Organizational behavior management (OBM) is one of the many professional fields that thrive when practiced in conjunction with applied behavior analysis (ABA). In fact, the study and implementation of organizational behavior strategies is directly linked to the development and expansion of practical ABA methodology. OBM can be described as an off-shoot of practical behavior analysis, although it has since evolved into a distinct professional occupation within the field of psychology.

Scope of Behavior Analysis in Organizations

While the principles of human behavior in an organizational setting are no different than anywhere else, there are slightly different priorities, methods, and challenges in a functioning workplace. Organizational behavior analysts tend to focus on institutional issues, systems and broader social dynamics than a behavior analyst working in an educational or domestic environment. The scope of the field is flexible and can be modified to serve each organization depending on their specific needs and circumstances. Behavior modification strategies can be applied to specific individuals, smaller groups or to the entire organization at once.

Key Priorities and Objectives

When working with an organization, behavior analysts typically have slightly different priorities than they would in a clinical setting. Companies, non-profits, and government institutions usually seek out OBM services to increase their overall value or productivity. In a high-risk production facility, this could take the form of advanced employee safety training and conditioning to reduce the number of physical injuries. In an office, behavior analysis could be applied to solidify certain management techniques or foster employee morale.

Assessment and Evaluation

Like all forms of behavior analysis, effective OBM requires a thorough and scientific evaluation of the current systems, interactions and antecedents to behavior in the workplace. Behavior managers take a close look at all aspects of the organization’s human resources, ranging from high-level management to entry-level hires. They scrutinize the processes that take place on a daily basis, including those that are incidental or arise as unintended consequences of previous decisions.

Once analysts understand the forces influencing behavior in a workplace, they can establish metrics that illustrate and define the challenges facing the organization. This allows them to effectively communicate and collaborate with company decision-makers to develop strategies to address the specific issues according to their relative impact. In some cases, analysts work as part of a team of peers so they can cover more ground and compare observations of similar events to establish an objective, accurate perspective on identified behavioral issues.

Value-Oriented Behavior Management Strategies

Few company managers would describe their organization as perfect because most successful business leaders know that there is always room for improvement. Achieving an ideal social structure and governance isn’t a realistic goal, which is why organizational behavior managers usually develop value-oriented strategies. Most companies don’t regard every employee, process, or system as indispensable, especially if they are causing a loss of value or productivity. Behavior analysts may need to ask themselves if the cost of behavior management is worth it compared to simply replacing or removing the problematic component, according to the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Comprehensive Approach for Contingency Management

Even though many companies and organizational behavior analysts work under a value-based approach, this strategy isn’t always enough. Occupational settings with extreme dangers or sensitive materials, like nuclear power plants and military installations, provide little room for procedural or operational error. In these cases, behavior analysts must conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the entire organization to find and address contingencies that influence worker behavior.

In the context of organizational psychology, the term “contingency” can describe a wide range of events that encourage or discourage behavior modification. The concept includes everything from social interactions between employees to accessibility of equipment in the workplace. Almost every aspect of the work environment can influence patterns of behavior, which has a direct impact on employee morale, engagement, and performance. Comprehensive behavior management on an institutional level often takes significant time and resources, but it can also yield enormous benefits over time.

Working as an Organizational Behavior Manager

Since OBM is a flexible and client-oriented field, practitioners may face a wide range of opportunities and challenges in their careers. Some professional analysts take full-time positions with certain companies as part of their management or human resources team. Others work as independent contractors or for a third-party firm that supplies professional services to organizations on an as-needed basis. In either case, behavior managers often find themselves in various work environments where they need to educate and communicate with people with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds.

Education and Career Preparation

Like other careers in the broader field of applied behavior analysis, OBM practitioners are usually required to hold at least a master’s degree. High-level management and research positions usually require a doctorate in OBM, ABA or a related field. There are several educational pathways students can take towards a career in organizational behavior. Some pursue a specific OBM program, while others follow a psychology and behavior analysis track with an additional focus on business courses. Current ABA professionals can also find opportunities to transition into a position with some relevant experience in business management.

Further Reading and Professional Resources

Prospective students and current professionals interested in organizational behavior can find a number of useful resources and reading material to learn more about the field. The Journal of Organizational Behavior Management is an academic publication specifically dedicated to methods, emerging ideas and other issues related to OBM. Interested individuals can also seek membership with one of several ABA-oriented professional organizations, like the Association for Behavior Analysis International, that offer access to extensive databases and other useful information resources.

As one of the many specializations to blossom from the growing field of behavior analysis, OBM offers exciting and valuable opportunities to both practitioners and companies seeking their services. Since emerging as a distinct area of study, it has grown to fill a rising demand for better management techniques and workplace design from both the public and the private sector. While future developments are certain to shape and direct the growth of the field, it’s clear that applied behavior analysis can provide significant value when used in conjunction with organizational behavior management.