Applied Behavior Management

Behavior Management Science draws upon principles of behavior that have been examined and confirmed through over eighty years of experimental and applied research in leading universities and businesses.  Since 1964, these principles have been systematically applied to institutional and workplace environments.  Perhaps the most notable discovery from this science is that much of what we think is management "common sense" is not at all correct.  More than personality characteristics and internal motives, the primary determinants of behavior may generally be found within an individual's current environment.  

This is especially significant to workplace applications.  It means that if we can become more skilled at understanding how the existing environment influences individuals' behaviors, we may be able to systematically manage conditions within the workplace to better enable and motivate behaviors that are directly conducive to achieving competitive business goals.  This substantially eliminates the need for managers to act as amateur psychologists, and it enables us to link more closely the behavior of performers to the execution of critical business processes.

The environment which surrounds workplace behavior is straightforward.  Events that precede a behavior are known as "signals" or "antecedents", because they inform an individual that certain behaviors may be useful.  Events that follow a behavior are known as "consequences", and, contrary to popular usage, may be positive or negative.  Consequences directly influence the likelihood that a behavior will strengthen or weaken in the future.

Signal / Antecedent     [ Behavior     [ Consequence

There are, in fact, only four ways in which consequences influence behavior:

Positive Reinforcement Performer gets something he wants Desired behavior increases
Punishment Performer gets something he doesn't want (or loses something he wants) Desired behavior decreases
Extinction Performer doesn't get anything Desired behavior decreases
Negative Reinforcement Performer avoids punishment Desired behavior increases

It's not quite as simple as it sounds, unfortunately.  Workplace situations are complex, with many signals, behaviors and consequences occurring concurrently.  Giving positive reinforcement means much more than managing compensation and bonuses.  Analyzing problem and desired behaviors and determining which signals and consequences most influence them requires skill in pinpointing observable behaviors and in examining the direction, potency, immediacy and certainty of the consequences.

Although many organizations invest heavily in providing signals for performance, we have learned that the systematic management of consequences exerts much greater influence on workplace behavior.  Unfortunately the skills required to manage consequences effectively are largely absent from most manager's repertoires.

Perhaps most important, we have learned that the only type of behavior consequence which actually motivates discretionary effort -- essential to world-class performance and continuous improvement -- is positive reinforcement.  The reason this finding is so significant is that our long-standing method of hierarchical management tends to rely upon authority -- and therefore negative reinforcement -- as its primary method of motivation.  Although negative reinforcement does, in fact, produce more of the behavior we desire, it accomplishes this through the threat of negative consequences, which does not motivate -- and, in fact, discourages -- discretionary effort.  Organizations will need major re-training to develop the skills needed to effectively implement positive reinforcement and migrate away from negative reinforcement and punishment as motivational methods.

Conard Associates is experienced at conducting behavior analyses.  We are uniquely qualified among our peers who offer assistance in process and performance improvement, because of our thirty-year experience utilizing and teaching Applied Performance Science methods. 

Company Overview  Our Approach Our Services  Why Change Initiatives Fail 
Our Successes - Case Histories  Change Management Model  Your Questions
Home Page

Revised: April 06, 2009.
Copyright © 2009 Conard Associates, Inc.