Chief Motivating Officers Improving the World at Work Thu, 09 Jan 2020 17:09:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ABAI 2020 Workshop: Value-based Performance Scorecards Thu, 09 Jan 2020 17:07:56 +0000

ABAI 2020 Workshop: Value-based Performance Scorecards


ABAI 2020

901 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

8 am to 3 pm EST

Starting in...








BECCA TAGG (Del Mar Center for Behavioral Health), SHANNON BIAGI (Chief Motivating Officers), KAITLIN SHAFFER (Del Mar Center for Behavioral Health)
Description: Performance scorecard systems have been demonstrated to be an effective method by which to increase the performance of staff members through clarifying expectations, providing a means of objective feedback, and encouraging data-based reinforcement. In this hands-on workshop, a case study of a novel application of performance scorecards will be shared, which focuses on broader organizational values rather than solely on traditional business results. Benefits of these types of systems, including their role in reducing bias and increasing value-driven behavior, will be discussed. During the workshop, participants will take steps towards developing their own scorecard systems, individually or in teams, as the presenters walk through how the case study was developed.

Learning Objectives: During this workshop, participants will:

Identify how bonus/scorecards can impact organizational behavior

  • Recognize the process followed during the case study presented for developing the bonus/scorecard system
  • Associate common value terms with the behaviors that represent those values
  • Determine the best fit of different strategies of measurement for value-based behaviors based on organizational factors and culture
  • Identify potential benefits of bonus/scorecard systems
  • Match limitations encountered during the case study to their proposed resolutions
  • Define the organizational performance category or value-driven behavior they are seeking to impact
  • Select and operationalize the behaviors and results that contribute to those performance categories
  • Determine the strategy for measuring the behaviors and results, including how they will be measured, how often, and who is responsible for collecting and reporting the data
  • Calculate the range of measurement for each behavior/result, including the lowest acceptable value, the median value, the targeted value, and the stretch goal
  • Assign priority weights based upon several factors, including strategic importance, relative control, company goals, etc.
  • Assemble the scorecard with the information they’ve gathered Identify best practices for historical data testing, piloting, and incentive program development
  • Plan for launching full scale, including how to monitor social validity and data trends
Podcast – The Buzz with B&B Episode 2: Biagi on Sustainability, Mindful Living and Her Teeny Tiny House Mon, 09 Dec 2019 16:03:32 +0000 In this episode, Biscontini grills Biagi on her zero waste goals, building her tiny house and meatless meals. We review sustainable behaviors for anyone making an effort to live a cleaner, more mindful life. Biagi speaks, behaviorally, to everyone interested in preserving the planet in ways that work for them. Whether we’re making giant leaps (not recommended, as we’ll see) or small changes, taking control of our behavior allows us to effectively improve the health of animals, the planet and ourselves. 

Check out for more information about our coaching community!

Making Sense of Mission Thu, 07 Nov 2019 23:06:06 +0000


“A mission statement is not something you write overnight… It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.” – Stephen Covey


Too often, organizational mission statements meet one of two fates: One, they are too long and convoluted, tucked away in an annual report or employee handbook, never to be heard of again, or… two, they are plastered on the walls, embedded in everyone’s email signature and on their coffee cups and pens, and yet no one understands how they contribute to the organization’s mission in the work that they are actually doing on a daily basis. I would say, in my experience, it has been a nearly 50/50 split between these two outcomes, and ultimately, neither result in action or impact. What is the point of a mission statement if it doesn’t result in behavior change and guidance?

Your organization’s mission statement should be used to identify your team’s “true north” – where are we going as a company? Each person should ultimately know how their contributions help move us towards the mission, acting as an antecedent for the behaviors we need them to engage in for the good of the business. 

