The Importance of Organisational Behaviour

consequences are one way of changing organisational behaviour

Antecedents + Consequences – Filters = Behaviour

How to change organisational behaviour and improve performance

Organisational Behaviour Management (OBM) is an important aspect of management that applies psychological principles of organizational behaviour and the experimental analysis of behaviour to organizations to improve individual and group performance. OBM takes principles from many fields, including behavioural systems analysis and performance management.

But why should you care? Because behaviour is the major factor that drives organisational performance. You can have all the processes and tools in the world, but if people don’t behave effectively, you and your customers don’t get the expected outputs and outcomes. Take a service desk agent – he deals with your calls very efficiently and achieves your ‘hard’ KPIs, yet fails to be perceived as empathetic, resulting in customers who start looking around for a provider where they feel respected and valued. His technical behaviour was good, but his interpersonal behaviour was under par. The opposite could equally apply: somebody’s very good in building and maintaining relationships with people, but hopeless at resolving their issues. You need the whole package. That’s why it’s important to define desired behaviour and determine how you’re going to achieve it. That’s where OBM can help. One of the key concepts behind OBM is the relationship between antecedents, filters, behaviour and consequences.

The premise behind OBM is that results are only achieved by people’s behaviour. Behaviour is defined as something that can be observed. Mainly talking and doing but not thinking, feeling or being. ‘John is present at the monthly meeting’ doesn’t count as behaviour in an OBM context. If John were dead, he could still be present. This ‘dead man test’ is often applied within OBM to help define observable behaviour in more active terms.
An antecedent is a stimulus that precedes a behaviour and encourages performance of that behaviour. These can take many forms, such as signs, reminder prompts, or even noises that direct behaviour. An example of an antecedent strategy shown to be especially useful in improving organizational safety is goal setting. A road sign limit the speed to 100 KPH is an antecedent that directs behaviour. Whether you’ll pay any attention to antecedents however, depends on various factors, such as your knowledge, experience, mood, and values. In OBM terminology, these are called filters.

A consequence is an event that follows a given behaviour and increases the probability the behaviour will recur. Like antecedents, consequences can take many forms, such as behavioural feedback, monetary rewards, or a supervisor’s praise for a job well done. For this reason, it can be said that consequences motivate behaviour, since we tend to act in response to the consequences we expect to receive. A heavy fine for exceeding a speed limit is a good example of a consequence. Unless you happen to be very rich, in which case it would not be as effective. If you are not only rich but also famous, then a news item reporting your misdemeanour would probably be a more effective consequence than a fine.

Consequences have various characteristics:

  • Positive / Negative
  • Immediate / Future
  • Certain / Uncertain

Any combination is possible. The strongest consequences are positive-immediate-certain, followed by negative-immediate-certain, and then the others.

OBM encourages you to specify desired behaviour in terms of observable characteristics, and this is one of its most valuable contributions to improving organisational performance. If you know what behaviour you want and how to describe it, you can introduce antecedents that direct the desired behaviour, backed up by consequences that motivate it.

Better behaviour not only delivers better output, but also contributes to your customers’ and your own outcomes, and OBM helps you achieve that.


Various videos by Aubrey Daniels

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Mark Smalley

Mark Smalley

Mark Smalley, also known as The IT Paradigmologist, thinks, writes and speaks extensively about IT 'paradigms' – in other words our changing perspectives on IT. His current interests are the digital enterprise, IT operating models, value of IT, business-IT relationships, co-creation of value, multidisciplinary collaboration, working with complexity, and as the overarching theme, management of information systems in general. Mark is an IT Management Consultant at Smalley.IT and Ambassador at the ASL BiSL Foundation. Mark has spoken at 100+ events in 20+ countries.