Josh Lipschultz, M.A., BCBA, guest author
Manny Rodriguez, M.S., bSci21 contributing writer
How does one become interested in the field of ABA? For many, the interest builds after completing an academic course in the subject. For others, the academics are not enough, but rather the applied work experience. Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), briefly described as applying the science of human behavior in the workplace, seems to necessitate a great deal of applied experience beyond the classroom. For some students and professionals outside of the field of OBM, it is an area that eludes their educational experience. It has almost gotten to a point where OBM is seen as some legendary animal depicted in literature, or history lessons in ABA, yet has only been seen by a few – like a unicorn! Ok, maybe that’s a stretch but hopefully you get the idea.
According to the BACB website, there are 272 programs that offer Approved Course Sequences toward certification as a BCBA. However, the BACB website does not list any information pertaining to programs offer OBM coursework. For that information, the OBM Network is the place to look (Have you heard? There is a whole network dedicated to this unicorn!).
The OBM Network website highlights 21 academic programs offering training in OBM. Of those 21 programs, three programs (Appalachian State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, and West Chester University) offer degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and one program (Florida Institute of Technology) is listed twice due to offering degrees in both behavior analysis and OBM. Excluding the four programs above, 16 programs listed by the OBM Network offer graduate training in OBM and are approved programs by the BACB. This means less than 6% of the university training programs with approved BACB coursework offer students an option to get graduate training in OBM.
Based on those data, the odds are you will never see this unicorn. However, OBM is no unicorn, but a career choice and a path sought by many interested in helping organizations make a difference. OBM is a field, which everyone should and can learn; it simply requires taking the initiative to find that unicorn.
Here’s how two OBMers found the “unicorn.”
I remember the summer I decided behavior analysis was the career for me. I had completed an undergraduate course in ABA, and I was instantly hooked. Upon graduating with my Bachelor’s, I searched for graduate programs in my area, and found one that was a good fit for me – Caldwell University. The program had an autism focus, and at the time I thought that was the direction I wanted to take with my career.
As I continued my academic career, I started to learn about other applications of behavior analysis. What stood out most was OBM. My graduate program offered a fantastic education in the field of behavior analysis; however, there was no OBM coursework, similar to other ABA programs.
I continued to hone my skills in behavior analysis, and as I began to branch out on my own to research what having a career in the field of OBM entailed, I pursued it. I was lucky enough to have fantastic professors and mentors as part of my Master’s program, and they were more than willing to go out of their way to answer my questions or put me in touch with people who could. Based on the information I gathered on my own and with the help of others, I decided to apply to a doctoral program that offered training in OBM – The Florida Institute of Technology. I found the unicorn and am actively learning and becoming an OBM practitioner.
It all started at Florida State University. I was in my second year as an undergraduate, working two jobs, paying bills, and considering my future. I took a course called “careers in psychology” as I was a dual major in psychology and criminology (cue in the Law and Order music – duh duh). One day, sitting in the mid section of the class room, I sat and listened to Dr. Jon S. Bailey, who at the time I knew very little about except he liked talking a lot about behavior. After 45 minutes, I was hooked and began my career in behavior analysis. Two years, hours of study, and implementing a few Performance Management (OBM) projects I was sold; OBM would be my career path.
Upon realizing my undergraduate degree was coming to an end, I knew I wanted to learn more. I applied to several universities and found very few offered OBM as a graduate career path. I was starting to wonder If OBM was something of a myth that Dr. Bailey created. However as luck would have it, I met a wonderful woman (Kelly, my wife of 10 years), who introduced me to a guy named Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz. “Jose” convinced me Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) was the program which can offer what no other university could: endless opportunities. In 2002, I began my graduate career at FIT, when OBM was in fact just a unicorn. With Jose’s support, Kelly and I started our journey into graduate level education in behavior analysis. I began working as a behavior analyst, working in schools and homes providing ABA services for children with development disabilities, and non-diagnosed children with problems ranging from academic issues to runaways, anorexia and bulimia. My work as a behavior analyst helped me achieve two important things: 1) my BCBA, which I held for just shy of 10 years and 2) a starting point for my OBM career.