Here are some key questions to pose to your team to analyze your organizational mission statement:

  • What IS our mission statement? Let’s start at square one: locate your organization’s mission statement.
  • Does the mission statement describe:
    • Why the organization exists? This is absolutely critical, and should be concrete enough to be measured. See the second-to-last bullet below for more on measurement.
    • Who our company intends to impact? Reaching the appropriate audience is essential for avoiding what we call “scope creep” – trying to reach everyone, you end up reaching no one.
    • How we plan to impact them? What does our business do to impact the folks mentioned above?
  • How do we communicate our mission to our employees? Mission needs to be included in conversations throughout employment, not just upon hire. When we take on new projects and initiatives, we should bring up the mission and ensure that any new directions we go are still on track towards “true north”. An interesting litmus test is to ask a random group of employees to recite the mission without looking. Can they do it? Could YOU? I like to make my mission statements short enough to be easily memorized and recalled, and encourage folks to train their teams to fluency. Fluency increases the likelihood that employees will actually USE the mission statement in their daily decision-making.
  • How do we communicate our mission to our clients? External consumers should see the connection between how we interact with them and the mission of the organization, and soliciting for feedback related to mission-aligned behavior can be a great way to confirm this.
  • How do we objectively measure progress towards our mission? This is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT! What data can we collect that indicate we are moving towards our mission? What are leading and lagging indicators that can be reviewed objectively by our team, and how can we use the data to determine our course as a business? This may seem like a daunting task, but an organizational behavior management consultant can help demystify how to define and measure progress towards an organizational mission.
  • What behaviors do employees engage in that exemplify working towards the mission? Be prepared for this to vary across departments and job positions. How does our front line impact the mission? How about supervisors? What about the admin team, the finance department, and marketing? Have a discussion with those employees and help paint the big picture for these folks, and express to them how important their contributions are to helping the organization make an impact. And then reinforce, reinforce, reinforce!!

Take some time to review these questions with your team, and you may find some potential room for improvement in how your organization defines and analyzes its mission. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us for more information about a behavior analytic approach to mission statements! See below for an example of how we break down our mission:



CMO Reviews… Juliet’s School of Possibilities Fri, 13 Sep 2019 18:59:14 +0000


Book title: Juliet’s School of Possibilities

Authors: Laura Vanderkam

Time to Read: ~55 minutes

Major themes: Prioritization

Like most of my books, I tend to grab whatever looks interesting in my local thrift shops or other used book store. I picked up this thin book at a local library’s book sale. Remarkably, it was published this year (2019), and my copy appears to have not even been read! Needless to say, it went right into the stash of ‘fill-a-bag-for-$5’ treasures.

After reading The One-Minute Manager, this sweet story was so refreshing. The author definitely made imagery and relatable characters a huge priority, and not at the expense of reading time. I was able to get through the book in just under an hour, feeling good and with an idea of next steps: my ideal outcome of a read like this.

The story begins with a young consultant, Riley, driving to a business retreat hosted by a Martha Stewart-esque home business mogul. We watch first hand as her life begins to crumble – broken relationships, lost clients, friends, romantic interests, her job on the line… all due to the inability of Riley to manage priorities. Between long bouts of emails on her phone, which climb well into the thousands, our protagonist has some interesting interactions with Juliet, the hostess of the business retreat, that open her eyes to the errors Riley has made in managing her life.

Now, I’m not exactly sure if our friend Juliet here is some kind of sorceress, with the visions and the impeccable work-life balance… regardless of how the lesson arises, the underlying theme is summed up in the following quote:

Expectations are infinite.
Time is finite.
You are always choosing.
Choose well.

Basically, we make conscious decisions from moment to moment on how to allocate our responding, and this needs to be based on our ultimate visions of our lives. When we use our time, we need to make sure that our behaviors are moving us towards the goals that help make our visions into reality. Often, we get caught up in menial, tedious tasks that are thrust upon us by others, and that aren’t contributing to what we ultimately want to do, and those things usurp our energy and impede our ability to get where we want to be.

The underlying message in the story is good, and there are some helpful questions and activities in the back to help one think through priorities, goals, and the like. My only critique would be that it’s very surface-level, and without the underlying knowledge of what makes a good goal, what’s a reasonable shaping step, how do I get from A to B… There is a lot more to think about. One cannot simply ignore every email, nor does everyone have an assistant (like both Juliet and Riley) to help manage that time-suck. However, the book is a nice trigger for these conversations to begin.

