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Inside Organizational Behavior Management: Perspectives of the field 37 years later



In this newsletter article for the OBM Network, the authors replicated a survey study conducted by Fredericksen and Lovett in 1980 on the state of the field of Organizational Behavior Management, 37 years later. In addition to demographic data, the authors noted changes in perceived definitions, outcomes, purpose, leaders in the field, and applications of this science between 1980 and 2017, and concluded that OBM is ready for an "upgrade" to enhance our reach and effectiveness.
A Moment in OBM History: 1980
Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez, M.S.
Operant Leadership, A Service of ABA Technologies
Shannon Biagi, M.S., BCBA
Director of Continuing Education, ABA Technologies
Inside Organizational Behavior Management: Perspectives of the field 37 years later
The year was 1980! Ronald Reagan was President of the United States after defeating Jimmy Carter. Star Wars Episode V: The
Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters. In politics we saw major political influence enter the Olympic games with the boycott by the
United States of the Moscow Olympics. 1980 is remembered as the year war broke between Iraq and Iran. And who can forget,
1980 was the year Pac-Man was released in the arcade scene.
In 1980, Frederiksen and Lovett were published in the second volume of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management. Their
article is titled,
“Inside Organizational Behavioral Management: Perspective on an Emerging Field.”
In their article, Frederiksen and Lovett (1980) surveyed two OBM interest groups regarding the status of our field. The survey
solicited for a definition of OBM, common knowledge base, applications of OBM, and a perspective on the future of the field.
Several findings are noteworthy; however, we (the authors of this article) wanted to take it a step further for our current network
In an effort to replicate the work of Frederiksen and Lovett (1980), two members of the OBM network (the authors of this article)
conducted an online survey regarding the current state of the field. The survey was launched using a Google Form, sent via social
media to the OBM Network Facebook group and the LinkedIn group, “Organizational Behavior Management in Action.”
The Questions
Following the fixed choice demographic items of location, industry, job position, and professional specialization, similar to what
Frederiksen and Lovett (1980) used, survey respondents completed seven, free response questions. The free response questions
1. In your own words, please define Organizational Behavior Management.
2. In your experience/opinion, what is the purpose of OBM?
3. In your experience/opinion, what is the main object of study in OBM?
4. Please list what you consider to be the most important and/or influential works (books, research articles, case studies,
theoretical articles, etc.) in the field of OBM.
5. Describe some applications of OBM that you have been personally involved with. Please include where (nonspecific), the
objective/goals and general nature of the intervention, and how successful it was (successful, in progress, not successful).
6. How could you further apply OBM in your organization/professional practice?
7. How would you describe the future of the field of OBM?
The Results (N=52)
United States of America (39, 75%)
France (3, 5.8%)
Brazil (3, 5.8%)
Australia (1, 1.9%)
Costa Rica (1, 1.9%)
Iceland (1, 1.9%)
Netherlands (1, 1.9%)
Northern Ireland (1, 1.9%)
Chile (1, 1.9%)
Sweden (1, 1.9%)
Mental Health/Autism/DD (23, 44.2%)
Business/Industry (19, 36.5%)
Educational Institution/School (5, 9.6%)
Medical Setting (4, 7.7%)
Government (3, 5.8%)
University (10, 19.2%)
Student/Intern (5, 9.6%)
Other (3, 5.8%)
Social work
2% Other
Professional position
Consultant (21, 40.4%)
Management (19, 36.5%)
Other (8, 15.4%)
Professor (8, 15.4%)
Student/Intern (7, 13.5%)
Line Staff/Direct Care (3, 5.8%)
Teacher (3, 5.8%)
ABA (17, 32.7%)
OBM (14, 26.9%)
Industrial/organizational psychology (3, 5.8%)
Human resources (3, 5.8%)
Management (3, 5.8%)
Clinical/educational psychology (2, 3.8%)
Experimental psychology (2, 3.8%)
Organizational behavior (1, 1.9%)
Social work (1, 1.9%)
Other (6, 11.5%)
1.) A Definition of OBM
“In your own words, please define Organizational Behavior Management” (N=50):
Definitions fit into the following categories:
OBM and ABA:
“a specialization of ABA” “applying the principles of behavior analysis”
Lay terms:
“OBM is the process of continually enhancing the performance of others to become
more effective and reach designated goals of the company.”