During the same time frame of working as a behavior analyst, I was working through my first year of graduate studies, learning ABA and various other courses for my future career. Kelly and I also got very busy working to create the first OBM track for the FIT ABA program. As a result at the end of Year 1, we helped to hire two new faculty, one specifically focused on OBM (Dr. David Wilder who is still making a difference at FIT), and recruited the first wave of OBM students to the program. Year 2 was set up to be very exciting! While completing the Master’s degree program, we implemented the new OBM track, started FIT’s Society for Performance Management, and because OBM jobs were not readily available, I started my own small business consultancy.
OBM was new for FIT, research in the area of OBM was new to the university, and we even established the first OBM practicum site for the university – Aubrey Daniels International. We became entrepreneurs in a sense, launching the program, creating awareness, and even developing local OBM projects.
In a sense, we created a Unicorn, because no one believed this could happen or was happening.
Upon graduation, my professional career in OBM officially began, and it’s been amazing thus far. Today, over ten years later after FIT, I am still an OBM practitioner; I have worked with two of the largest behavior-based consultancies in the world, and led behavioral solutions for a Fortune 1000 chemical company. FIT is celebrating as well, offering OBM to students in the form of a Master’s degree, a dual Master’s degree in ABA (meaning clinical ABA) and OBM, and as Josh will soon achieve, a PhD in behavior analysis with training in OBM.
Back to the Unicorn
This may have felt like an advertisement for Florida Institute of Technology, but in fact it is an advertisement for OBM, that OBM is no unicorn, it just takes effort to make it your career.
The reason for this article is to offer guidance for anybody interested in OBM but may not know where to begin to learn or even develop their skills in OBM. With this in mind, here are some tips for the ABA practitioner, student, and generally interested. The tips are from two different perspectives: a current graduate student in the field of behavior analysis (Josh), and an OBM practitioner (Manny).
Tips From a Current Graduate Student in Behavior Analysis:
1) Make the most of your current situation
Just because your program may not have OBM courses does not mean there are no opportunities to learn. Behaviors in the workplace are subject to the same contingencies as behaviors in schools and clinics. This means the principles you learn in the coursework in any approved BACB course sequence will apply to behavior in the workplace. Additionally, you should seek out research opportunities related to OBM. Although my Master’s program had an autism focus, my thesis examined the use of video modeling to train staff to implement stimulus preference assessments. When I was applying to doctoral programs, being able to discuss staff training and management techniques was an excellent way to show I could have success in OBM, even though I did not have any OBM coursework.
2) Ask your professors for help
I was lucky enough to have professors who were willing to help me gain more knowledge in OBM. Even though the professors in my Master’s program had relatively limited experience with OBM, they knew colleagues who worked in the field of OBM. My professors put me in touch with colleagues who had extensive OBM experience and were willing to give advice to a graduate student. Some of the basic information about OBM helped give me direction for what to look for. Most OBM practitioners are happy to share their experience and advice to help others learn more about the field. OBM practitioners can be a tight-knit group, and getting your name out there and interacting with them can pay dividends for your career.
3) Join the OBM Network
Very early on in my research, when I was doing a web search for “organizational behavior management,” I came across the OBM Network website. The information on the website is vital for anybody interested in OBM, whether you are new to the field, or a seasoned veteran who has worked with hundreds of clients. As a member of the OBM Network, you get access to the OBM Network Newsletter, online and print subscription to the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and access to the OBM Network discussion forums.
4) Research, research, research
Although communicating with people in the field of the OBM was extremely helpful, the impetus to learn as much as possible about OBM ultimately fell on me. Luckily, the people I had communicated with, as well as the OBM Network website, gave me plenty of resources to look at and read to learn more about OBM. Specifically, the recommended reading for both articles and books were fantastic starting points for learning about the application of behavior analytic principles to the workplace. In addition, the Florida Institute of Technology offers many online OBM courses for practitioners and the generally interested. They even offer an OBM certificate program, which is tailored toward individuals who have experience with ABA, but not with applying it to organizational settings.
5) “Remember your roots”
My final piece of advice is to stay in the loop with the world of ABA. In my humble opinion, there are two reasons to do this. The first reason is jobs will be available working with various populations with disabilities. Although it may not be a person’s first choice, there are still opportunities to use OBM working with individuals with disabilities. Depending on your specific job within the organization, you can focus on training staff to work with clients, or managing staff. Both situations could potentially necessitate the use of feedback, incentive programs, modeling, prompts, and goal setting to get staff to perform at the necessary levels, which are some of the more widely used interventions in the OBM literature.
