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How to change a culture.

How to change a culture.

Photo by Pratham Gupta on Unsplash

Article by Angela Cathey

We work with companies to improve their cultures. I’ve noticed this term, “culture” inspires a bit of awe and confusion in both business and behavioral analytic communities.

Business leaders have come to a relative state of agreement that “culture is king” (source unknown) and “culture eats strategy for breakfast. (Peter Drucker)” . There’s less agreement about what culture is and if it is indeed changeable at all.

What is “culture”?

From a behavior analytic perspective, culture isn’t so ambiguous. It’s an emergent quality that arises from the interaction of behaviors. This may sound ambiguous but it makes what business often sees as vital and difficult to change, changeable.

Culture isn’t an amorphous cloud.

It’s the psychological effect of a collection of behaviors. It’s the product of people behaving together or over time (see Houmanfar, Rodrigues, & Ward, 2010) for a more thorough analysis. The import point is – it’s changeable and it’s the product of your interpersonal behavior, biases, policy decisions (laws, strucutres, etc.), and verbal behavior. With everything we do, we show others what we see as important, unimportant, desirable, and undesirable.

It sounds like a lot – but changing a culture is a matter of making different choices. It’s creating an environment that is purposeful, well-designed, and makes the choice to appropriately reinforce or reward what truly ‘matters.’ By looking at the collective behaviors of a culture, a business, and the experiences that relate to them (e.g., psychological safety), we can use behavior analysis to move key switch points and change a culture for the better.

If you’re thinking now, so what’s the answer – what do I do?

1. Start with the realization that the answer is dependent on the problem & desired endpoint. There is no single solution. Thankfully, their are methods and practices that have great evidence supporting them, these include behavior analysis and measurement.

2. With the endpoint you seek in mind, measure actual behavior and how it influences this endpoint.

3. Apply behavior analytic principles to create change and support that change.

4. Continue to measure and apply – real behavior change requires teaching skills to fluency and supporting the use of those skills. It’s not as complicated as it may sound – but it requires real thought and application of science to meet your goal.

What to know more about how to change culture? Contact us for a free consultation.

Sources:

Houmanfour, R., Rodrigues, N. J., & Ward, T. A. (2010). Emergence and metacontingency: Points of contact and departure. Behavior and Social Issues, 19, 78-103.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

Ten books to help you create a better world.

In this post, I recommend 10 books that show us how we can create a better future. These books are perspective shifting. They organize the chaos of our world and provide new direction for creating a better world.

  1. More Human: Designing a world where people come first by Hilton, Bade, & Bade

This book begins with a poignant story of the clash between humanity and red tape. A mother on a plane with a three-year-old is near removed as a disruptive passenger. Why?  Her child had to use the bathroom while the “fasten seatbelts” sign was lit.

This book is about designing better systems so we treat each other more humanely. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why the does everyone seem so content to blindly hurt each other?” This one’s for you. Design is a tool that can support our strengths or weaknesses. Choose wisely and enjoy.

  1. Blindspot by Anthony Greenwald

Blindspot is a book about our thinking biases and the influence that these have on our everyday behavior. Though I’m a behavior analyst I’ve also worked closely with cognitive psychologists and used tools like the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and its’ more behaviorally grounded counterparts.

I’d hope that everyone would read this book and take the biases to heart. Stop and notice exactly how much of our world we simply perceive and react to “as if.” Though the ability to automatically categorize our lives and react accordingly is essential ability to reduce the chaos around us to understandable level –  it often blinds us. In Blindspot, Anthony Greenwald talks about the most common effects of these blindspots and some of the ways in which we can detect our blindspots. Using this knowledge and stepping to behavior analytic theory – we can gain a better grasp of how to step back from the pervasive influence of assumption in our lives.

  1. Social Physics: How good ideas spread – lessons from a new science by Alex Pentland

Alex Pentland is a former MIT Media Lab leader. The MIT Media Lab is a veritable gift to cultural and scientific innovation. Those that have led or “grown-up” in this innovation stronghold have spawned technologies that now touch every aspect of our lives.

One these innovations that is quickly taking hold in the business world is, Alex Pentland’s People Analytics. People Analytics is a specific variety of Data Science that follows from “Social Physics,” essentially a Big Data application of sensor technologies (badges, passive mobile data, etc.) to understanding social behavior dynamics. Pentland term’s these dynamics “Social Physics.” Social Physics specifically tends to deal with how structural (i.e., architectural, ergonomic, or human factors) factors influence human interaction patterns.

