Where do I start with OBM?

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

What is Organizational Behavior Managment?

"Organizational behavior management (OBM) is a subfield of applied behavior analysis that focuses on applications in the workplace." (Abernathy, 2013)

APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis (Click to buy on Amazon)

APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis (Click to buy on Amazon)

Purchase that series and you can read one of the greats in OBM, William B. Abernathy's, last(?) cohesive writing on OBM. Sadly he was taken earlier than most, but his legacy lives on. Now, this 2-book series reviews all of behavior analysis and comes at a pretty penny at close to $400 currently, but it's worth every, last, cent. 

Like most areas of our literature, there are variations in the definition of OBM, but they all center around the application of Applied Behavior Analysis in the workplace. ABA is not to be confused with the application of behavioral technologies, but rather encompassing the seven dimensions of ABA* (in the context of the workplace). Application of technology doesn't *technically* fit the OBM criteria unless you're following these areas: 

  1. Applied - socially significant issues are the focus, that is - they are meaningful to the people that request the service.
  2. Behavioral - services focus on measurable results - that way everyone is clear on the outcome of the day-to-day work.
  3. Analytic - A clear and coherent demonstration of the procedures involved in the service and their effectiveness must be demonstrated. There is no woo or questions involved. 
  4. Technological - services are clearly communicated, and ideally packaged, such that anyone with the necessary training and resources can implement them successfully on their own. 
  5. Conceptual Systems - Each service step is rooted in the specific philosophy, theory, and concept that has continually proven useful to date as opposed to gimmicks, tricks, or on a whim.  
  6. Effective - A service or behavioral technology will produce strong and meaningful effects for everyone involved in the service. 
  7. Generality - Services are designed and tailored to ensure that the effects last after the service has ended - Real. World. Results. 

*Baer, Wolf & Risley (1968)

What is Systems Analysis?

"A system is an integrated whole whose parts relate to each other and that relates to other systems." (Bar-Yam, 1997).

Most times when OBM starts to be discussed there's mention of behavioral systems analysis. This is an area that everyone should dive into if they are interested in affecting behavioral change. Essentially, all behavior "lives" in a system, which is often times comprised of a whole lot more behavior in and of itself. The way I see it, you can't really understand why people do what they do without looking at the totality of the system with which they are influenced by. It can get a little messy where the practical lines are drawn, but it's important to consider and analyze the system as much as possible. A great example is understanding the various legislative, regional, local, economic, ethical, cultural, etc. variables relevant to the system such as a school district that is trying to implement system-wide changes strategies. The more you're aware of them, the easier it is to understand how to begin navigating and influencing the system. 

What resources are there out there?


There's a lot out there. Here are a few "themes" I've identified that you can go out and explore more on your own. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does get you a good start and puts a nice dent in your bank account. 

Each of these are edited books (full of information from all branches of behavior analysis) or single-author books on a specific area. Clicking on them redirect you to a location to purchase them online. 

The OBM Applied! 4-part series recently hit the market by Manuel RodriguezDaniel Sundberg, & Shannon Biagi. Florida Tech and ABA Technologies (based in Melbourne, Florida, USA) has been a bit of a mecca when it comes to OBM. They have a certificate program, dual programs in ABA & OBM, and practicum sites aimed at learning how really implement OBM and build a career in OBM.  Each of the authors studied at Florida Institute of Technology and work closely with the programs there and through ABA Technologies. Click their names to head over to their LinkedIn profiles if you have any questions - always best to go straight to the authors! Clicking on them redirect you to a location to purchase them online. 

Aubrey Daniels et al. have written a number of books in this area, usually best for the non-behavior analyst, as they don't provide as much depth in the research, theory, and philosophical branches of Behavior Analysis. Clicking on them redirect you to a location to purchase them online. 

Abernathy created a few different books that focused much more on the application of what's been discovered through OBM research. Clicking on them redirect you to a location to purchase them online. 

There's also the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM). It's been the home for much of the research in this subfield. Clicking on them redirect you to a location to purchase them online. 

Contextual Behavioral Science (CBS) has also provided some useful resources that have hit the market. They are the community that encompasses a philosophy called Functional Contextualism, which is sort of a "re-vamp" of Skinner's Radical Behaviorism and continue to develop Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT said as one word). Learn more about this approach at www.contextualpsychology.org.

Systems Analysis

There isn't as much written on systems analysis from a behavioral perspective. Each of the titles above may be viewed through the lens of behavioral systems analysis, but here are a couple more resources (the second and third are not written by a behavior analyst, but a great resource in the area) for those looking to dive into this area. 

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A Closer Look at "OBM"

Like most things, the more you see them in a certain context the more they then come to "mean" that context. There's a lot of well-branded material in our field, including within the niche subfield of OBM. If I were to encourage the person looking to expand their repertoire in this area it would be to look at OBM through the various conceptual systems that are within behavior analysis. Said another way, it's more than just the branded materials that we often encounter. The technologies and tools created through OBM can be picked up and implemented (a lot of the materials above are designed for the practitioner or business professional to do just that), or you can learn how to complete the process of OBM per Baer, Wolf and Risley's (1968) seven dimensions. Doing that is sure to require a lot more work, but it's an extremely useful repertoire. I personally learned the latter, and it's helped in building two businesses, designing curricula and training for school districts, as well as a few handfuls of various projects in different organizations that I have been employed. Note: All of my OBM projects included mentors, subject matter experts, and other team members.

Conceptual Systems + Organizational Systems

Types of Conceptual Systems

Each conceptual system of behavior analysis has its own variables, linked to a philosophical worldview, that attempts to "interpret" the world of behavior to some degree. There's a LOT out there, but here's a few that are commonly taught (i.e., Skinnerian) and a few that aren't quite so well-known (Goldiamond & Kantor). 

  1. Skinnerian - Mechanistic*
  2. Skinnerian - Contextual*
  3. Goldiamond's Constructional Approach
  4. JR Kantor Interbehavioral Approach
  5. Functional Contextualism (not pictured below)

*Skinner is typically interpreted one of these two ways. I personally read him as contextual. He also talked of motivation, however I've included Jack Michael's work on Motivation Operations (MOs) within the diagram.

Where should you start?

  1. Find a mentor (www.BACB.com and the OBM Network are your best resources do so ethically, as well as find someone that can help)
  2. Pick a conceptual system to explore the organizational world through (there's a lot out there, we can help in our 1-Day events typically, or you can check out Bx+ as a free resource)
  3. Start working and respond to the data like you would any other behavior.

Where Next Gen Can Help

We are creating a place for people that are in the midst of sorting out the complexities of expanding their areas of practice in ethical, legal, and meaningful ways. It's starting throughout 1-day event below, but it's continuing afterward through a continued online community. So if you're looking for more hands-on experience sorting through some of the areas of the literature above, then find our next scheduled event (online and in-person options) and be ready to submerge yourself in a workshop experience and community that's interested in you expanding your potential with behavior analysis.  

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Abernathy, W. B. (2013). Behavioral approaches to business and industrial problems: organizational behavior management. In Maddon, G. J., Dube, W. V., Hackenberg, T. D., Hanley, G. P., & Lattal, K. A. (Eds.), APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis: Vol. 2 Translating Principles into Practice (pp. 501-522). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97. 

Bar-Yam, Y. Y. (1997). Dynamics of complex systems. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.