“OBM focuses on the actions of employees, clients, management, and systems to change the outputs of the organizational entity.”
“The management of human behavior so that it aligns with the goals necessary for company success.”
“Evidence-based interventions and management strategies and interventions for organizations.”
“Changing contingencies so that business works for the better good of everyone.”
“Employee performance is improved in order to improve organizational performance.”
“The application of behavioral principles to effect change in behaviors/results within organizations.”
Linking ABA, process and outcomes:
“OBM is a sub-discipline within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis devoted to helping organizations achieve and
sustaining high levels of performance by managing human behavior through evidence-based practices.”
“The use of behavior analytic principles in the workplace to increase the overall
well-being of employees and increase work performance.”
2.) The Purpose of OBM
“In your experience/opinion, what is the purpose of OBM?” Responses could be described across four categories (N=49):
1. Systems: “Step outside and look at the big picture of an organization's processes”..…“To improve business practices”..…
“To design and implement behavioral management systems that learn from themselves in order to improve organizational
performance”..…“To make data-based, real-time decisions on how to improve workflow and systems within the workplace, and
have data to show progress.”
2. Use of scientific based approaches: “Evidence-based approach to develop good management strategies”..…“To implement
principles of positive reinforcement to facilitate for everyone within an organization to reach the main results”..…“To help
organizations better work based on scientific evidence.”
3. Behavior and business outcomes: “Assist management in reaching company goal”..…“To systematically study workplace
behaviors of interest and improve them based on the organization' interests/goals”..…“To bring out positive behavior change
that enriches people’s lives”..…“Increasing the motivation of staff to attend work, align organization expectancies with
employee’s motivation”..…“OBM maximizes "worthy accomplishment" while reducing "costly behavior"”
4. Ethical Approach: “To help implement the business plan (be it in for profit or not) in accordance with the code of Ethics of our
professional association and possibly to leverage our science to give something in return to the planet and society”..…“To
implement the most effective interventions possible so as to improve the quality of people's working lives while maintaining
the ethical standards of society.”
3.) The Main Object of Study in OBM
“In your experience/opinion, what is the main object of study in OBM?” The most consistent responses were related to (N=48):
Applications of behavioral principles and OBM
Employee behaviors and results
Management behaviors
Workplace process improvement
4.) A Listing of the Most Important and/or Influential Works
“Please list what you consider to be the most important and/or influential works (books, research articles, case studies,
theoretical articles, etc.) in the field of OBM.” The most consistent responses were (N=45):
William B. Abernathy, The Sin of Wages
Aubrey Daniels, Bringing out the Best in People and Performance Management
Thomas F. Gilbert, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance
Journal of Organizational Behavior Management
Judith L. Komaki, Leadership from an Operant Perspective
Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache, Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart
B.F. Skinner, The Science of Human Behavior and The Behavior of Organisms
5.) Applications of OBM
“Describe some applications of OBM that you have been involved with. Include where (nonspecific), the objective/goals and
general nature of the intervention, and how successful it was (successful, in progress, not successful).” (N=45):
As the responses were so specific to each individual, we dare not summarize into categories or simply state common responses.
Instead, the list below captures the focus of the applications mentioned, illustrating the depth and breadth of OBM applications.
Sales Performance
Cross-Functional Teams
Information Technology Efficiencies
Leadership Development
Staff Retention
Small Business Infrastructures
Organizational Change Using Behavioral Systems
Teacher Motivation
Customer Service
Communication Strategies
Conflict Resolution
Competency Models
Performance Management Systems
Behavior-Based Safety
Work Conflict (anger, violence, hatred in the
Use of “Big Data”
Health and Wellness
Incentive Programs
Pay for Performance
Instructional Design
Staff Morale
6.) Further Applications
“How could you further apply OBM in your organization/professional practice?” (N=45):
Pay for Performance
Manage transitions in organizations (change
Leadership and leadership development
Behavioral Systems Analysis
Marketing OBM
7.) The future of OBM as a field
“How would you describe the future of the field of OBM?” (N=47):
"Promising” “Exciting and challenging” “Growing and flourishing” “It’s a marketing problem”
“OBM certification” “International growth” “More mainstream use of OBM”
“Leadership/Managers and Systems as the primary focus” “More academic programs educating on OBM”
So what does this all mean?
