get into the science and history of R+ here, however for the OBM practitioner, there should be no surprise of its positioning in the framework.  Performance improvement requires positive reinforcement. That’s a bold statement to make, but I am sticking to it. This is beyond the old carrot versus stick way of thinking. Positive reinforcement is a science-based approach to making a positive difference in people’s lives at work. You know you are doing an OBM project when you can answer these questions:

  • Are we supporting people throughout the change, providing positive reinforcement for problem solving, raising issues, and helping one another during the change?
  • How is performance being monitored to ensure we are making data-based decisions and reinforcing such decision making?
  • What happens when we see desired behaviors and the outcomes of the behaviors? Do we recognize it? Reward it?
  • How immediate versus delayed is reinforcement?
  • How consistent and predictable is reinforcement?
  • Do we see desired behavior improving or at high steady rates increase?

 

The 5P’s of an OBM project provide a framework.  There are tools and techniques to apply within each element of the framework such as business case for change, writing techniques on policies and procedures, instructional design principles and the fundamentals of behavioral skills training, and of course critical elements of positive reinforcement (measurement, preferences).  I argue that without a framework, the tools and techniques are useless, may provide short term solutions without long term gains.

 

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