Effective ABA agencies need a culture of transparency.

Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Merriam-Webster defines “transparent” as “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information epecially concerning business practices.”  A business with transparent practices is one whose environment fosters trust and openness in its employees. In the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) industry, transparency means that your front-line technicians feel comfortable communicating to their supervising BCBAs.  BCBAs, in turn, feel comfortable communicating to their Directors, and so on. 

Here’s the bottom line – organizations die without effective communication.  As behavior analysts, we like to think of organizations as behavioral systems – a locus of coordinated behavior, or Interlocked Behavioral Contingencies (IBCs), that are aligned toward a common mission and vision.  Most every work process in your organization can be thought of as made up of IBCs.  Billing, for example, involves the behavior of front-line staff recording data each session.  The data forms an antecedent condition for the behavior of the supervising BCBA to write session notes.  The session notes, in turn, are submitted to the billing department who coordinate with the behavior of relevant parties at the insurance agency who then reimburse the ABA agency for the hours worked. 

A leader is overseeing dozens of such processes to ensure IBCs are optimally aligned to meet performance goals, to optimize employee motivation and morale, and to minimize turnover.  Moreover, as an organization scales up in size and complexity, roles become more differentiated and specialized.  Leadership becomes increasingly disconnected from day-to-day operations on the front line, and the diversity of roles means that each person comes to see the organization from a different perspective. 

In order to effectively lead such a dynamic entity, leadership decision-making needs to contact as many relevant contingencies in the organization as possible. Effective leadership comes from effective contact with how the organization is functioning.  A culture of transparency is designed for just this purpose.

So how do you create a transparent organization?  In a recent video, Brett DiNovi described how he has worked to create a culture of transparency while leading one of the largest ABA agencies on the east coast – Brett DiNovi & Associates.   His solution is to “put people before profits.” 

Putting people before profits doesn’t mean you should ignore profits.  On the contrary – profits allow your business to grow.  A lack of profits will doom your business to failure.  But “people before profits” really describes the path you should take to achieve those profits.  By creating a culture of transparency, you are saying that you value the work of your employees and you value their opinion.  You recognize that, as a leader, you can’t see everything in an organization, and in order to make sound policy decisions you need to create an environment in which communication flows freely. 

For example, surveying staff every week to continuously monitor morale provides hundreds of opportunities to “check under the hood” to make sure things are functioning smoothly.   If something isn’t running optimally, contingencies need to be in place to ensure staff can voice their concerns without fear of retaliation from leadership.  This means “management by exception” – or only hearing from your boss when you make a mistake – has no place in the business.  Such a strategy is focused on reducing and supressing behavior rather than facilitating performance. 

This also means soliciting feedback from the clients and families served by your front-line staff and BCBAs.  If staff consistently receive positive reviews from those with whom they serve, provide some monetary incentives for their achievements.  Doing so is not only likely to reinforce quality service delivery, but also shows that leadership cares about their employees and wants to see them succeed over the long term.

Remember that in the field of ABA, we have few permanent products of our work.  Unlike the architect who can marvel at the construction of a beautiful skyscraper that once only existed on paper, the products of behavior analysts are fleeting.  Behavior changes from one moment to the next, and our clients can show signs of improvement one day, while seeming to regress the next.  Surveys and written feedback give staff something tangible – a permanent product of desireable work performance…a tangible reminder of a job well done in an industry built on intangible yet socially significant results. 

To hear more tips, be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see from him in the future! 

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, bSciStudios and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Brett DinoviBrett 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 [email protected]

*Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.

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1 Comment on "Effective ABA agencies need a culture of transparency."

  1. Precisely.

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