Behavior Modification

What Is Behavior Modification?

Behavior modification is a systematic program of reinforcement to encourage desirable behavior. It involves both rewards to encourage desirable actions and punishments to discourage undesirable actions.

However, studies have shown that rewards, such as compliments and expressions of appreciation, are much more effective behavior modifiers than punishments, such as reprimands and scorn.

When applied to management Opens in new window, behavior modification strives to encourage desirable organizational behavior. Use of this technique begins with identification of a target behavior— the behavior that is to be changed. (It might be low production levels or a high rate to absenteeism, for example.)

Existing levels of this behavior then are measured. Next, managers provide positive reinforcement Opens in new window in the form of a reward when employees exhibit the desired behavior (such as increased production or less absenteeism).

The reward might be praise or a more tangible form of recognition, such as a gift, meal, or trip. Apple Company Opens in new window created the Corporate Gifting and Rewards Program Opens in new window in order to give companies the ability to reward their staff with iPods, iPod accessories, and iTunes gift cards.

Finally, the levels of the target behavior are measured again to determine whether the desired changes have been achieved. If they have, the reinforcement is maintained. However, if the target behavior has not changed significantly in the desired direction, the reward system must be changed to one that is likely to be more effective.

John Kotter, a renowned Harvard Business School professor, states that this is difficult; the kind of emotional persuasion needed for these changes is not taught in business schools and is not often properly considered in many business settings. The key is to devise effective rewards that not only will modify employees’ behavior in desired ways but also will motivate them. To this end, experts suggest that management should reward quality, loyalty, and productivity.