Here we’re seeing the science of how organizations work at the level of placement of the water cooler, or speed of preferred communication forms, results in change in interaction patterns between employees. It’s a look at the many things that go unnoticed but yet deeply influence how we interact with each other.

  1. The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan

The Social Labs movement is near and dear to us. This book, and the movement it describes, addresses a movement and methodology that is being used to solve complex social problems. It’s a look at the types of institutions we’ve traditionally used to solve issues that matter, their failings, and a manifesto for creating hybrid organizations that marry social entrepreneurship to participatory applied research methods. 

  1. People Analytics by Ben Waber

This volume further elaborates on what the “new science” of People Analytics has found in its first few years of Big Data research in organizations. The methods used by Waber and other’s (“People Analytics”) are new in the technological sense, but simply make contingencies previously unobservable more observable.

This methodology is potentially a great growth area for behavior analysis. People Analytics as a framework has traditionally focused on large-scale predictive analytics (i.e., they’re using an analytic strategy that relies on averages and unfortunately can speak little to adjusting for better outcomes in the evolving context). Behavior analysis, used in coordination with these types of live-feed data collection methods allows the behavior analytic practitioner to take a look at behavior at micro and macro levels, and cater change efforts to their function at multiple levels. This allows for a more powerful, flexible, and scalable ‘medicine’ than simple predictive models for change management.

  1. Honest Signals: How they shape our world by Alex Pentland

This is another volume further that describes methodology that can be used to measure contingencies ‘typical’ in interpersonal interactions. Though cultural and individual differences may be ‘averaged’ out by the traditional analytic strategy used by People Analytics practitioners the measurement is useful for behavior analytic purposes.  Some of the topics of interest included in this volume include understanding how vocal tone, body positioning, and other ever present social variables tend to influence others.

  1. The Time Paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life by Phillip Zimbardo

Phillip Zimbardo was made famous by his early work with the Stanford Prison experiment. Unfortunately, few may be aware of his more recent work which has focused much more on the effects of one’s predominantly used time perspective. If you’re more familiar with Relational Frame Theory (RFT) and temporal deictics you’ll find the response sets described around “future focus”, “past focus”, and “present focus” interesting.

  1. The Nurture Effect: How the science of human behavior can improve our lives and our world by Anthony Biglan

Anthony Biglan writes this inspiring text. Biglan hails from a more familiar behavior analytic background. His work on how the behavioral sciences can influence large-scale change is popular. As a speaker, you can often catch him at the Association of Contextual Behavioral Science conference. In this text, he describes, among other treasures, how we can improve education practices and how traditional corporate marketing practices may be influencing our society. This is an easy and inspiring read.

  1. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. James Fowler & Nicholas Christakis

This book takes a look at the social structures of influence in our lives. As social creatures, humans are highly interconnected. We are influenced by the ideas, choices, and verbal behavior of those around us. The connectedness of our society only provides a better platform for emotion, health behavior, and ideas to spread across groups. This book reviews a great deal of research about the kinds of habits, choices, and moods that spread across our social networks and the conditions under which they optimally spread.

  1. Contagious: Why things catch on by Jonah Berger

Contagious may seem like an unlikely favorite for a behavior analyst but again we’re looking at conditions and platforms under which information and emotion spread and influence. This book focuses on marketing influence. Media, social media, and now the algorithms that rank this material, now greatly influence our lives. This book does a great job of being a fun introduction to a wealth of research about the conditions that lead to viral spread of ideas. For the behavioral analyst, there’s an interesting blend of focus on basic human responses to aversive and appetitive conditions and their interaction with environment.

5 ways technology and behavioral science can create a better world.

5 ways technology and behavioral science can create a better world.

I ran across another article today about how society is slowly devolving, in part, due to technology. This is becoming a more common refrane. Tech leaders are frequently quoted saying they don’t allow their children to play with the devices they create.

The ‘tech elite’ are onto something and we are just coming to terms with it in many sciences. We’ve known for many years, in the behavioral sciences, that the environments we exist in influence us – for better or worse.

We like to think of our experiences simply and tend to perceive only those consequences closest to us temporally, spatially, and socially. We “like” and emoticon ourselves into disconnection as we feel the bright shiny connection in front of us, and in the process, we miss the people sitting next to us.

