Organisational Behaviour Modification (OBM)

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Organisational Behaviour Modification: this article provides a practical explanation of Organisational Behaviour Modification. After reading, you’ll have a better understanding of how people’s behaviour in the business world can be changed.

What is Organisational Behaviour Modification?

Organisational Behaviour Modification (OBM) is a technique for personnel management that focuses on improving observable and measurable work-related behaviour. Examples include absence or tardiness, but also quality or quantity of work. Organisational Behaviour Modification argues for intervention to encourage desired performance behaviour and discourage undesired behaviour.

Fred Luthans and Kreitner developed this technique. Organisational Behaviour Modification can also be used to motivate the employees and improve the organisation’s effectiveness.

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To understand what this technique is all about, several related definitions will first be described. These definitions are: attitude, behaviour and organisational behaviour.


An attitude constitutes a way of thinking or feeling about something, a certain emotional state at that specific moment.


Behaviour is defined as the way in which a person acts towards themselves and to those around them.

Organisational behaviour

A way to change behaviour and attitudes through technology and use newly discovered knowledge to influence employees to act in various ways.

Fred Luthans and R. Kreitner developed and used Organisational Behaviour Modification for a behavioural approach to the management of human resources for performance enhancement.

The steps they have given in the application of this technique have been summarised in the following figure:

Organisational Behaviour Modification process - toolshero

  1. Identify undesired behaviour. Use the following questions as guideline.
    – Can the behaviour be reduced to observable behavioural events?
    – Can it be counted how often each behaviour occurs?
    – What should the person do before a behaviour is recorded?
    – Does it involve an important performance-related behaviour?
  2. Measurement. Measure the current frequency of the behaviour to offer a baseline against which improvement can be measured.
  3. Analyse. Determine the triggers or antecedents for this behaviour and also establish the consequences – positive, neutral or negative – that arise from this behaviour
    – Analysis of reinforcement history
    – Use self-reporting measures
    – Systematic trial and error to identify reinforcements
  4. Intervention. Develop an intervention strategy to reinforce desired behaviour and weaken dysfunctional behaviour by using positive reinforcement and corrective feedback, where it can be noted that punishment might be necessary in some cases, for instance to curb unsafe behaviour.- Develop an intervention strategy that takes into account environmental variables such as structures, processes, technologies, groups and tasks.
    – Apply the right strategy by means of suitable types of unforeseen events
    – Measure to establish the frequency of behaviour after intervention
    – Maintain desired behaviour by using applicable reinforcement schemes
  5. Evaluation. Evaluation is needed to ascertain whether the activities are effective

Why Organisational Behaviour Modification?

Organisational Behaviour Modification is already successfully applied in various organisations. This concerns both service and production, to improve the organisation’s effectiveness and better understand employees’ behaviour in organisations. Additionally, it is an important tool for human resource management.

The following are the most important aspects of Organisational Behaviour Modification:

1. Behaviour can be tested

Organisational Behaviour Modification focuses on a person’s external behaviour and this enables a manager to realistically observe external manifestations of behaviour and to act accordingly. Because this concerns observed behaviour, it can be tested.

2. Development of employees

Organisational Behaviour Modification presents a set of tools that can be used to learn new behaviour and skills and in doing so can replace undesired behaviour.

Positive reinforcement can be used to encourage desired behaviour of employees. The theory of social learning can be very useful in the effective implementation of each training programme for the employees.

This makes Organisational Behaviour Modification a great technique for the development of employees.

3. Monitoring and regulation of employees’ behaviour

Organisational Behaviour Modification offers the managers various tools to effectively manage and influence employees’ behaviour in the organisation.

Most behaviour in an organisation is learned, managed and changed through its consequences. The managers could use operant conditioning to manage and regulate the behaviour of subordinates by manipulating the reward system.

The behavioural effects that are rewarding increase the likelihood of desired behaviour, while aversive consequences reduce the likelihood of a desired response.

4. Easy to understand and to use

The term Organisational Behaviour Modification techniques is relatively simple. Managers can use it quite easily.

The past years, Organisational Behaviour Modification has gained a lot of attention from various organisations. It is applied at a large scale in large organisations in the field of human resource management, management development, motivation, introduction of change and organisational development.