Overall, I give it a 4 out of 5 stars. The story is lovely, the characters and their struggles are relatable for me, but I would love a little more in the ways of concrete action steps. Knowing how these books are usually written, there will be more to come; workshops, workbooks, etc. This likely won’t be the last story I read from this author, as it felt more like a leisure read than a business book.  

CMO Reviews… The One-Minute Manager Wed, 28 Aug 2019 16:23:19 +0000


Book title: The One Minute Manager

Authors: Spencer & Johnson

Time to Read: ~35 minutes

Major themes: Management skills

This tiny tome is a VERY popular book among mainstream businesses (I’ve collected 5-6 copies from local thrift stores), so I have selected it as my first CMO Reviews… feature. I’m hoping to make this a regular thing, so if you all catch me slacking… send me a pestering email. Accountability is important!

Now, down to business. This book is a super quick read, and perhaps for a complete newbie manager, full of little gems. For my experienced OBM folks, or behavior analysts in general that understand “IT’S ALL THE SAME SCIENCE”, you may not get as much from the read. But for 35-45 minutes of effort, why not settle in with a cup of tea and take a break with this book?

The story, while a little (read: extremely) hokey, follows a young man who contacts a manager in another town who has a reputation for getting great results from his people. This young man wants to learn the manager’s secrets, and after a really odd interaction with the guy (he reprimands the kid for asking the man to repeat himself… not exactly great leadership when someone is trying to learn something from you…) is sent to talk to a few employees who report to the,aptly named One Minute Manager.

Each conversation begins and ends exactly the same. If you’re asking “who moved the cheese?” (another one of Johnson’s books, which I liked FAR more), it’s at the beginning and end of these chapters. Maybe I’m just not into the allegories; I find them tacky. I didn’t feel that way with Patrick Lencioni’s allegories, though, so I may need to start analyzing exactly what erks me about Spencer and Johnson. But I digress.

Cheesy story aside, the main focus of the one minute management strategy are goals, praise, and reprimands. Our young protagonist learns about each of these from the three employees he speaks to. A summary is below, from the book.

 Goals: The goal-setting practices discussed in this book are pretty good, but definitely need some fleshing out. There is an emphasis of concrete, measurable, observable behavior throughout, which is great, and that employees should guide the process of goal development. This last point I agree with partially: research has indicated that, if left to set their own goals, workers tend to either set them to low (to ensure they reach them and contact reinforcement) or too high (overconfidence). In safety research, Fellner and Sulzer-Azaroff found that having foremen set goals for their workers was more effective than having workers set their own goals. They could have emphasized the role of the leader in the goal-setting process more, for sure. I appreciated the chapter about the mechanism behind how goals work, drawing the direct parallels to pigeon behavior, and shaping (although not by name, which is perfectly fine).

Praise: The second skill discussed is praise, and there is a big emphasis on how it should be delivered densely early on in a working relationship. I’m big on building rapport with followers, so this was appreciated; however, the chapter on reprimands almost ruined it, as the woman in the allegory had worked for the leader for a long time and “didn’t need” his praise, just reprimands. Oy, good luck with that…

Reprimands: I kind of took issue with this chapter in general. While I can appreciate the focus on observable behavior, the second half of the reprimand almost turns this interaction into an open-faced feedback sandwich. Basically, he is promoting reprimanding the behavior, then praise the person. But… he emphasizes that we are critiquing the behavior, not the person. This second half makes the interaction super muddy to me, and has been shown in the research to result in fewer positive outcomes and more negative emotional reactions from employees. Separate your feedback interactions, and always focus on building rapport (beyond positive feedback) instead.

Oh. And… don’t touch me. Both the praise and reprimand sections included components of touching the employee. I would personally avoid this for SO many reasons. Even one of the people in the story mentioned she got nervous with the touch that preceded the reprimand interaction, and that could SO easily generalize to the praise touch as well. Just… don’t. 