We as a society are overwhelmed, over-worked, and driven, most logically, to distraction in the screen faces we carry with us. In the Behavioral Sciences, B. F. Skinner (1986) wrote “What’s wrong with the Western World” and described the impact of modern work processes on how we as human’s function. The summary, “distance from the impact of our behaviors, is not a good thing.”

 

In a hyper-connected world – we have customized technologies around natural human desires. We buy ‘shiny’ distraction avoidance tools. As tech has evolved, it has also come to offer us other tools shaped around human values and goals. We now have FitBits and Alexa to help us live better lives.

The missing piece; however, is that the solutions themselves are one-sided. We have learned to embrace algorithms to help us choose movies (Netflix, etc.) and quickly tag pictures of our friends (Facebook), but we distrust technology in its ability to help us truly improve ourselves.

We offer a few ideas from the nexus of Behavioral Science and Technology, to help humanity connect to itself again.

1) Build technologies that adapt to intended purpose. 

When we build technologies without awareness to our own essential humanness we inadvertatly reinforce our worst behaviors. People will always be attracted to ‘shiny’ things, they will want quick rewards AND we need to plan technologies for exceptional #humanexperience right along with our #USERexperience.

More on that, below.

2) Build technologies that help us engage other perspectives. 

In a hyper-connected world, we’ve become sucked into news loos and algorithm echo chambers. We see the news that we “like,” not what we need to see about our own worlds. Unawareness, we are silently told, “is bliss.” It is not, we are progressively more lonely, less able to self-regulate, more depressed, more anxious… and of course, given all this we stare at our phones more unable to handle perspectives that differ from our own.

The solutions we typically hear for this are “put down your phone” and, in deed, this is one solution but only short-sighted. The long-term route is to appreciate that we are human, flawed and beautiful all the same.

If we want to pick a realistic way forward, maybe we should begin to use technology to help us see our individual strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives in relation to one another.

3) Build technologies that make us aware of our strengths and weaknesses, in RELATION.

Remember the human tendency to seek out the ‘shiny’? We tend to look for easy answers, for the “best” answer. What we miss is how to balance ourselves in relation to our world, and those in it. We then design FitBits, Alexas, and solutions around the easy answers that inevitably lead us in the wrong direction. Any healthy behavior can go wrong taken to full tilt, and yet we persist… chasing easy answers.

One way that we can address this is to begin to focus on answers in relation to context. Contextual technologies allow us to notice what the best answer is for the current situation, environment, and purpose.

4) Use Intelligence Augmenting technologies to alert us of when we are falling into our patterns of dysfunction, bias, and unawareness.

 

Intelligence Augmenting technologies are one possible way forward here. Our patterns of avoidance, bias, and unawareness are no secret. The Behavioral Sciences have been using studying how to reduce mismatch between person and environment, and labeling it “psychopathology” for many decades.

It is time that we begin to work across lines to find solutions that bring us together.

5) Build technologies through “open” paticipatory design methods.

One key to advancing us must be opening the doors to participatory development. We need to recognize human motivations and flaws in our processes. If “tech” is not working, it is because “we” are not working towards a common perspective in what we create.

In this world, there are few easy answers; however, one I’d stake my work on is:

We as humans need to work on embracing our natural complexity and celebrating our strengths. If technology can help us do that, we should be working towards that purpose together.

Angela Cathey, MA, LPC

Angela Cathey, MA, LPC

Director Enso Group, Trainer, & Consultant

Angela is experienced in leading and coordinating the operations of research and intervention teams. She has a master’s in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake. She has trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) extensively. She has been well-trained in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. She has also trained extensively in treatment of trauma, utilizing Prolonged Exposure (PE) and obsessive-compulsive spectrum conditions, utilizing Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

A behavioral scientist’s take on providing effective instructions for optimal learning.

A behavioral scientist’s take on providing effective instructions for optimal learning.

Teaching is a large part of any leader’s position. Whether academic or business, most leader’s are promoted due to others’ perceptions that they have mastered a domain of knowledge. Unfortunately, most leaders are simply assumed to then know how to impart this knowledge on their supervisees/mentees.

Effective teaching is an art and science. Here we’ll discuss guidelines for understanding, breaking, up and imparting your knowledge of complasks for others.

