Behavior Management / Behavior Modification

Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is the application of reinforcement theory to people in organizational settings. It is simply based on the principle of operant conditioning. According to the reinforcement theory, the frequency of desirable behavior can be increased by an individual as it results to positive consequences whereas the undesirable behavior should be reduced as it is lined to negative consequences. The purpose of this theory is to improve performance. The behavior approach is based on two underlying assumptions i.e.
  • Human behavior is seen as determined by the environment.
  • The behavior is a response to a combination of specific stimuli and other environmental factors such as time and previous experiences.
Managers are trying to enhance the motivation of their employees that can adopt specific motivational strategies derived from one or more theories. Behavior modification (popularly also known as OB modification) is a technique for the applying the concept of reinforcement theory in individual or organizational settings. A behavior modification programme starts by specifying behaviors that are to be increased or deserved. These target behavior are then tied to specific forms or kinds of reinforcement. Through behavior modification, the behavior of individuals is modified by analyzing the antecedents (environmental cues) and consequences of changing them. Individuals are assisted in acquiring desirable behaviors by creating positive reward for good behavior and by designing appropriate reward contingencies.

“Behavior modification is a programme where managers identify performance related employee behaviors and then implement an intervention strategy to strengthen desirable behaviors and weaken undesirable behaviors.”S. P. Robbins 

Principles of reinforcement theory are applied to human resource management problems to change and direct organizational behavior towards the attainment of organizational and societal objectives. OB modification is not a theory of work motivation; instead, it is a technique for motivating employees, using principles of reinforcement theory. OB focuses on a observable and measurable behaviors instead of needs, attitudes or internal states

The various steps involved in behavior modifications are:
Procedures of Behavior Modification
a) Identification of Critical/Performance Related Behavior
Critical behavior are the actions that make significant impact on job performance. The manager should try to identify the desirable and undesirable behavior to perform a given task. Identification of critical behavior involves observing the behaviors, measuring the behaviors and describing the situation at which the behaviors occurs.

It is the first step of behavior modification. In this step, the behaviors (critical) which have significant impact on the performance outcome of the employees should be identified. Employees may be engaged in several behaviors in the organizations. Out of these, some behaviors may be critical like absenteeism, tardiness or constructive criticism and doing or not doing a particular task or procedure and some behaviors may not be critical like bad attitudes or goofing off. Critical behaviors may be identified through the discussion with the particular employee and his immediate superior as both are closely intimated with the job behaviors.


b) Measurement of Baseline Performance/ Behaviors
After identifying the critical behavior, the baseline performance data is developed. The manager has to measure existing level of performance for each individual employee. It can be obtained by determining the frequency of the behavior occurrences. For example: The customer service manager is providing better performance to 90 percent of customer.

These are measured in terms of the rate at which these are occurring. In the process, a manager develops some base line performance data. The manager records the frequency of the critical behavior over time. This allows the manager to determine his success in changing the subordinate’s behavior. Measurement of behaviors can be done either by observing and counting or by extracting from existing records.

c) Identification of Behavioral Contingencies through a Functional Analysis
The behavioral consequences have to be analyzed by a manager of an employee. It identifies existing consequences of performance. For example: if an employee works hard, does the individual is rewarded or just get tired. The consequences are performed by ABC analysis.

A = Antecedent cues

B = Behavior performance

C = Contingent consequences

A functional analysis refers to an examination of the antecedents and consequences of behavior. The antecedents consist of environmental conditions surrounding the behavior and any action that occurred immediately prior to the behavior. The consequences consist of all the outcomes associated with the behaviors, both positive and negative. Further, functional analysis often reveals that there are many competing contingencies for every organizational behavior, therefore, the analysis must not be deluded by the contingent consequences that, on the surface, appear to be affecting the critical behavior.

d) Development and Implementation of an Intervention Theory
The intervention strategy is directed to strengthen the desirable behavior and weaken the undesirable cues. The intervention can be through change in structure, process, technology and task. Manager attempts to link performance and reward to make high level of performance. A positive reinforcement is used to direct and guide employee behavior in desired direction.

Identification of critical behaviors to change and the factors that cause such behaviors will determine the development of an appropriate intervention strategy. Intervention is the action taken for changing the undesirable critical behaviors. Its main objective is to strengthen and accelerate desirable performance behavior or weaken and decelerate undesirable behaviors. There may be many intervention strategies that can be used, but the main strategies, and withdrawal of positive reinforcement. The strategies selected must be appropriate to the situation and should produce the desired result.

e) Evaluation of Performance Improvement
At the final step, the improvement of the performance of individual behavior is evaluated. The application of reinforcement and intention to the performance is studied and the emphasis is provided on offering long term reward such as pay increase, promotion, authority etc. to improve performance.
Behavior modification is the application of reinforcement theory. It is an approach to human resource management.

The learning process of modification of behavior must be evaluated for making a positive impact. Evaluation will help in the termination of negative performance and behavior and accelerate positive behavior. Systematic evaluation of behavior helps in modification and improvement for achieving favorable behavior and performance. It involves reaction, change and improvement of behavior. Reactions of employees are noted as cues for the direction and subsequent modifications are made accordingly. Positive reactions help to correct behavior. Negative reactions are viewed as discontentment, which is to be explored and remedied.

Requirement for successful modification of behavior
  1. Reinforces to attach consequences to desired behaviors. Most often used are praise and recognition.
  2. A careful analysis of the job to identify specific key behaviors for targeting.
  3. Careful, explicit communication to employee of what is wanted, including both behaviors and concrete, measurable goals.
  4. Concrete, continuous feedback or feedback soon after performance that workers can use to check on themselves.

Contribution of Behavior Modification 

Modification of behavior lays emphasis on self-management. Employees are motivated to manage their own behavior. They are given positive reinforcement and a favorable atmosphere to pay attention to positive stimuli, internal processes and responses to achieve a favorable response. They are given opportunities for self-learning, self- monitoring and adopting a favorable behavior. Incentives to self-learning help self-modification. Behavior modification has been applied successfully in many organizations starting from service organizations to manufacturing organizations. The major contributions of behavior modification can be listed as follows: 
  • It provided various tools to managers for effectively controlling and influencing the behaviors of employees in the organizations. 
  • Understanding of OB modification techniques is comparatively easy; therefore managers can use these without much problem. 
  • OB modification presents a set of tools by which people can learn new behaviors and skills thereby replacing undesirable behaviors. 
  • It deals with observed behaviors. Therefore, it can be put to testing.
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