In looking to build certain behaviors in a heuristic environment things can get a little sticky. In Behavior Analysis it’s important that we operationally define behavior as best we can. It seems to go into the “as best we can” realm most of the time when dealing with these heuristic workplaces because, by definition, they involve “[having] to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.” This leads to leaving the proverbial behavioral window open…wide.
What we tend to end up with are behavioral response classes that we want to encourage in these workplaces.
Behavioral Response Classes are distinctly different behaviors that ultimately produce the same effect on the environment.
In the behavioral science literature, these typically come in the form of things like: punching mom; saying excuse me; screaming till our faces turn blue. All of these things are distinctly different behaviors that will get mom to give us her attention when she is on the phone. Any 3-year-olds you’ve ever known?
So in heuristic working environments we know the intended outcome on the environment. We want to turn out 5 new innovative products a year; solve any client issue that comes our way; _____ (<-insert organizational initiative outcome here). We also typically know some of the common behaviors that will get us there. We end up with response classes like: behaviors that result in solving client needs in a timely fashion; behaviors that result in a high output of new ideas that can lead to products. What these behaviors actually look like can vary significantly from one another. And like in my “Mom on the phone” example above, some of these can be adaptive and some can be maladaptive for an organization. The idea is to get as close as we can to the “right behaviors” which might just mean understanding the “class” of behaviors that we are looking for (those that lead us to the intended results without causing organizational or employee harm) and reinforcing all of the behaviors that get us there successfully. Definitions, for the most part, flung out of said proverbial window entirely.
I recently read an article where the author, James Whitehurst, President and CEO of Red Hat, describes one such workplace. His own.
At Red Hat, their behaviors are geared towards building a culture around Meritocracy.
The environmental result is having your thoughts and ideas implemented.
The behavioral response classes include such things as:
Openly expressing one’s opinions as often as desired (speaking up in a meeting; sending an email to your superior when you disagree with an approach; verbally participating in open discussions with peers …etc.)
Generating/contributing ideas intended to achieve results (formally presenting an idea during a forum; spending 4 hours a week brainstorming ideas on your own; verbally participating in meetings related to idea generation…etc.)
Where the important behavioral science comes in is how the organization and its leadership builds this culture, especially when the definitions of the behaviors we need arrreee...fuzzy.
Though masterful in his own right, what Mr. Whitehurst is clearly missing is an understanding of the power of behavioral science. It seems more likely than not that he has won one of those coveted lotteries in that he has come to use consequences properly! BUT entirely by chance.
If he did understand behavioral science, he would have restructured his list of “how” to resemble the following:
The goal is to use positive reinforcement to encourage the expression of these behavioral response classes in order to build a Meritocracy within the organization.
Therefore, leaders need to use the following consequences for behavioral response classes related to the expression of a Meritocracy:
- Actively listen to every idea.
- Ensure that decisions are made based on the best ideas.
- Continue to listen to the people who have built a reputation and history of contributing good ideas that achieve stellar results.
- Leadership positions should be contingent upon a history of expressing unique ideas that positively impact teams and the company (i.e. for those that have become “Thought Leaders”).
- Place Thought Leaders in positions that speak to what they are truly excited about. Put them on projects that will enable that passion to shine.
I’m not saying that adopting this implementation of a Meritocracy is the way to go. In fairness, this article does go down the jargon rabbit hole a few times. This may be the result of the gamble you take when implementing something that is working by mere chance. You don’t exactly know WHY it works. It works because the mishmash of things recommended by others just happens to be a good use of behavioral science. But what if it wasn’t by chance? What if your organization could be on track totally on purpose? By design. That is how behavioral science can elevate these approaches.
That said, although in need of a bit of uncovering, Mr. Whitehurst’s company is a good example of a heuristic work environment that needed specific behaviors to get to the culture they were trying to achieve. They needed the behavioral response classes related to a Meritocracy. Ultimately, Red Hat seems to have done a decent job of describing what behaviors are part of that response class.
Not only that, but they are also tapping into a more evolved set of consequences tailor-made for a heuristic environment. They are using Mastery by allowing those who achieve the best results to rise through the leadership ranks and they are using a blend of Autonomy and Purpose as reinforcement by allowing those who engage in the right behaviors to work on projects that they are passionate about (for more on these terms see post: http://www.behaviorlikeaboss.com/blog/motivation-for-millennials) .
This is another good example of technology leading the way in a fresh approach to leadership and motivation…if only it weren’t by chance.