Assignment: Collaborating With Other Disciplines

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Assignment: Collaborating With Other Disciplines

Assignment: Collaborating With Other Disciplines

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Organizational Behavior Management and Organization Development: Potential Paths to Reciprocation

James L. Eubanks

The origins of applied behavioral science can be traced back more than fifty years. While Skinner was pioneering efforts in the experimental analysis of behavior, and the grand theorists, Tolman, Hull, and Guthrie were battling for supremacy in the behavioral science arena, Kurt Lewin and Rensis Likert, prominent social psychologists of the era, began emphasizing the importance of connecting research and theory with practice. Their work strongly influenced the field of organizational behavior (OB), and spawned the field we will consider in detail in the present chapter: organization development (OD).

Neither OB nor OD share many of the features commonly identified with organizational behavior management (OBM): direct and frequent recording of behavior, targeting outcomes that workers can influence, and focusing on performance consequences. Indeed, current OD texts (e.g., Burke, 1982; French and Bell, 1990; Cummings and Worley, 1993) pay very little attention, if any, to Skinner’s work and neglect to acknowledge OBM altogether. The OB field, on the other hand, has had fruitful interaction with behavior analysis (Komaki, 1986a). Virtually all OB texts (e.g., Luthans, 1992) include OBM as part of the OB field, although it is more often referred to as organizational behavior modification, or O.B. Mod.

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the potential for reciprocation between OD and OBM. The field of OD has matured considerably during the past two decades, with calls for systematic evaluation and research designed to determine what works and to begin assembling a theoretical basis for the field (Dunn and Swierczek, 1977; Eubanks and Marshall, 1990; Eubanks, Marshall, and O’Driscoll, 1990; Eubanks et al., 1990; Golembiewski, Proehl, and Sink, 1982; Nicholas, 1982; O’Driscoll and Eubanks, 1992, 1993, 1994). Clients have also become more sophisticated and are requiring OD practitioners to show performance gains in exchange for the considerable effort and cost involved in systemwide interventions (Beer and Walton, 1987, 1990). The OD field is briefly described in the following section as a basis for contrasting it with OBM.


Numerous definitions of OD exist. According to one of the more comprehensive descriptions of the field, OD is:

a top-management-supported, long-range effort to improve an organization’s problem solving and renewal processes, particularly through a more effective and collaborative diagnosis and management of organization culture—with special emphasis on formal work team, temporary team, and inter-group culture—with the assistance of a consultant-facilitator and the use of the theory and technology of applied behavioral science, including action research. (French and Bell, 1990, p. 17)

This definition encompasses a number of dimensions that require elaboration.  lists these dimensions and provides a basis for comparing and contrasting OD and OBM. These dimensions will be used later as a basis for evaluating possible areas of interaction and reciprocation among the two fields.


Within the OD approach to organizational change, support is required by the organization’s chief executive, and the client is typically one or more members of the top management group. Recent writings have emphasized the importance of active involvement and ongoing approval by this power structure in order for change to occur in an organization (Burke, 1982; French and Bell, 1990). In contrast, OBM efforts typically occur in response to somewhat more focused problems identified by line managers (Balcazar et al, 1989, p. 20).

Time Frame

Although there are certainly exceptions in each case, successful OD efforts typically are either ongoing or are framed in terms of one or more years (French and Bell, 1990; Huse and Cummings, 1989), while OBM interventions are frequently completed in less than a year (Balcazar et al., 1989).

TABLE 14.1. Comparison of OD and OBM As Technologies of Organizational Change

Dimension OD OBM
Client Top management Line managers
Time Frame Long-range/ongoing Limited/months
Change Goals Problem-solving/ “renewal processes” Frequency of targeted behavior(s)
Technology Base Applied behavioral science Behavior analysis
Unit of Analysis Groups/teams and intergroup culture Individual worker behavior
Intervention Strategy Collaborative diagnosis, action research, culture management Performance audit, single-subject design, contingency management
Change Agent Consultant-facilitator Behavioral consultant

Change Goals

OD interventions emphasize how an organization makes decisions, whether it typically involves a select few individuals or uses the resources of all its members. Closely related to organizational decision making is the notion of “renewal processes” (Argyris, 1970). It is not enough to enhance the effectiveness of an organization’s decisions. Within the OD perspec tive, ongoing realignment is required between the organization’s purpose and its direction in response to a constantly changing external environ ment. This process perspective is a hallmark of OD efforts, and intervention strategies such as process consultation (Schein, 1988) emphasize it. Environmental change is also a focus of OBM. Such change, however, is systematically arranged within the organization in order to change the frequency of carefully targeted and pinpointed behaviors (cf. Brown, 1982; Daniels, 1989).