My favorite parts of the book were definitely the explanations of the theory behind the three components. My least favorite… the story. My eyes rolled across the floor at the end of the book. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s going to end EXACTLY the way you’d expect this type of writing to end, plus a small moment of “women can be leaders, too!” Gag.

Overall, I’d give the book 3/5 stars. If you can sift through the story, you’ll find a couple nice quotes here and there. But if you have a background in behavior, the most joy you’ll get out of it will be the theory and metaphors they use towards the end. Worth a read, maybe not a re-read. 





Podcast – The Buzz with B&B Episode 1: Meet the B’s! Tue, 27 Aug 2019 14:55:59 +0000 In partnership with W3RKWELL, we’re excited to share this fantastic podcast project – The Buzz with B&B! Listen to episode 1 below to learn about the mission of this project, and how you can get involved!

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The Human Leader Thu, 30 May 2019 14:49:54 +0000

Newsflash: Being a leader is hard.

I spend a lot of time conversing with managers, CEOs, and directors in their organizations, especially during times of stress. Happy to be a helpful ear, I listen intently, witholding commentary and “fixes” in many cases. Beside the fact that I dont have enough information to diagnose or intervene, often these leaders aren’t looking for a solution, and providing one would be percieved as dismissive of their experiences. I’m absolutely honored that these incredible people have treated me as a “safe” person with whom to vent – a big reinforcer for my work and communication strategy.

In these listening moments, I’ve been noticing trends in the struggles some of the top leaders I get the honor to chat with. These conversations are often very similar; however, because of the stigma of openly communicating potential moments of uncertainty or discomfort, the loneliness and guilty feelings settle into their thought patterns. They often say things to me like, “I know I’m better than this.” Because of the lack of conversation around the struggles of leaders, their issues are perceived as “weakness”.

I’m writing this now for the leaders who are feeling lonely, at times selfish or guilty, tired… You’re not alone. You’re not weak. You are human. 

We strive every day to figure out what our employees need to be successful. We listen intently to their feedback, we focus on determining their motivations and reinforcers, we encourage them to take care of themselves. They need us to do these things, because they are beautifully flawed humans with histories and motivations and dreams. And we are too!

Everyone wants to be heard. Leaders spend an incredible amount of time communicating with others, coordinating, arranging, handling crises, being a sounding board for conflicts and complaints. But who do leaders go to for a friendly ear when things are getting tough? Venting at employees, obviously, isn’t a great idea. Going to other leaders in the organization can evoke interpersonal conflicts. Not everyone has a coach or mentor who will listen. In absence of the appropriate communication response, we tuck our communication needs away in favor of providing this space to our employees for their issues.

Everyone needs to contact reinforcement. Leaders often give, give, give. They understand that their employees do better in a reinforcement-rich environment with lots of positive feedback. But who is providing this to the leader? Reinforcement (both positive and negative, for what it’s worth) often flows from the top-down. Employees, in many cases, have not been taught to provide other people feedback, as their primary focus is completing the job at hand. Other leaders are busy providing feedback for their teams and on their own work, and are also probably not contacting a lot of reinforcement either. So we move forward in our day to day, with the schedule getting thinner and thinner. This often results in ratio strain, which may appear to be emotional responses to things that would typically not bother the leader… An example I’ve used (with an EO, clearly) is that if you’re eating a bag of cookies, and you’ve just had a cupcake, it doesn’t bother you as much when someone walks up and takes one without asking.  However, if you’re so hungry and haven’t had cookies in a long time, this cookie thievery can absolutely wreck your day. 

Everyone needs to take time for themselves. Leaders are so often the backbone of their organizations, and take on the weight of their business wholeheartedly. But if they hear a valuable employee has been up responding to client emails until 3 am, picking up the phone on the weekend, and otherwise sacrifice their personal and family time, good leaders often step in and help reallocate tasks and help set boundaries. Yet we so often don’t do this for ourselves. We keep ourselves available at all times, day or night, constantly overloading ourselves until we break down.