The first step is to understand the task:

Task analysis (TA) is a method for identifying and documenting the process of task completion. Many different methods exist for documenting and analyzing task completion (Tofel-Grehl & Feldon, 2012).

Minimalist Instruction
In its most fundamental form, TA instruction is merely a list of steps.

    1. Read task analysis (TA) article
    2. Do your own task analysis (TA) of a complex task
    3. Present simple step-by-step instructions for task to learnerSimple is important because new learners to a complex task will tend to become frustrated and give up.In addition to helping you impart skills to learners, task analysis (TA) can be a way of discovering how to optimize the efficiency, productivity, or safety of a task

Interested in learning more about Behavioral Science?

Task Analysis for Instruction Optimization

Instruction optimization involves a data-based assessment of instructional effectiveness. Any material or stimulus intended to prompt, guide, or teach a response can potentially be improved if you take the time to identify what components promote the effective behavior.

 

 

From an operations perspective, optimally effective instructions have many benefits such as:

  • Saving time during onboarding and training
  • Reducing the frequency of errors
  • Maintaining knowledge retention over time

Best Practices in Task Analysis Instruction
Learning outcomes and performance can generally be enhanced for most learners by:

  • Presenting steps in smaller pieces (Crist, Walls, & Haught, 1984)
  • Limiting jargon, presenting images, and providing examples (Graff & Karsten, 2012)
  • Presenting images of and describing stimuli that should trigger the response and the expected outcome(s) of a correct response (Tyner & Fienup, 2015)
  • Updating instructions frequently to match task changes (Dixon et al., 2007)

Though these general guidelines should improve the effectiveness of your instructions, optimizing ultimately requires measuring and adapting to what creates the best outcome for your learners.

Build a stronger business with Behavioral Science?

Remember, though examining the effectiveness of your instruction formally may initially require some time investment this cost should be offset by improvements in efficiency and reduction of errors.

Other considerations may also inform whether the expected ROI justifies the cost, including the risk or danger of the task, the criticality of accuracy, the acceptable threshold for errors, the cost and time required to correct errors, and the qualitative experience of those who are performing the task.

Summary

Task analysis is a method for investigating and documenting the process of completing a task that is prevalent across diverse industries. TA instruction is robust for training and guiding task performance, and many best practices have been published to improve its effectiveness. Robust methods from behavioral science are also available to further enhance instructional effectiveness and efficiency.

Bryan Tyner, PhD

Bryan Tyner, PhD

Optimized Behavior Technology

Bryan Tyner is a behavioral scientist and research-strategy consultant. He has a PhD in behavioral psychology from The Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). His research on instructional design, assessment, and optimization has been published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and the Journal of Behavioral Education. Bryan is the founder of Optimized Behavior Technology, an independent research agency that consults on the use of research methodology and data analytics to inform business operations, strategy, and product development. More information about his services is available at www.optimizedbehavior.technology 

References

Crist, K., Walls, R. T., & Haught, P. A. (1984). Degrees of specificity in task analysis. American Journal of Mental Deficiencies, 89, 67-74.

Dixon, M. R., Jackson, J. W., Small, S. L., Honer-King, M. J., Mui Ker Lik, N., Garcia, Y., & Rosales, R. (2009). Creating single-subject design graphs in Microsoft Excel 2007. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 277-293.

Gero, J. S. & Mc Neill, T. (1998). An approach to the analysis of design protocols. Design Studies, 19, 21-61.

Graff, R. B. & Karsten, A. M. (2012). Evaluation of a self-instruction package for conducting stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45, 69-82.

IBM SPSS. (2016). Multivariate linear regression in SPSS. IBM Support. Accessed April 19, 2017 from http://www-01.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=swg21476743

May, J. & Barnard, P. J. (2004). Cognitive task analysis in interacting cognitive subsystems. In Diaper, D. & Stanton, N. A. (eds.) The Handbook of Task Analysis for Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 295-325). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Tofel-Grehl, C. & Feldon, D. F. (2012). Cognitive task analysis-based training: A meta-analysis of studies. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 7, 293-304.

Tyner, B. C. & Fienup, D. M. (2015). The effects of describing antecedent stimuli and performance criteria in task analysis instruction for graphing. Journal of Behavioral Education, 25, 379-392.

Yu, R., Gero, J., & Gu, N. (2015). Achitects’ cognitive behavior in parametric design. International Journal of Architectural Computing, 1, 83-101.

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