By Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
Culture is defined by how people behave and interact with one another inside an organization. Culture is learned behavior— it’s not created overnight by hanging fancy quotes around your office and posting vivid pictures on social media. Its built brick by brick by instilling trust among employees, modeling ethical behavior every day, and doing the right thing when you think no one is watching.
An innovative company culture is built by open and frank discussions about what separates excellent ideas from poor ones. If you want to be innovative, you also need to accept failure. If our employees aren’t pushing boundaries and failing frequently in the process, we probably aren’t pushing hard enough. The timeless principles of applied behavior analysis can engineer an environment that reinforces successive approximations of behaviors that result in a culture of innovation and peak employee performance in the following way:
What one action can leaders take to build company culture?
Leaders must contrive both virtual and physical venues for people to celebrate small successes and failures. Effective company cultures have frequent face-to-face meetings and virtual engagement. One example we live and breathe is our BCBA Self-Help Group Meetings in Mt. Laurel & Lawrenceville NJ. Clinicians know they can share their most challenging problems, without judgement, among colleagues that are eager to help and may have solutions. They build trust in each other to take small risks and discuss them in a way that, in the end, improves the lives of many families and learners in unique ways that haven’t been attempted before. These meetings don’t just happen accidentally. The topics discussed are generated in advance and carefully by our leaders. Attendance and engagement in these face-to-face discussions is also reinforced on a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement with a spin of the prize wheel. Everything from winning a dinner to a $1000,00 check is the outcome for multiple participants that day. How can we afford this? The return on investment (ROI) is delayed, but nevertheless it happens in ways that are less conspicuous to the outsider. One of those ROI’s is increased employee retention. Employees have stated directly to me that they almost resigned from the organization if it weren’t for the solutions generated by their colleagues in these interactions.
When people live too far apart to meet physically, this type of engagement can also be generated through closed company groups that are “invite only”. Our “BDA Culture” Facebook group drives engagement to connect people from all over the east coast in ways I didn’t expect. People in our field no longer feel like they are “on an island.” They celebrate birthdays, weddings, birth of newborns, and accomplishments like passing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam. This also required systematic advance planning, design, and positive reinforcement on a variable ratio schedule for engagement. After a while, these contrived reinforcers can be weaned and the engagement in itself maintains participation.
True and sustained culture change means altering the fabric of an organization on a day by day basis to celebrate these small wins and losses. Behavioral science has those answers, but it requires leaders to practice the application of the science in a responsible way.
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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