Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Consultancy Dilemma

Management consultancy is perhaps not the first industry to spring to mind when one thinks ‘applied behaviour analysis’ (ABA). This is especially true when compared to the practical usage of these techniques in classroom settings that occurs on a regular basis, particularly with children with special needs. Nevertheless, management consultancy is defined by the ability to implement change within client’s organizations. Thus, by definition, this industry lends itself to the work of ABA and so could perhaps be helped by the methods from this approach.

A renowned difficulty residing within management consultancy is the client’s adversity to change when brought about by a foreign party: the consultants. To alleviate this, consultancy firms could adopt ABA techniques to further smooth and streamline the transitionary periods within clients. Thorndike’s (1927) law of effect tells us that a phenomenon followed by pleasing results is more likely to be repeated and a response inducing negative consequences is less likely to be repeated. Knowing this, consultants should try and ensure (as would be their target anyway) to produce positive effects of their implemented change so that it is more likely that the client will more readily come to accept and implement the change in the future. This is a form of positive reinforcement. The client could also reward, and further reinforce, the good performance in employees by financial bonuses. Research by Geiter, Cooman, Pepermans and Jegers (2010) has shown that psychological rewards, in the form of support and positively evaluated outcomes can improve performance in people just as well as financial rewards. Improved performance also extended to greater job satisfaction and commitment, which has been argued to be more effective than a cheeky bonus.

Ensuring that change is successfully brought about is one of the main aims of management consultancy. The work on analysis of behaviour change in ABA provides psychological evidence as food-for-thought to some of these global companies. Perhaps, in the competitive industry environment characterized in the modern business world, these sorts of psychological techniques will be the ones employed to give consultancy firms the forever-desired competitive advantage.


De Gieter, S., De Cooman, R., Pepermans, R., Jegers, M. (2010). The psychological reward satisfaction scale: Developing and psychometric testing two refined subscales for nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(4), 911-922.

Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The Law of Effect. The American Journal of Psychology, 39, 212-222.

Mhairi Hay

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