Getting Started

Organisational Behaviour Modification is a tool and therefore, managers must follow specific steps to apply it in practice. These steps are displayed in figure:

Organisational Behaviour Modification steps - toolshero
Applying Organisational Behaviour Modification starts by identifying critical behaviour that is relevant to the organisation’s performance. These behaviours are measured. When there is no difference between desired behaviour and measured behaviour, no further action is needed.

However, when there is a difference, further steps of Organisational Behaviour Modification are required.

These steps are the functional analysis of behaviour, by means of intervention strategies for behavioural modification, and finally evaluating whether the behaviour has been adjusted in light of the desired behaviour after using intervention strategies.

Five steps are followed in changing undesired behaviour. These steps are further clarified below.

1. Identification of critical behaviour

To apply Organisational Behaviour Modification, it’s important to identify negative behaviour. These have significant influence on employees’ performance. Employees can be involved in various behaviours in the organisation.

Some behaviours are critical, such as absence or presence, tardiness or speed, complaints or constructive criticism, and carrying or neglecting to carry out a certain task or procedure.

There are also behaviours that aren’t critical, such as a bad attitude or being silly. Critical behaviour can be identified by speaking to the employee concerned and his/ her direct supervisor. A systematic behaviour audit can also be used to identify such behaviour.

2. Measuring behaviour

After a negative behaviour has been identified, it is measured in terms of the rate at with which it occurs.

When the number of cases falls within the acceptable limit (such as the absence through illness with one percent), it is not necessary to take action.

If the number of cases exceeds this limit, the behaviour must be altered. Behaviour can be measured by observing and counting it or by retrieving this from records.

3. Functional analysis of behaviour

Functional analysis encompasses a detailed investigation of the current behaviour of the employees to determine which consequences the specific behaviours cause.

But also which circumstances lead to this. It determines one of the most practical problems when using an Organisational Behaviour Modification approach to change critical performance behaviour.

However, the functional analysis often reveals that only the contingent consequences are identified.

Furthermore, functional analysis also reveals that there are many competing unforeseen events for each organisational behaviour.

Therefore, the analysis must not be misled by the contingent consequences that initially appear to influence the critical behaviour.

4. Intervention

Identification of certain behaviour and the factors that cause such behaviour will determine the development of a suitable intervention strategy.

Intervention is action that is taken to change undesired critical behaviour. The main goal is to reinforce and expedite desired performance behaviour and weaken undesired behaviour.

There are various intervention strategies that can be used, but the most important ones are based on the reinforcement principles. The selected strategies must be suitable for the situation and yield the desired result.

5. Systematic evaluation

The last step in Organisational Behaviour Modification is the systematic evaluation that assesses whether the intervention strategies are effective. This given the fact that the basic goal of Organisational Behaviour Modification is to change undesired behaviour to improve performance.

Changed behaviour can be compared to baseline behaviour and deviations can be observed. In case of a positive change, this suggests that the strategies are successful. However, if the change isn’t positive, this could mean more suitable strategies are required.

To implement Organisational Behaviour Modification, the following matters are important. You must choose a suitable reward or punishment, encourage the behaviour you really want to see, give sufficient feedback, the rewards must be proportional to the right action, regularly plan rewards and make these visible to the recipient and to others.

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of Organisational Behaviour Modification or do you have anything to add to this explanation? In which situations do you think this method is effective? What do you believe are success factors that contribute to the practical application of this theory?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Brooks, I. (2018).Organisational Behaviour: Individuals, Groups and Organisation. Pearson.
  2. Sinding, K. & Waldstrom, C. (2014).Organisational Behaviour, 5th edition. Mcgraw-Hill Education.
  3. Luthans, F. (1984, 1975). Organizational Behavior Modification and Beyond: An Operant and Social Learning Approach. (Management Applications Series). Scott Foresman & Co

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Published on: 28/11/2020 | Last update: 10/02/2022

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Jessie Sari
Article by:

Jessie Sari

Jessie Sari is a content writer at ToolsHero. Jessie studies Trade Management in Asia at the Hogeschool van Rotterdam. As part of her education, she focuses on building fundamental skills, including marketing, importing and exporting products and services in Asia, economy, finance, management, consultancy and project management.


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