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Participative OBM: A Frontline Employee Owned Process

I’ve implemented about 75 OBM projects over the years, and I did it differently each time—but the same model formed the core process.

  • I assessed the business unit and baselined the key performance indicators
  • I trained all the managers and supervisors in behavioral principles
  • I organized accountability groups and meetings
  • An intervention plan was created for every manager (Performance Improvement Plan)
  • We posted data and started holding the managers accountable for reinforcing employee behavior
  • I coached management staff and held them accountable for reinforcement logs and Performance Improvement Plan execution

Are there any problems with this system? Yes.

    • Management seldom wanted to change; they wanted incentive programs that would make personal coaching and management unnecessary
    • Employees were suspicious of the process and their supervisors; they would usually cooperate at a reasonable level after they discovered there was not way out
    • Managers seldom reinforced behavior; symbolic reinforcers and celebratory lunches for performance results was their only involvement
    • Manager and supervisory involvement was driven by negative reinforcement; they participated—or else.
    • In 9 out of 10 cases, when the consultant left, so did the initiative

The net result was that the company dismissed behavioral principles and tools to the scrap heap of “programs” that did not work. How do you overcome these problems

You start with consulting, not with training.The OBM consultant spends several days interviewing employees and surveying to discover:

    • You design-in employee ownership of the process from day one
    • You educate everyone—orient and train—about the process, its objectives, its tools and everyone’s role
    • A cross functional design team of frontline employees, technicals and professionals are selected during the assessment. They work with the consultant to customize and manage the process
    • The design team training and project design are parallel processes
    • A template for supervisory/employee work discussion is introduced with positive and corrective feedback with training provided
    • Everyone becomes part of the recognition process; the positive feedback model (describe the value-added behavior and its effect) is everyone’s job
    • Employee ownership and participation is constantly evolving to incorporate more people
    • Data is collected and disseminated to everyone
    • The driving component of the process is problem-solving, data analysis, and work dialogs between management and employees
    • Key behavioral tools are integrated into other initiatives like Six Sigma and Lean by cross functional teams
    • The systematic elimination of performance barriers is part of the Participative OBM process
    • Front line employees constantly identify and track critical performance behaviors, adapting behavior to organizational performance exigencies

Participative OBM eliminates several problems and accelerates the results

    • Employee acceptance, involvement and participation in the change process is enhanced
    • Employee problem solving speeds up improvement
    • Suspicion about the intent of OBM is removed
    • Reinforcement and change are accelerated
    • The institutionalization and integration of behavioral techniques is ensured
    • Sustainability of the process is ensured
    • Relations between supervisors and employees improves
    • Responsibility for change is distributed
    • Change is institutionalized into the organizational culture

There are many more advantages to increasing the transparency of OBM and partnering frontline employees with management.

Anyone who is part of an effort to change behavior needs to re-examine the value of their current training strategy. People learn by doing, and we need to get management and frontline employees out in the workplace identifying behavior that needs to be changed and arranging the work environment so that new behavior pays off and the behavior we want to leave behind no longer works.

Irrespective of whether you are implementing a management-driven or an employee-driven systematic behavior change initiative (OBM process), you should consider developing lists of behaviors that are needed and those that should be deleted from employee repertoires.By interviewing work groups, technicals, professionals, managers and leaders, you can develop a behavioral roadmap.

When you have discovered what people need to be doing to improve performance and eliminate problems, you can begin a real world environmental analysis—an ABC analysis—to understand what conditions are causing the problem behavior, or what conditions need to exist to cause the behavior you want.

When I was working with a department store chain to improve customer service, we identified one behavior that was linked to customer purchases: The behavior that we wanted was for the sales associates to approach each customer within 30 seconds of the customer entering into the “sales zone.”Then, we wanted the sales associate to smile and greet the customer (another behavior) and say, “My name is Alice; if I can help you in any way, I’ll be over there in the sweater section,” (another behavior).

The question that occurs immediately is, “Why are they not doing that now? It a simple facet of their job.” After doing an ABC analysis, the answer was clear.Buyers are an important element in the department store environment; they do not have line management authority over the sales associates, but their power and influence is considerable.Buyers gave the sales associates negative input if the merchandise was not promptly placed on racks or shelves or if the merchandise was not priced or re-priced promptly.

In order to avoid the punitive comments of the buyers, the first priority of the sales associate was the merchandise—not the customer.The customer was “task interference;” when you needed to get sweaters on the shelves to avoid the buyer’s ire, a customer in the department was an annoyance.

The solution to the problem is to get the buyers and the department manager on the same page—cooperating to increase customer service.That meant the buyer had to change their verbal behavior and the department manager had to increase positive feedback to sales associates for customer-friendly behavior—specifically, approaching and greeting the customer.

Working through performance solutions with managers and frontline employees is more practical than training classes and workshops—at least in the beginning. Once employees have had experience working through the behavioral problem solving method, their natural curiosity about underlying principles will emerge.

In addition, instead of having training classes, it may be preferable to make modules of information available to managers, supervisors and frontline employees.Provide a self-paced, instructional environment—short and sweet videos that are accessible online.Once you accept the reality that employees can learn to change behavior even if they do not know theories or principles, then you begin to think about enriching their skills through creative and innovative learning techniques.