Understanding Behavior of Organizations to Improve Behavior in Organizations

By Brethower, Dale M. | The Behavior Analyst Today, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Understanding Behavior of Organizations to Improve Behavior in Organizations


Brethower, Dale M., The Behavior Analyst Today


Human behavior occurs in an environment. The environment is usually a family, social group, work group, school, or workplace. Each of these environments is a system, with systemic properties and dynamics that influence how that system interacts with a person's behavior. Behavioral systems analysis combines principles of behavior analysis and system analysis to understand how to improve behavior of persons and of organizations. Behavior analysis is powerful but has specific limitations. Behavioral systems analysis was invented to deal with the limitations and build on the poser of behavior analysis. Six foundational notions that guide behavioral systems analysis are presented. The six notions can be found in or abstracted from the management literature and the general systems literature, but applying the foundational notions requires careful integration of systems principles and behavioral principles. Ongoing work by Rummler and others is testing and validating specific techniques for use of behavioral and systems principles within the context of living organizations.

Keywords: Behavioral systems analysis; systems principles; organizational behavior.

Introduction--six questions

Please allow me to set the stage for a discussion of behavior of and in organizations by giving brief answers to 6 questions:

1. Where does behavior occur? In an environment. The environment for much interesting behavior of individuals is the family or an organization such as a school or workplace; the environment for an organization is the marketplace or service area.

2. What controls/influences/guides behavior? Environmental variables. Specific environmental variables interacting with behavior that is conditioned by the individual's genetic and learning history and by the organization's relationships with customers or clients and suppliers.

3. Why is it important to know what controls/influences/guides behavior? If I know, I can be more effective more often as a parent or teacher or child care worker or supervisor or manager or leader or member of a family, social group, or work group.

4. Why is behavior analysis important? It is a way of understanding the interactions between a specific behavior and the environment. It is a way of understanding why individuals behave as they do, not in an abstract sense but in terms of very specific behaviors and very specific and measurable variables. It is a way of understanding what one must do to be more effective as a self-manager, friend, family member, manager, leader etc.

5. What do we know about families, social groups, and work groups as well as schools, workplaces, and other organizations? We know that they are systems.

6. What is a system? A set of interconnected variables--and the physical material and energy that enables the variables to function. We have always known that behavior occurs in an environment but understanding that the environment is a system is not well known. Or at least, the implications of "environment as system" are not well known.

The purpose of this paper is to help clarify some of the implications of understanding "environment as system." I will do so by explaining why a few well-known behaviorists had to invent the field of behavioral systems analysis, a field that attempts to show what controls the environmental variables that, in turn, impact behavior. (The short version is that we had to do it if we were to develop schools and workplaces that support functional human behavior.)

Behavior Analysis, by itself, is powerful

Behavioral analysis is extremely powerful. The power is demonstrated in:

* dozens of research papers published each year

* dozens of books published in the past decade, and

* Hundreds of sessions presented at the International Association for Behavior Analysis, the American Association for Behavior Therapy, and other professional associations each year.

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Understanding Behavior of Organizations to Improve Behavior in Organizations
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