Frederiksen and Lovett (1980) concluded their report brilliantly by starting with a question:
“Is OBM an idea whose time has come?” (p. 202)
From their results in 1980, it appeared in 1980 that the answer was unanimously affirmative with areas for growth and
improvement. Today, 37 years later, the current survey seems to have resulted in much of the same outcomes as Frederiksen and
Lovett (1980). True, there is growth in OBM as a practice, field of study, and education. The OBM Network itself has grown
substantially from just 10 years ago. The literature in OBM, or related subject matter, has risen from the early
days, and notable authors and pioneers in OBM continue to disseminate and write brilliantly for mainstream audiences. That being
said, the similarities between the current survey, and the 1980 survey, regarding growth opportunities for the future seems to leave
us with a new question:
“Is OBM ready for an upgrade?”
We chose the word upgrade deliberately, as the meaning suggests, “an increase or improvement; a new version, improved model;
to improve or enhance the quality, value, effectiveness, or performance of something” (, 2017). The focus on
marketing OBM and disseminating more mainstream (Braksick & Smith, 2001; Geller, 2002; Ones & Viswesvaran, 2002),
growing our reach (Austin, 2008; Poling, 2010), broadening our field of study (Agnew, 1999; Hantula, 2006), and even looking at the
very language we use in our practice (Lindsley, 1991) are not new topics by any means.
After 37 years, we find ourselves looking at similar results from our fellow practitioners and researchers. So, is OBM ready for an
upgrade? Based on the results of the current survey, we would say, “yes!” Further, consider that it may simply be in our best
interest to upgrade. As Poling (2010) stated eloquently,
“In the face of a world likely to change in ways that are impossible to predict, diversity may be the
ultimate key to survival. Behavior analysts can do many things well and, as I have suggested
previously, it is probably to our current and future advantage as a discipline to broaden our scope
as much as possible, especially by focusing on current problems that are likely to endure.”
References for Your Reading Pleasure
Agnew, J.L. (1999). Can We Do Better Behavior Analyses in
OBM? Journal of Organizational Behavior Management,
19:3, 57-61, DOI: 10.1300/ J075v19n03_05
Austin, J. (2008). A New Era of OBM. Journal of Organizational
Behavior Management, 28:4, 214-217, DOI:
Braksick, L.W., and Smith, J.M. (2001) Marketing Behaviorally
Based Solutions. In Johnson, C. M., Redmon, W. K., &
Mawhinney, T. C. (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational
Performance behavior analysis and management (pp.
347-364). Binghamton, NY: Hawthorn Press.
Boudon, R. D. (1983). The Case Against OBM Certification.
Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 5(2),
89–94. (2017). Searched “Upgrade.” Retrieved May 3,
Frederiksen, L.W. & Lovett, S.B. (1980). Inside Organizational
Behavioral Management. Journal of Organizational
Behavior Management, 2:3, 193-203, DOI:
Frederiksen, L.W. 1984). Marketing OBM. Journal of
Organizational Behavior Management Vol. 6, Issue.
Geller, E. S. (2002). Should organizational behavior
management expand its content? Journal of
Organizational Behavior Management, 22(2), 13-30.
Hantula, D. A. (2006). The Impact of JOBM. Journal of
Organizational Behavior Management, 25(3), 1–15.
Lindsley, O. R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English
for application. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24,
Mawhinney, T.C. (1999) An Abbreviated History of OBM in
ABA, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management,
19:1, 7-12, DOI: 10.1300/J075v19n01_03
Ones, D. S. & Viswesvaran, C. (2002). Industrial-organizational
psychology to organizational behavior management:
Join the family individual differences matter. Journal of
Organizational Behavior Management, 22(2), 71-87.
