By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
President, bSci21Media, LLC
It isn’t every day you get a chance to sit down with the CEO of a multimillion dollar company, let alone one in Applied Behavior Analysis.
This was my lucky day, and with none other than Brett DiNovi.
Brett is the CEO of DiNovi & Associates, whose team of over 250 consultants are leading the way in ABA service delivery in schools and organizations. DiNovi & Associates is now the largest consulting firm of its kind on the East Coast of the United States. Brett’s path to success started somewhat accidentally. He had a “full ride” at West Virginia University (WVU) on a wrestling scholarship with no intention of going into psychology, let alone behavior analysis. He happened to take an introductory psychology course with Dr. Julie Vargas, daughter of B.F. Skinner. According to DiNovi, “she took me under her wing and encouraged me to go to graduate school.” He eventually decided he needed to redirect his energy away from wrestling as a consequence of numerous injuries and entered grad school.
Once in grad school, he started teaching a course at WVU in “Behaviorology – a term promoted by Dr. Earnest Vargas, as part of a movement to more closely align the science of behavior with the natural sciences (Note: If you attend the annual ABAI conference, you can find a Behaviorology text in the bookstore.) While at WVU he eventually crossed paths with Julie Smith and Leslie Braksick of Continuous Learning Group (CLG) through a practicum position. His first job in OBM was through that practicum, in which he designed leadership trainings for UPS.
After grad school DiNovi became a Program Director at Bancroft, for an intensive behavioral unit specializing in brain injury. He saved the residential program hundreds of thousands of dollars by implementing OBM principles to reduce overtime for the agency. While there, he helped create their consultation department, among other things, and eventually decided to start a full-fledged consulting company. DiNovi felt there were so many other ways to use ABA to keep learners out of restrictive settings, however he did not have the influence to make those changes in his role there.
And DiNovi & Associates was born.
Now in business for 12 years, the company focuses the majority of their work consulting to schools at the student, classroom, and policy/systems level. However, a growing proportion of their work now includes consulting in Organizational Behavior Management, both within his large agency, and with other agencies requiring leadership training.
With such a large team bringing in millions of dollars a year, we wanted to know the secret to his success, and we were lucky enough to get a few:
Knowing Why The Organization Exists: DiNovi suggests that great companies have a collective vision of WHY they are in business instead of just WHAT they do. His hundreds of employees are continually reminded of the goal to keep learners in less restrictive settings and to use ABA to change the landscape of schools, government, and society.
As such, the leaders in the company are encouraged to push the envelope and use “outside
the box” strategies to help learners. For example, DiNovi & Associates has a couple of stretch limousines that take the learners into the community to engage in social skills activities. It has proven to be a safer way of transporting the learners and less stigmatizing than a small yellow school bus. DiNovi feels strongly that the dignity and safety of each learner is of the utmost priority.
Have a flat organizational structure: If you look at the typical organizational chart, you see a pyramid with multiple layers filled up by middle managers. That is the opposite of a flat organization – what we might call a “top heavy” organization. The flat structure enables two keys to success that are summed up by DiNovi himself – “when kids need things we can expeditiously make decisions and we can pay our people almost double the industry standard.” In other words, a flat organization is conducive to organizational agility, or the ability of an organization to make decisions quickly while bypassing bureaucratic red tape. The absence of red tape, in turn, means more money is put in the pocket of employees rather than middle managers sitting around on salary.
Setting up an organization in this way requires trust in your employees to make good decisions on their own, with less input and oversight from the higher ups. And this requires an intensive hiring process.
Invest time and energy into hiring quality employees: In fact, “invest time and energy” is probably an
understatement as DiNovi walks through a multiphased hiring process that starts with selection. DiNovi notes, “before they can even get through the door there’s three steps they have to do.” The first is an online survey about company culture, next is a phone screening, and third is a panel interview. In all three, attention is paid to social and communication skills among potential hires. The panel interview is structured such that multiple interviewers are interviewing applicants as a group, which allows the interviewers to see how the applicants interact with one another. Through the entire selection process, DiNovi and team are searching for two things: (a) applicants with initiative to pursue performance-based pay incentives, and (b) to search for social skills red flags that suggest the particular applicant might not pair as effectively with clients, parents, and teachers down the road.
Weekly feedback: Every week, all DiNovi employees complete a 60 second survey on employee satisfaction. Every Monday, the executive team reads through all 250+ surveys on the lookout for the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. If something is detected, they pick up the phone and call the employee to fix the problem. According to DiNovi, most of the time things that come up “are so easy to fix” and commonly include small yet frustrating things like problems entering time at the end of the week. As anyone with work experience knows, those small things can build up over time to create larger problems in the future, and negatively affect staff performance and morale.
Finding a Niche: Each employee is encouraged to find one area that excites them, and as long as it uses behavior analytic
principles, the company put the resources behind the person to pursue their niche. DiNovi strongly believes in employees working because they WANT to rather than they HAVE to.
And what has the above three-pronged process achieved for the company? A turnover rate of less than 2.5% among full-time employees, which is unheard of in ABA service companies. Secondly, awards such as “Best Place To Work”, and a trajectory of grow that nearly doubles in revenue each year. However, DiNovi states that, “if there is even one indication that growth is negatively impacting the quality of services, we will stop growing”.
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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