The most effective approach toward behavior modification is the theory of operant conditioning espoused by the noted American behaviorist, B. F. Skinner, in his book “The Behavior or Organisms” published in 1938.
Skinner’s behavior modification theory holds that reinforcement, either positive, or negative shapes behavior. Providing positive reinforcement for changing behavior to desired levels through appropriate and effective rewards, and or providing negative reinforcement such as punishments or discouraging signals for undesired changes in behavior, or sticking to status quo helps employees make the appropriate behavior modifications.
One important point to note is that the theory of positive and negative reinforcement is much more than bribery. It goes beyond that and tries to effect a change at the psychological approach, by influencing a person’s behavior through attention.
A basic application of positive and negative reinforcement is a child given a candy when he behaves and restricted from watching television when he misbehaves. In the organizational context, this could extend to an employee being eligible for a reward for displaying a desired behavior, such as double the normal wages for overtime. Punishment for an undesired behavior might be a poor performance appraisal report or those who strictly stick to a 9-5 routine regardless of the work exigencies, and a charge sheet for employees who indulge in inappropriate behavior.
The best of behavior modification examples is by setting goals for individual employees, with the attainment of such goals leading to the desired behavior. The accomplishment of goals needs positive reinforcement with rewards such as a bonus.
The success of the goal setting method to modify behavior depends on establishing a sound performance management system that provides a framework to set, modify, and evaluate goals on a regular basis, and guide and assist the employee to reach desired goals. Another key requirement is ensuring consistency of goals and rewards across the board.
Another of the effective behavior modification examples is learning. Organizational learning aimed at behavior change takes place through training and development initiatives that make explicit the new behaviors and equips the participants with means to get there.
Learning interventions can constitute a part of a planned culture change to develop a learning organization, establishing a culture of free flow of information among the workforce, establishing a system of experts serving as mentors for others in their niche, and other similar interventions.
Supervision and Leadership
Another behavior modification approach in the workplace is through supervision and leadership.
Close monitoring, or policing of employee actions and behaviors to ensure the employee sticks to a particular behavior range also works in certain situations, especially when the workforce consists of many employees with low levels of skills and education, such as in mass production lines. Autocratic leadership that dictates terms, giving employees little freedom to display their innate behavior facilitates such an approach.
Conversely, the servant leadership style strives to ensure a “fit” between employee values and organizational values by the leader acting as a facilitator to the employees. This leadership style is relevant for highly skilled employees.
One concern with trying to establish behavior modification through a system of rewards and punishment is to ensure that it remains within the law, and that rewarding and punishing someone does not end in a discrimination lawsuit.
Another best practice is to select the least intrusive and restrictive intervention to change the behavior. The best behavior modification examples are those that remain as close to the person’s innate behavior and force the employee to change as little as possible.
Regardless of the behavior modification approach, success depends on effective communication of the plan to the employee, in a way the employee understands. Finally, it is important to remember that the behavioral intervention exercise attempts to make a change because a person’s behavior is troublesome, and not because the person itself is troublesome. The carrot and stick policy or positive and negative reinforcement should, therefore, concentrate on changing behaviors rather than victimize the person.
- Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. “Behavior modification.” https://www.minddisorders.com/A-Br/Behavior-modification.htm. Retrieved 18 February 2011
- “Behavior Modification.” https://www.cehd.umn.edu/ceed/publications/tipsheets/preschoolbehaviortipsheets/behmod.pdf. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
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