I write this because I’ve been there. I’ve been the listening ear with no sounding board. I’ve been on the thinnest reinforcement schedule while still showering others with praise. I’ve been the one helping someone set new priorities and gathering new resources, all while my own incomplete tasks sunk to the bottom of my priority bucket. So I’m writing this today to give you permission (for anyone who feels they need it) to:

  • Be open about what struggles you’re facing in your leadership role. Reach out to someone who has the capacity to listen, and be their listener in return. Leaders can lean on one another.
  • Ask for reinforcement, help, or anything else you may need. Let your supervisees practice upward feedback, and reinforce their delivery of positive reinforcement in all directions: down to their staff, across to their peers, and up to their leaders. Be excited about your accomplishments, and share them with people who will step up with kind words! (And no, it isn’t bragging when you share something good that is happening, and there is no shame in altering your own reinforcement schedule by doing so!) Leaders need reinforcement, too!
  • Turn off once in a while. I’m learning to practice this myself. You can set boundaries without being a jerk. Communicate clearly when you will be available for responding to emails, taking calls, etc. (in lieu of some emergencies, which you can define for everyone), and encourage your teams to set their own reasonable boundaries as well. Leaders are more than their work!

I hope this can help at least one leader realize that they are humans, too. You’re not a robot without feelings, with no need for praise, connection, or downtime. Even if you take just one thing I’ve written here and slowly strive for a change, that baby step can be the trigger for an entire new view on yourself: the human leader.


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Why We Should Stop Talking About “Engagement” Thu, 23 May 2019 17:11:38 +0000

 Guest Author: Chelsey Whitworth, MS
GOALS for Autism, Inc.
in partnership with
Shannon Biagi, MS, BCBA
Chief Motivating Officers

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “engagement” is defined as:

  1. An arrangement to meet or be present at a specified time and place.
  2. Something that engages.
  3. The act of engaging or being engaged.

For a word used so often in businesses, an analysis of the definition provides some interesting insight into the trouble with the concept of “engagement”. If there’s anything that high school English class taught me, it’s that using the defined word (“engage”) in the definition of the word itself is a big no-no. And the only definition that does not use the word to define itself focuses on simply showing up! Furthermore, none of these definitions of engagement have any  acknowledgement of businesses or employees, and yet, those of us in upper management positions are constantly bombarded with new ways to “engage” our staff. But in the context of an organization, and with only self-referential definitions to guide us, what IS “engagement”?


My inbox is filled daily with new webinars or articles on how to “engage” staff. As I view these materials, it becomes clear that engagement of staff has no consistent definition. Instead, the webinars or articles address retention problems, interaction between staff and clients, management check-ins, etc. – anything BUT “engagement”. So, what does engagement in a workplace really mean, from an OBM perspective? In the authors’ opinion, absolutely nothing. It’s often used as a useless buzzword;  an umbrella term used by corporations to justify staff performance levels, and for management consultants to sell fancy evaluations and trainings.


However, a different question can be posed to get more useful, actionable information: what does engagement mean in my workplace? In my workplace, the word alone, again, means nothing. But when asked “What does engagement look like?”, behaviors and outcomes become the focus – treatment integrity, meeting billable requirements, closed-loop communication, and participation in company events, to name just a few. The difference between these concepts and engagement is that these are observable and measurable behaviors or outcomes when we operationally define them. It’s much easier to define what meeting billable requirements looks like rather than just pointing the finger at “engagement”. These subcategories end up being the staff behaviors that we’re actually looking to measure. Not “engagement”.


Focusing on the behaviors and outcomes that fall under the term “engagement” serves a number of purposes for leaders in an organization.

  1. It allows us to set clear expectations with employees on how we want them to behave upon hire. Our “engagement” behaviors become the company culture; “how we do things around here”.
  2. We can provide specific and actionable feedback to employees and managers when “engagement” drifts, which is tied to increased employee satisfaction.
  3. Diagnostics become more targeted: we’re not looking to increase the invisible “engagement” numbers, we’re looking to increase communication, feedback, or session fulfillment, for example.
  4. Interventions become less intimidating, more targeted, and more effective, because they are operationalized. More like a precise surgeon getting at the root of the issue, rather than taking a generic painkiller that will hopefully numb the problem away.

