Two of the biggest challenges people face when trying to implement a behavioral change program are organization buy-in and staff’s adherence to the plan. Why and what can we do about it? Let’s break it down and try to understand it:
- Organization buy-in:
In large organizations, cultural change involves a series of small behavioral changes from its members. Creating that large scale behavioral change necessitates accountability, involvement, and understanding from leaders. If leaders don’t understand the process and the gains that are expected from the process, they won’t be able to support it. As much as we all want organizational change to be “bottom up”, in the sense that line workers are really invested in the change, with behavioral programming there needs to be at least some “top down” action. Remember, behavioral change is most effective when we are able to create consequences for the behavior we want to see. Leaders are the ones who control the consequences in any process in an organization.
How do you get leaders to understand and support the behavioral change you are proposing? The same way you support any other behavioral change: use reinforcers. Find out what are the target metrics for the organization, what are the outcomes that hold the largest reinforcing power? Then, align your behavioral program to address that outcome. Show the leaders how you will be able to accomplish that change with a well-designed plan (read “How do you know if your behavior plan is good?”), describe the process, be enthusiastic! If you don’t believe in your plan, nobody will.
- Staff’s adherence:
Once you have the support of the leaders of the organization, now you need to earn the support from the line workers. To that end, you need to:
- show them you are willing to do what you are asking them to do;
- be successful, i.e. get results they value, when you do it.
I have seen behavior plans that made “technical sense”, but that would never work. That is, plans that were designed based on behavior analytic principles and techniques, but discounted “The Behavior Web” (nice punch line, huh?). I have seen behavior analysts ask technician to “not allow escape” or “to ignore that behavior” when they wouldn’t be able to do it themselves—or they might be able to do it for an hour, but not for the whole shift like they ask of the technicians. So before you recommend an intervention, observe the behavior of the staff who will put it in practice. Will they be able to accomplish it? If not, then use your behavioral expertise to shape the behavior of the technician. What is the first step in order to get to the intervention of your dreams? Recommend that. Model that intervention to the staff, and make sure you get the results they value: it is not enough to perform the procedure correctly; you need to get a change that is favorable to the performer you are training. So, if you are training staff to deal with verbal aggression, your intervention must have an effect on the verbal aggression to which the staff is subject.
In the end, organizational change and staff adherence are complex response classes that can be broken down into smaller response targets. Pay attention to how the behavior of all the parties involve are interconnected, and bring something of value to each party.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.
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