Technology Base

The history of OD is aligned with the development of applied behavioral science, with contributions from fields such as social psychology, cultural anthropology, psychiatry, management/administrative sciences, economics, sociology, and political science. An underlying theme running through the interdisciplinary OD field is that of humanism and existential-ism (French and Bell, 1990), ranging from the early writers on the Hawthorne studies (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939) to more widespread “person-centered” approaches (e.g., Schein and Bennis, 1965). OBM draws its change technology from applied behavior analysis, with more recent pleas to incorporate basic research data and theory from the experimental analysis of behavior.

Unit of Analysis

The primary focus in OD efforts is the work group, or team, including both superiors and subordinates. Dependent variables within an OD effort tend to emphasize team or work group measures reflecting intergroup relations, decision making, trust, and communication. However, individual behavioral measures are sometimes included, along with organization-wide measures and variables related to leader behavior (Porras and Berg, 1978, pp. 252-253). For the most part, OD addresses rather stable work teams, but attention is also directed at temporary work teams, such as committees, boards of directors, task forces, and “cross-functional teams.” In contrast, OBM efforts have traditionally focused on targeting behavior and accomplishments (e.g., Gilbert, 1978) of individual workers for change.

Intervention Strategy

The main focus of the OD process is data collection concerning the current functioning of the organization to detect gaps between the status quo and desired mission or goal statements. This activity is commonly referred to as organizational diagnosis (Weisbord, 1987). The data are usually based on interviews, observations, questionnaires, and archival information, with a heavy reliance on verbal self-report by clients and organizational members.

The results of the organizational diagnosis are important, but, consistent with OD’s process approach, how the information is collected and what is done with that information are also of prime concern. This process is usually imbedded within what has come to be known as action research (French and Bell, 1990). Action research essentially involves a cyclical process in which a problem is collaboratively defined by the persons affected (client group) in concert with an OD consultant, followed by data collection, action (interventions undertaken to establish new behavior), data collection, and feedback to the client group. This cycle is repeated until the problem has been solved or a previously established criterion is met.

Collaborative diagnosis and action research are usually applied within an OD intervention in the context of what is known as culture management (cf. Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Schein, 1990). Organizational culture is a relatively new concept that is being embraced by the management and OD communities. Recently, it was introduced in the OBM literature as well (Eubanks and Lloyd, 1992; Lamal, 1991; Mawhinney, 1992; , this volume). From the vantage point of management and OD, this approach involves a shared examination of how work is done in an organization (by managers, subordinates, and consultants) and assessing the values, technology, and behavior of its members in terms of how functional these elements are in meeting both short- and long-range goals of the organization and its members. The OBM approach presents a common process, selection by consequences, which underlies all behavior in Organizations. For example, Glenn (1986, 1988, 1991a) advanced the concept of metacontingencies that control large segments of societal practice, though she did not specify organizations as specific subunits for analysis. Such analyses have been recently applied from an OBM vantage point to both private and public sector organizations (Redmon and Wilk, 1991; Redmon and Agnew, 1991).

A hallmark of OD has been its values-based approach to organizational change. Encompassed within this approach is a concern for increasing individual as well as organizational effectiveness. Related to this concern for individual development is the basic assumption that people want to, and are capable of, making sustained, high-level contributions to the goals and mission of the organization (see Gellerman, 1984, 1985, for a treatment of OD values and ethics).

Change Agent

An external facilitator-consultant has been a consistently distinguishing element of OD efforts, and continues to be preferred over do-it-yourself programs (cf. French and Bell, 1990, p. 20). Although internal OD consultants (staff persons usually residing in the human resources department) may be employed, particularly in collaboration with an external consultant, external persons are believed to be more effective because they are relatively free of the cultural organization more independent of local politics than the internal person, and less dependent on the long-range reinforcement afforded by salary and career advancement within the firm. No data exist, however, directly comparing the effectiveness of internal and external consultants. In fact, Beer and Walton (1990) note the transition of OD from a set of skills held by an external consultant to requisite skills held by all effective managers in an organization. This trend, if it continues, would make the distinction between external and internal consultants obsolete, since OD would become acculturated into the daily management practices of the firm. It is not clear, however, that the consequences of OD practices are sufficiently effective to be selected into the mainstream culture of most organizations.

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