In homage to the great Inigo Montoya, you keep using the word engagement, but it does not mean what you think it means. Think about what it looks like for your organization. Ask the CEO. Ask multiple departments. Ask your entry level staff, managers, and even your clients! You’ll receive different answers from everyone. Take their responses and determine what you’re actually looking to observe when we use the word “engagement”, measure, and then improve those behaviors with intervention.


Guest Author: Chelsey Whitworth is the Director of Clinical Business Operations at GOALS for Autism, Inc. and has worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for over 3 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Anthropology from University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from National University. Chelsey lives in Sacramento with her black cat, Nox. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, true crime podcasts, and going to the gym.

In her OBM work, Chelsey is acting in a human resources role and has been implementing projects related to training and development, strategic planning, and performance management in her current job at GOALS. CMO is proud to support Chelsey and the team at GOALs in improving their organization!


The Battle of the Session Cancellation in Clinical ABA: How to get the upper hand Tue, 16 Apr 2019 15:20:30 +0000

 In the last year, I have visited approximately 40 ABA clinics, and have spoken to countless leaders and business owners about the struggles they face on a daily basis. I would have to rank the topic of this blog as part of the top 5 issues I get asked about every time I stop in, easily.

Cancellations. Or session fulfillment, if you want to focus on the positive flip of the measure.

And it’s entirely understandable that this is a hot topic in clinical circles! Without fulfilling clinical sessions, the typical ABA clinic cannot continue to keep the doors open. The revenues of the company are impacted with each session skipped, and both employees and clients are left wanting: the employee missing potential pay that will not be reimbursed if the session isn’t rendered, and the clients missing the critical time necessary for making progress on their programs and making gains in their skills/reductions in “problem behavior”.

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can be waved to resolve this serious issue. It’s complex; way more complex than one may expect. In this blog, I’ll describe some steps you can take to start resolving issues that you may be experiencing around session cancellations.


The Analysis

To begin resolving the cancellation issue, it’s important to determine what the issue looks like at your company. This requires (*gasp*) looking at the data to start making an appropriate diagnosis, so we can select the intervention that will be most effective for your team. In most companies, these data are already being collected in some form, so I would think carefully about what these data look like for your business currently, and perhaps based on the recommended analyses here, you may be able to enhance the data you collect in the future.

The first analysis I recommend is sorting the data by who is initiating the cancellation: the caregiver or the staff member. This may seem obvious, but in several situations in which I’ve helped troubleshoot these types of problems, the organizations were shocked to see that the opposite of their expectation was occurring. You may find that your staff members rarely cancel, but your parents often opt out of sessions. Or your case may be entirely the inverse, and your staff members are cancelling left and right, with caregivers are following through just fine. This analysis is crucial in order to determine where to focus our efforts early on – with whom we can get the most improvement. Also, historically, staff members lose motivation quickly when they are blamed for parent cancellations, and vise versa. So let’s target the appropriate population first!

The second analysis I like to do is a little more complex, but I recommend if this is a major issue for you, that you take the time to break the data down in a fashion similar to what I’m describing here. In my experience, I have determined a few crucial dimensions of a cancellation (beyond determining the party who initiates the cancellation as described above). These are:

Voluntary or involuntary. A voluntary cancellation is one in which the cancelling party is choosing to the cancel the session; for example, a staff member calling out because they would like to study for an upcoming test or go fishing, or a family deciding to go on a trip. Now, I want to say up front that I’m not against voluntary cancellations or wellness days; we just want to minimize their impact on the business and the client’s progress.

In contrast, as you may have guessed, an involuntary cancellation is an unpredictable or non-preventable reason for not holding session. These may include staff, client, or caregiver illness, a college exam scheduled during session time, car trouble, doctor appointments, etc. Typically, involuntary reasons for cancellation are met with greater understanding and compassion than someone choosing to not hold a session.

