What Is Organizational Behavior Management (OBM)?

Business woman standing in glasses and blazer speaks to co-workers who are seated.

Organizations are focused on improving productivity and profits. For instance, one of the major trends is improving employee engagement through policies like workplace flexibility. These types of strategies can motivate employees, impacting productivity and profitability.

Another option is available through the field of organizational behavior management, which takes a more scientific approach to achieving business goals.

What Is Organizational Behavior Management?

Organizational behavior management (OBM) applies behavioral principles to individuals and groups in business, industry, government and human service settings, according to Psychological Services, a publication from the American Psychological Association. OBM can be seen as the intersection between behavioral science and improvement in organizational environments.

OBM is rooted in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA), which develops techniques to produce socially significant behavior in a wide range of areas and behavioral problems. ABA is one of three disciplines of behavior analysis, or the science of behavior, which includes:

  • Applied wing of the discipline of behavior analysis (ABA)
  • Experimental analysis of behavior, focusing on basic principles of behavior
  • Branch of behavior analysis that focuses on the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of the science of behavior (behaviorism)

Like ABA, OBM is focused almost exclusively on practical strategies that can be used to change behavior. For instance, instead of focusing on personality traits that are most predictive of high performers, ABA and OBM are more concerned about investigating methods to improve performance.

The growth of OBM has resulted in three primary specialty areas.

  • Performance management applies behavioral principles to manage the performance of employees. This used to be synonymous with the term “OBM,” but it is now its own field, contrasted by specialty areas geared toward other levels of the organization.
  • Systems analysis refers to the analysis and modification of organizational processes to benefit the organization. This field focuses on how individuals or groups of workers can complete interdependent tasks that lead to created products or services important to the entire organization.
  • Behavior-based safety is a fast-growing specialty that analyzes and modifies work environments to reduce injuries and promote safe behavior. Instead of other disciplines’ approach to safety from the standpoint of mechanical or structural engineering, behavior-based safety concentrates on changing employees’ behavior to reduce injuries and make safe performance more common.

How Organizational Behavior Management Works

Organizational behavior management (OBM) applications isolate, analyze and modify environment events that most directly affect performance. Specific interventions allow practitioners to effectively modify behavior in organizational environments.

Sample Interventions

There are two categories of OBM interventions: antecedent-based interventions and consequence-based interventions.

Antecedent-based interventions include task clarification, equipment modification, goal setting, prompting and training.

  • Task clarification involves clearly defining employees’ tasks.
  • Equipment modification involves altering equipment used for tasks.
  • Goal setting involves setting performance goals and then access to rewards.
  • Prompting involves prompts to perform or continue performing an activity.
  • Training involves identifying and modifying inadequate employee knowledge, skills or capacity.

Consequence-based interventions include feedback, praise and monetary and nonmonetary incentives.

  • Feedback involves delivering information about past performance to the employee, which can vary according to format (verbal, written, graphic) and delivery agent (manager-supervisor, consultant-researcher or fellow employee). It is by far the most common intervention used in OBM.
  • Monetary and nonmonetary incentives involve money, benefits or tangible items contingent on performance; in practice and research, they are often combined.

Steps in an OBM Consultation

Here are some common steps that take place during an OBM consultation, regardless of problem, setting and intervention, according to Psychological Services.

  1. Determine key results. Typically, the practitioner or researcher works with managers and executives to identify desired results.
  2. Find the pinpoints. The practitioner works with managers and executives to determine important behaviors and immediate results required to accomplish the key results. These behaviors and results are often referred to as “pinpoints” or “targets.”
  3. Develop a measurement system. The practitioner helps the target audience develop an accurate and reliable way to measure the pinpointed behavior and results. This method often involves tracking costs associated with the pinpoints. Measurements will provide information about the current levels of the behavior and results, as well as providing a baseline comparison that can be used to evaluate the effects of solutions.
  4. Diagnose the problem. The practitioner teaches managers to ask questions and conduct observations of the work environment and completed tasks to help determine the cause of performance deficiencies. Asking questions and collecting data typically involves four broad areas of potential causes: antecedents, knowledge and skills, equipment and processes (including a systems analysis), and consequences.
  5. Develop and implement a solution. After the results of the assessment, the practitioner then works with managers to develop and implement solutions that address identified deficiencies.
  6. Evaluate the effects. Typically, results are measured before, during and after solution implementation. There are at least three types of results that are of interest to the OBM practitioner: behavior change results, treatment acceptability and cost-benefit results. Behavior change results help verify whether the solution changed the intended behavior and produced the intended outcomes. Treatment acceptability is important in OBM because the solution will not be maintained if employees and managers deem it unpalatable. Cost-benefit results help the practitioner calculate return-on-investment figures.

Applying Organizational Behavior Management to Health Care

A paper in Advances in Patient Safety: New Directions and Alternative Approaches examined applications for OBM in health care.

“The relevance of OBM to improving health care is obvious,” according to the authors of the paper. “While poorly designed systems contribute to most medical errors, OBM provides a practical approach for addressing a critical component of every imperfect health care system —behavior. Behavior is influenced by the system in which it occurs, yet it can be treated as a unique contributor to many medical errors, and certain changes in behavior can prevent medical error.”

One study found that providing feedback to caregivers on the frequency of hand washing led to an increase in hand washing following patient contacts, from 63 percent at baseline to 92 percent after intervention. Other OBM intervention studies found that behavior-based interventions demonstrated significant increases in hand washing among caregivers. Nonbehavioral attempts were deemed likely to fail at altering actual behavior.

Other OBM interventions were successful. A quota system for emergency patients’ admission to internal medicine departments reduced length of stay without altering outcomes. Education, discussion and feedback on proper laboratory tests reduced the overall number of tests ordered without reducing patient outcomes. “Standardizing the handoff communication procedure using antecedent reminders and feedback improved patient satisfaction, medication administration record-keeping, completion of cardiac enzyme regimens, and patient transportation without a cardiac monitor,” the paper states. As a result, there were 67.5 additional hours of nursing time available each month.

Advancing as a Business Leader

Managers, executives and other business leaders can work with behavioral specialists to enhance behavior and ultimately lead to better business outcomes. It is one of many strategies and tools for helping an organization achieve its goals.

Aurora University’s online bachelor’s in business administration and online MBA help students develop the knowledge and skills needed to advance their careers. Students receive instruction in current business practices from faculty members with real-world experience. Each program takes place in a fully online learning environment.