Why you Need OBM


By Barbara Bucklin, PhD

BAQ Columnist

*Note: This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Behavior Analysis Quarterly, Vol 2(4).  Please download the issue for access to figures.

Unless your employees are performing perfectly all the time and your business results are skyrocketing, you need OBM. I’ve never seen a perfect organization, but if you have one, kudos to you. If not, keep reading these OBM Tools of the Trade. I’ve applied these tools for almost twenty years, mainly with corporate clients in automotive, life science, and retail industries. I understand that a lot of BAQ readers are ABA clinical practitioners and supervisors, so you’ll see that many of my examples are based on a clinical work environment. You’ll also see that my OBM ‘tools of the trade’ can be used in any work setting. OBM uses the behavioral science you’re familiar with as ABA clinicians and applies it to leading and managing your staff. It’s been successful for over 60 years and across every industry you can imagine (Dickinson, 2000). 

This is the first in a three-part series of foundational articles where I’ll give you practical advice, examples, tools, and resources to hone your OBM skills. You can refer to the articles as you apply OBM in your workplace. I’m calling the series ‘Tools of the OBM Trade;’ it includes:

  • Part 1:  Pinpoint and Analyze the Problem. This article addresses and answers, “What do you want to change, and why isn’t the ‘right’ performance happening in the first place?”
  • Part 2:  Implement Solutions. This next article will illustrate how pinpoints and analysis tell you what behaviors need to change, and it will answer the question, “How do you design and implement OBM solutions to make those changes happen?”
  • Part 3: Evaluate and Measure Solutions. The final article in the series will answer, “How can you measure in the ‘messy’ real work world to ensure your OBM solutions are making a difference?”


We all start with an indication that something’s not happening that could or should be or something’s happening too often that shouldn’t be; it could be poor financial data, upset clients, or simple intuition that alerts us to a problem. For instance, we might conclude,

“Clients and families aren’t satisfied with the care they’re receiving and our case load is decreasing. Clients are leaving our facility and going elsewhere! Clinicians and staff are over worked and stressed out. This must be happening because we’re making too many mistakes and not communicating accurately. We need time management and communication training for our staff.”

Hold on a minute. Let’s use behavioral science to prevent us from jumping to conclusions and heading toward poor solutions. Once we’re aware of a general problem in our organization, before we jump to a solution, we need to operationalize or pinpoint what’s happening or not happening using objective and observable results and behaviors to avoid focusing our time and energy on an intervention that probably won’t solve our problem, or could even make it worse. Here’s a simple pinpointing checklist you can apply right away based on work by Daniels & Bailey (2014) and Braksick (2007). 

NORMS of Objectivity

As a helpful pinpointing tool, I use NORMS of Objectivity as a guideline to accurately identify results and the behaviors that produce those results. This will define what employees are supposed to do differently (e.g., Braksick, 2007).

  • N:  Not an interpretation: Interpretations are conclusions about facts, but they leave out the actual facts.  They’re  subjective  rather  than  objective  and  based  on  people’s  opinions and  feelings  rather than  observations.  For instance, “being a good communicator” is subjective while “handing all patient paperwork to the next shift member and vocally describing it to them every time” is an objective pinpoint.
  • O: Observable: A behavior is something we observe through our senses; we’re able to see or hear it.  For example, “helping client’s family members” isn’t observable, while we can see someone “returning all phone inquiries within two hours.”
  • R: Reliable: Reliable means two or more people observed the same behavior.  If a behavior is a subjective interpretation, then it’s probably not reliable. It’s unlikely that two or more people could observe and agree on whether or not someone was ‘helpful’ or an ‘effective communicator.’
  • M: Measurable: You’ll need to find a way to measure the pinpoints to see if behavior is actually improving. Objective behaviors are easy to measure.  For example, “Last week only 20% of client and family phone calls were returned within six hours. This week we’re at 75%.”
  • S: Specific: Specific pinpoints communicate details better. You should indicate who, what, where, when, etc. For example, ‘today Kate returned all three phone calls she received within six hours.’

Performance Analysis

Now that we’ve objectively pinpointed results and behavior, it’s time to conduct a performance analysis to find out exactly why employees aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. Performance analysis is where we find specific performance gaps and variables causing those gaps.  This analysis will target the most effective OBM interventions. We wouldn’t create time management training for our staff if the problem was a process or scheduling issue, and not a skill or knowledge gap.

I use a comprehensive OBM Performance Analysis Checklist that combines some of the best OBM research and thought leadership—from Dr. Tom Gilbert’s famous Behavior Engineering Model dating back to the 1970s (Gilbert, 1978), Dr. Carl Binder’s more practical and updated Six Boxes® (Binder, 2012), and Dr. John Austin’s Performance Diagnostic Checklist (Austin, 2000). We use this checklist to guide us as we ask questions and observe work behavior and results.

Pinpointing and Analysis in Action

If we follow the steps and checklists I’ve laid out here, we’re left with a clear plan to help us in the next OBM phases: design, implement, and evaluate OBM solutions. It takes effort, but without a front-end analysis we’re only guessing. With one, we’re likely to see lasting behavior change.

Sample Performance Analysis

Here’s a sample performance analysis report from my organization, Ardent Learning, which is structured across six factors (based on Binder, 2012), and includes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Gaps identified, and Actions to close the gaps.

Stay tuned for the next BAQ issue with ‘Tools of the OBM Trade Part 2: Implement Solutions’ where I’ll provide suggestions and examples for designing and implementing OBM solutions in each of the three Performance Analysis categories: Process, Work Environment, and Performer. If you have questions, please email me at bbucklin@ardentlearning.com  


Austin, J. (2000). Performance analysis and performance diagnostics. In J. Austin & J. E. Carr (Eds.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis (pp. 321–349). Reno, NV: Context Press.

Binder, C. (2012). The Performance Thinking Nework. Retrieved from http://www.sixboxes.com

Braksick, L.W. (2007). Unlock behavior, unleash profits: Developing leadership behavior that drives profitability in your organization. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Daniels, A.C. & Bailey, J.S. (2014).  Performance management: Changing behavior that drives organizational effectiveness.  Performance Management Publications.

Dickinson, A.M. (2000). The historical roots of Organizational Behavior Management in the private sector: The 1950s -1980s. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 20 (3/4), 9-58. 

Gilbert, T. F. (1978). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill. (Tribute editions published by HRD Press and ISPI Publications, Washington, D.C., 1996, and 2007).

Lindsley, O.R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English for application. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 449-458.


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  1. Here’s an additional resource: Mager, R.F., & Pipe, P. (1997). Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It (3rd ed.). Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance Inc.

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