With or without documentation. Both voluntary or involuntary cancellations can have documentation associated with them, like doctor notes, mechanic receipts, exam schedules, and more. Having some expectation of documentation, particularly for involuntary cancellations, can reduce the likelihood of people “gaming the system” we will describe later in this blog. Another important note – we don’t want to eliminate or punish ALL involuntary cancellations or absences without documentation; we simply want to reduce their impact on the organization.

Last minute or ahead of time. These two are fairly clear in name, but the definitions can vary within your business. Last minute cancellations are typically within 24 or 48 hours, but you’ll better determine how “last minute” is defined for your business.  I’m sure you are familiar with the scramble associated with last-minute types of cancellations – trying to find coverage, or trying to help the staff member find additional ways to reduce the economic impact to their income. Not. Fun. Let alone thinking about the costs in company time and morale associated with this scramble… Those cancellations made with sufficient notice are much easier to handle, like pre-planned vacations or time off.

There may be more dimensions to this issue than these three, but thus far I have found the above to be the most critical components of a cancellation. By looking at your existing cancellation data and categorizing them in a manner similar to this, we can paint a much more vivid picture of what is happening in the organization, which should influence how we move forward with intervention.


Intervention Planning

Hopefully at this point you have an idea of what story your data tell. Regardless of who the canceller is, the interventions can be similar moving forward, with the target of reaching the follow goals:

  1. Greatly reducing last-minute voluntary cancellations. (Not eliminating!)
  2. Reducing last-minute involuntary cancellations WITHOUT documentation. (Again, not eliminating! IT happens.)
  3. Slightly reducing voluntary cancellations made ahead of time (but NOT punishing!).
  4. Reinforcing involuntary cancellations made ahead of time with appropriate documentation.
  5. Increasing appropriate rescheduling behavior (more on this in a moment). 

By this time, hopefully your data have provided a decent baseline of what these look like. From there, and in partnership with your finance department, you can set meaningful and realistic goals for the organization to hit related to cancellations. For example, we want to reduce our voluntary last-minute staff cancellations by 50% next quarter, and increase the number of caregiver cancellations with appropriate documentation by 50% in that same quarter. Remember your SMART goals – they should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound! Most important here are making sure the goals we set are attainable – 100% reductions or increases are simply NOT feasible in many businesses – and adding the time component that ensures we have a clear idea of when we want to assess the data and set a new goal.

It’s important to involve your finance department here to determine the bare minimum expectations around these measures – how many hours to we HAVE to fulfill in order to keep the doors open? How many hours keep us in the “black”, allowing us to potentially set aside cash to provide monetary bonuses or other reinforcers for these behaviors?

From there, you can determine an acceptable number of cancellations for each category. I recommend not setting too small of a “observation” window – quarterly is usually perfect. The following data are only hypothetical, but gives an idea of what this may look like for you:





Allocated Sessions (per quarter)


With or Without Documentation

Ahead of time


Last minute



With documentation

Ahead of time


Last minute

Without documentation

Ahead of time


Last minute



There are a few things you might notice in this conceptualization:

First, voluntary cancellations are treated similarly regardless of whether documentation is provided or not. If they are choosing to not have the session for personal reasons or otherwise, this isn’t really any of our business. This is their choice. However, we do want to reduce this happening at the last minute to avoid that scramble I mentioned earlier, and allow us to get coverage or reschedule in order to retain the hours if appropriate.

You’ll notice that voluntary cancellations done ahead of time do not have a specified allotment and are handled on a case-by-case basis. This allows for leniency of the policy, while avoiding this being seen as a pool of free days off from session. If this is a major issue for your organization, I welcome you to add a limit; however, I would be careful sharing this with staff or parents, as we don’t necessarily want them to take the limit each quarter.

Second, you’ll see that involuntary cancellations with documentation, regardless of the timeliness, are treated on a case-by-case basis – again, allowing for leniency for unforeseen circumstances. This should make sense: it happens. If you believe this will become abused, then by all means, add an allotment; however, in my opinion, if they are able to provide documentation in either case, we should be compassionate and considerate to both staff and parents.

