How a behavior analyst thinks about an organization.

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

How do you think about a business like a behavior analyst?

The answer resides in Behavioral Systems Analysis (BSA).  BSA is a sister discipline to Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) that takes a broader view of your organization.  BSA allows you to see your organization as a dynamic behavioral entity operating in a constantly changing marketplace.  In a behavioral system, leaders are tasked with monitoring their organization’s functioning in the larger world, and adjust policies accordingly to ensure a quality product/service and financial survival.

One succinct way to envision your organization as a behavioral system is through the metacontingency.  The concept was originally developed in the 1980s, and has undergone continual refinement over the decades.  Below, I want to give you a simple way forward to start seeing your organization as a system through the elements of the metacontingency.

Aggregate Product/Service

I suggest starting by articulating the products/services that your organization provides to consumers.  Products and services are what your organization is all about – they give your organization value to consumers, and should align with your company’s mission and vision.  Like the behavior of individuals, you can think of your aggregate outputs in terms of topography (i.e., form) and function (i.e., effects on consumers).

If you are an ABA provider, topography of services might include: number of cases, types of services provided, types of assessments used, service radius, miles driven per week, etc…  all of which is what your service “looks like.”  The function of services might include things like: revenue, treatment goals met, parent satisfaction, word of mouth referrals, etc… all of which pertain to how clients and consumers are relating to your services.

Interlocked Behavioral Contingencies

When you look inside your organization to the processes that produce your products and services, you will see chains of Interlocked Behavioral Contingencies (IBCs) involving multiple people that form work processes.  Billing, for example, involves the behavior of front line staff filling out time sheets, signatures from BCBAs and parents, submitting to the billing department of your agency, and onto an insurance company.  Similarly, starting a new case might involve the behavior of the BCBA interacting with parents and their child during an assessment.  Writing up the assessment and treatment plan might then require review by a supervisor, who then may submit the plan to insurance.  Then front line staff interact with the BCBA to be trained on programs.

Each case illustrates how the behavior or behavioral product of one person forms the antecedent or consequence events for the behavior of another person.  In an organization IBCs can form chains of behavior across many people, known as “work processes”, and can have critical effects on productivity and overall competitiveness in the marketplace.

Culturo-Organizational Milieu

Like behavior, your organization operates in a larger environment.  This culturo-organizational milieu can be thought of as organizational setting factors in larger society that can impact your organization’s functioning.  For example, the state you live in can have a large impact on business laws.  Professional organizations such as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board consistently updates their training and supervision criteria.  Insurance companies are constantly modifying their policies in accordance with legislation.  If leaders do not stay abreast of the larger environment in which they operate, the organization as a whole may suffer.

The Role of the Behavior Analytic Business Leader

As a behavior analytic business leader, then, your primary role is to ensure organizational health by monitoring the functions of your products/services in the market place within a milieu of setting factors.  Policies can then be generated based on a continuous data stream of information that serves to alter or refine work processes inside your organization.  The latter is where OBM enters the picture.  But first, take the larger view.  Your organization is a continuously evolving dynamic entity.  It is a work environment comprised of the behavior and behavioral products of other people and it is never static.  Ensuring that we can predict and influence the performance of employees is only as good as our ability to understand the larger dynamic system in which it is nested.

For additional reading on the metacontingency and related concepts, check out Glenn (2004), Glenn and Malott (2004), and Houmanfar, Rodrigues, and Ward (2010) to get you started.

You can also click here to watch “Metacontingencies, Organizations, and Cultural Change” for 1.5 Type II CEUs.

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,  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, 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]


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