Parrott, L. J., Mitchell, V., & Gasparotto, G. (1983). Costs and
Benefits of Certification for Organizational Behavior
Managers. Journal of Organizational Behavior
Management, 5(1), 63–73.
Poling, A (2010). Looking to the Future: Will Behavior Analysis
Survive and Prosper. Behavior Analyst, Spring 33 (1): 7-
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
The ISI Impact Factor for JOBMis 1.793, placing it third in the JCR rankings for journals in applied psychology with a sharply accelerating linear trend over the past 5 years. This article reviews the Impact Factor and raises questions regarding its reliability and validity and then considers a citation analysis of JOBMin light of the culture of the Organizational Behavior Management community. It appears that the rise in impact may be attributable to increases in quality, the journal filling a previously unfilled niche and a more theoretical turn in OBM scholarship, and that the Impact Factor underestimates JOBM'sinfluence. JOBMis not a high quality journal because it has a high Impact Factor; rather JOBMcurrently has a high Impact Factor because it isa high quality journal.
Full-text available
Behavior analysis as a discipline currently is doing relatively well. How it will do in the future is unclear and depends on how the field, and the world at large, changes. Five current characteristics of the discipline that appear to reduce the probability that it will survive and prosper are discussed and suggestions for improvement are offered. The areas of concern are (a) the small size and limited power of the discipline, (b) the growing focus of applied behavior analysis on autism spectrum disorders and little else, (c) the esoteric nature of much basic research, (d) the proliferation of "applied" research that really isn't applied, and (e) the widespread use of imprecise and potentially harmful technical language.
Members of two Organizational Behavior Management interest groups (N = 159) were surveyed regarding the current status of the field. Individuals responding (N = 63) held both staff and management positions in a variety of organizational settings. The responses provided a) a definition of Organizational Behavior Management, b) an assessment of the common knowledge base, c) a survey of unpublished applications, and d) an assessment of the future of the field. The limitations of the survey methodology as well as some of the implications of the data are discussed.
The costs and benefits of certification for behavior analytically oriented organizational behavior managers were presented, and because both costs and benefits are at least partially dependent on the details of specific certification processes, a description of the process adopted by the Association for Behavior Analysis was provided. In assessing the advisability of certification in this area, a number of concerns were addressed including: the validity of the performance standards adopted; implications for the development of the field; the financial costs of the certifying mechanism; the athority of the certifying body; consumer protection; self protection; and self regulation. It was concluded that further attempts to define the area of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) and to describe effective OBM practices would be of value to practitioners working in this area and to consumers of their services.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has defined the years 2000 to 2010 as the “Decade of Behavior,” and has been promoting this designation in convention materials, newsletters, media briefs, and professional publications. But APA seems to be avoiding the leading discipline in analyzing and changing behaviors in industrial settings-organizational behavior management (OBM). Furthermore, with only a few exceptions, OBM does not receive the attention it deserves in university psychology departments, including graduate programs in industrial/organizational (I/O) Psychology. This paper entertains reasons for the low and decreasing academic attention to OBM, and offers some possible solutions. It is proposed that OBM is generally discussed in overly simplistic terms; and unlike I/O Psychology, OBM does not draw on the wealth of relevant concepts and principles in other areas, especially cognitive and social psychology. Specific examples are given for expanding the typical boundaries of the OBM curriculum in order to improve organization-based interventions and realize greater opportunities to demonstrate the unique qualities of a behavior analysis approach to real-world problem solving.
These examples of translating technical jargon into plain English application words, acronyms, letter codes, and simple tests were necessary as we developed Precision Teaching. I hope our experience is useful to others facing the problems of applying technology in practical settings. At the least, our experience should give you an idea of the work and time involved in making your own translations. Above all, be patient. Accurate plain English translations do not come easily. They cannot be made at your desk. A search often takes years to produce one new accurate plain English translation. Rapid publication pressures, journal editorial policies, and investments in materials, books, and computer programs all combine to hamper these translations. It's possible that you will find some of our plain English equivalents useful in your own applied behavior analysis applications.