Third, involuntary cancellations without documentation, regardless of timeliness, have the most restriction primarily due to the likelihood that these tend to become abused most quickly – no documentation means free day off! So I tend to put a limit on these allotments, and balance them. You may feel free to add additional allotments for involuntary cancellations without documentation made ahead of time, but I would not allow for too many last-minute document-less cancellations.

So, in the above scenario, the cancelling party basically ends up having, per quarter:

  • Potentially unlimited voluntary cancellations, if given ahead of time (this is mostly for parents, you may want to integrate your vacation/time off policy for staff here).
  • Three last-minute voluntary cancellations (again, this may not be ok for staff – but if you are trying to prevent burnout, it is nice to have the option to take a mental health day, but it’s up to your business to determine if this is feasible).
  • Potentially unlimited involuntary cancellations with documentation (given these are not preventable by definition, you want to be compassionate, but if it becomes a pattern or the documentation begins to look questionable, you may want to have a chat with the staff member).
  • Six involuntary cancellations, three ahead of time and three last minute. (If you choose to increase one of these, I recommend you allow for more leniency with those who give more notice, of course.)
  • BONUS: You may add additional leniency for rescheduled sessions as well. Ultimately, we want to minimize the impact to our bottom line, so specify under which conditions a reschedule may benefit them, and then train them on the procedures for rescheduling! Never assume someone knows how to reschedule, even if it seems very obvious. Role-play the conversations associated with the procedure, and ensure they understand not to excessively pressure or inconvenience a caregiver into a reschedule.

Remember that my numbers here are purely hypothetical. Regardless of where your numbers land, you’ll want to check with your finance department to ensure these numbers won’t bankrupt your business, of course! And this will vary from business to business, from culture to culture, and for different leader values. I do believe this strategy allows for the greatest amount of compassion for caregiver and employee situations, acknowledging that things happen! Often, in absenteeism policies, there is no differentiation between how different types of absences are handled – hopefully this structure may help you conceive a strategy that works for your organization.

Now it’s time to develop the policies based on the information you compiled. When developing a policy, I like to use the same structure as my feedback delivery strategy – it should answer “What? So what? Now what?”:

  • What? What behavior is the policy pertaining to?
  • So what? Why is this behavior important? Why is it significant to the organization or client or employee?
  • Now what? What do we need to do moving forward?

The “Now what?” here is important: what do we want them to do moving forward? What are the consequences for not following the policy (i.e. cancelling excessively)? What do they get if they follow the policy? Everything we’ve discussed up to this point is based on antecedents only, but antecedents don’t maintain behavior! Can we offer them something for adhering to the policy? Think this through carefully, and consult with your finance and HR/legal folks to see what they advise as well.

In addition to adding consequences, feedback in this area can go a long way. Consider providing quarterly reports with graphs of their percent fulfillment (I always go for the positive), and even add a goal or target line to work towards. Providing information about performance can be effective for increasing performance!

Finally, if you continue to see performance issues, take time to do a full assessment of potential barriers, using a tool such as the Performance Diagnostic Checklist to determine the contributing variables. With the above analyses, you should be able to provide clear expectations and goals, feedback and current performance information, add positive consequences, and teach them strategies that can reduce the likelihood that they will call out. Removing obstacles is crucial, so take time to talk with people who may be struggling to keep their appointments and help and reinforce, rather than blame and punish.


I hope this has been helpful, albeit lengthy! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us through our contact form. The conceptualization is always changing based on feedback, so I would love to hear from you!


Podcast – CMO Talking OBM with BehaviorBabe Wed, 03 Apr 2019 22:18:42 +0000 This week, I was excited to get to chat with Dr. Amanda Kelly, aka BehaviorBabe, about OBM. It was a nice conversation in which I covered a few of the misconceptions and parallels of clinical ABA to business applications of ABA. Check it out below!

Make sure to check out and register for the 2019 conference in Richmond, VA here. I’ll see you there!