The second reason is that there is a large demand for OBM in ABA clinics. OBM, and more specifically staff management, is covered briefly in the BACB-approved coursework sequence, but not in depth. Therefore, with OBM, there is a high likelihood that you will be hired to work with staff in an ABA clinical setting. In that case, it would behoove the OBM consultant to know the language that clinicians use, and be familiar with the issues they are encountering. The first step to many consulting jobs is to get background knowledge in the industry to which they are consulting. There is a lot of work to do in ABA clinical settings and having background knowledge in the industry can only help OBM practitioners provide better services to their clients.
Tips from an OBM Practitioner:
1) Start where you are right now. A professional working with a clinical organization providing ABA therapy can start by working with their manager and supervisors on opportunities to tackle an OBM project within their own organization. You already know the people, the processes, and the organizational needs (maybe), so it can be a “safe” beginning to your journey into using behavior analysis applied to the work place (OBM). Think Intel – OBM-Inside! When I first started, I was a behavior analyst, BCBA, working with a clinical organization serving clients in homes and in schools. My boss “hired” me to teach what I knew of OBM to my colleagues and the management staff. What a great way to start – I taught a workshop, to leaders, within my company, on the concepts and principles of OBM. As a result, I worked with the leaders to establish standards of practice, training protocols, and best practices in serving clients – all issues related to staff performance.
2) Look for OBMers to collaborate with locally. The OBM Network is a network, so depending on where you live, you may find some local contacts to help you on your journey. By contacting one, it may lead you to doing some OBM work in your own community. When I first started, I reached out to everyone! The OBM Network, my professors, friends of my professors, and even friends in the business world. Truly, collaboration is paramount to building ones repertoire in any skill, especially new skills.
3) Reach out to a local business/management consulting firm looking for consultants. The trick here is to teach the firms about OBM/ABA during the initial discussions. Most of these firms use key words like “performance improvement,” “management consulting,” and in some cases “leadership consulting.” Practice your elevator speech. Work on your use of examples of OBM/ABA in the field and its value proposition (social significant behavior change, use of data, replicable procedures, etc.). By reaching out to these organizations, you begin pairing yourself as someone local, someone with deep roots in a science of human behavior, and someone interested in consulting – a great trio for any local consultancy looking for talent. In addition, you may not get a job, but rather get an opportunity to work with them on a project.
4) The old “apply” for an OBM type job. Unfortunately, unlike ABA clinical work, OBM jobs in the most literal sense are few and far in between. Most OBMers find jobs within a company in the functions such as HR, organizational development, organizational effectiveness, safety (for those Behavior Based Safety folks), and training and development. Again, the tough part here is being able to talk about OBM in a way that makes sense to those hiring for the more traditional HR, OD, Safety, and Training and Development people with business degrees, I/O degrees, and/or MBA’s. You can apply, but beware; you may be hard pressed to find a position titled “OBM.” Try “performance improvement, change management, or organizational development” to name a few in your search.
5) Become an entrepreneur and try it yourself. The challenge here of course is the need to have a good mentor to help you on your way and the drive to be independent. Still, if this is of interest, there are people out there (OBM Network) and even freelance consultants available to provide mentoring. You could also work with a small business advisor at your local chamber of commerce to get up and running. The latter would give general advice on starting up your own company, rather than mentoring in OBM consulting work, but would be a solid option nonetheless.
Let us know about your OBM journey in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Joshua Lipschultz, M.A., BCBA graduated from Caldwell University with a Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis. He is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, with experience in basic and applied research, working with individuals with autism ranging in age from 3 to 21, and implementing Behavioral Skills Training Solutions. Joshua has led organizational systems solutions in medical health facilities resulting in improved patient scheduling, and nurse rounding behavior to increase patient satisfaction. The results of some of his work can be read in upcoming publications in the Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, and J. Luiselli’s book Behavioral Health Promotion and Intervention for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Joshua is currently a Doctoral Student in the Behavior Analysis program at Florida Institute of Technology.
Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years experience, working with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President-Elect of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.
Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.