Organizational Change Applications in Behavior Analysis: A Review of the Literature and Future Directions

By Houmanfar, Ramona; Herbst, Scott A. et al. | The Behavior Analyst Today, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Organizational Change Applications in Behavior Analysis: A Review of the Literature and Future Directions


Houmanfar, Ramona, Herbst, Scott A., Chase, Jared, The Behavior Analyst Today


Implementing lasting organizational change has received an increasing amount of attention in the literature over the last 20 years. Despite this general trend, behavior analysts have been slow to address this when presenting applied research. This article reviews research published in The Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM) since 1990. The review suggests that the major areas of systematic applications in 013M target performance of first line employees and supervisors and that the impact of such interventions are rarely linked to companies' financial success and survival. Conclusions concerning the directions of the field of organizational behavior management in consideration of these findings are offered.

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Global market change is occurring at a fast pace. A recent report published by The Conference Board in Canada, titled "Leadership for Tomorrow: Playing Catch-up with Change", reveals that the complexity and speed of change is beyond what most high-level executives can manage or their own. Increasingly, corporate leaders are relying on the skills, education, and competence of their employees at all levels of organization (Papmehl, 2002). Accordingly, successful organizational response to market demand requires response from individuals at all levels. This means that organizational effectiveness depends on the alignment of responses from the top management level down to the performer level (i.e., front line worker). In a review of Industrial /Organization (1/0) psychology literature, Tharenou (2001) stresses the need for a greater focus on organizational change. Tharenou (2001) states that as the world continues to move to a global economy, organizations will need to adapt to changing cultural and economic contingencies. She argues that even though individual performance certainly cannot be ignored, the changing climate calls for a greater focus on the context in which an organization functions. Tharenou (2001) also discusses how lasting, structural change might be carried out given contextual constraints. Given the need to focus on organizational change, it is important to consider various ways through which such change may be approached.

Theoretical Perspectives

At the theoretical level, organizational change has been studied from a variety of perspectives incorporating an array of assumptions. Prochaska (2000) argues that organizational change can be viewed as a developmental process through which the organization passes through a variety of stages. Desired changes are made possible when the change agent is able to successfully recognize and adapt to the developmental stage that the organization is resting in (Levesque, Prochaska, & Prochaska, 1999). McKenna (1999) takes a more humanistic approach in arguing that successful change comes about as a function of the manager's need for control and his or her ability to understand the complexity of the system in need of change. Olson (1990) takes a psychoanalytic perspective in arguing that orchestrating successful change involves capitalizing on the conflict between conscious and unconscious understandings of that change.

In the behavioral literature, organizational change is addressed theoretically through the meta-contingency analysis (Mawhinney, 1992, 200 1; Malott, 2002). According to this perspective, when the products of organizational practices contribute to the

materialistic survival of the organization, the practices that generated them are more likely to reoccur. More specifically, like any other cultural practice, organizational practice can be defined as "a set of interlocking contingencies of reinforcement in which the behavior and behavioral products of each participant function as environmental events with which the behavior of other individuals interact" (Glenn, 1988). Furthermore, group practices (e.g., production methods, marketing techniques, process management, etc. …

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