Applying OBM in the Netherlands

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Guest Author: Dr. Marius Rietdijk, Ph.D. 

Marius is president of the staff council and assistant professor in Strategic Behavioral Change at the School of Business and Economics at the VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.  He holds a Master’s Degree in clinical, social, I&O, and health psychology and a Ph.D. in Business Economics. His primary interest is behavior analysis and change in organizational settings, behavioral therapy, and behavior-based investing; for more, see www.mariusrietdijk.nl (in English) and www.behaviorbasedinvesting.com (in Dutch). He is a European pioneer in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM).

Because there is growing interest among behavior analysts in exploring what other disciplines and approaches can offer, Dr. Rietdijk is an exemplar in that regard.  He has always been interested in various areas of study and finding common ground. Marius combines science and impact across varied methods and implementation strategies. In 1999, Marius embarked on a whirlwind tour to spend time with multiple thought leaders in behavior analysis. Marius met the then editor-in-chief of JOBM, Tom Mawhinney. He also visited Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, meeting Dale Brethower, Richard Malott, and Alyce Dickinson. Furthering his travels he met with Richard O’Brien in New York. Ending in Atlanta, Georgia, he spent a considerable amount of time with Aubrey Daniels and his company, judging him as the most important pioneer in the field of OBM. You can learn more about Marius’s odyssey here: https://www.aubreydaniels.com/media-center/organizational-solutions/articles/bridging-the-gap-with-obm


Applying OBM in the Netherlands

Marius Rietdijk, Ph.D.

This blog is to share with the reader my journey into the world of OBM and how my culture and practices influence what I do in looking for ever better effects in my practice. Since I read Skinner’s work in my free time during my studies in psychology (1983-1989), I have never forgotten his unique teachings. In my home country, The Netherlands, Skinner is only known by behavior therapists and is not necessarily described in a positive manner. Many “cognitive” elements have been incorporated into “modern” behavior therapy, heavily relying on labels to explain behavior. At the same time, I prefer a stricter behavior analytical approach to targeting change to produce measurable effects that matter.

Methods in behavior analysis focus on the operant approach of controlling behavior, looking at the variables external to our actions that influence the likelihood and strength of future activities. Those elements include what we say to ourselves, how we think about our situation, the emotional behavior of such actions, and what happens due to what we do. My primary interest is in increasing the effectiveness of individuals in organizations.

I am guided much more by what works than by strict alignment with a particular creed or methodology. I also do clinical practice. I found that the breadth of what I do with behavior analysis is not in competition with what I do with other techniques. Be careful not to assume what you do is either. I am fluent in hypnosis, much more embraced by the tenets of classical conditioning to help my clients move through trauma and pain and begin to practice new behaviors in the situations in which they find themselves. Once they are ready to do things differently, behavior analysis helps me consider what is needed to maintain the strength of their new responses. My point is that I want to use what works to make things better for others, and I have found knowing a lot about both classical and operant conditioning, a lot about current clinical practices, and newly evolving organizational strategies—these varied areas and more help me be of greater use.

2009, I finished my Ph.D. thesis in OBM, Conditioning Organizations (written in Dutch; an English translation is almost finished). I immediately started a teaching center for executive students at VU University in Amsterdam. We did that for 12 years. During these years, 6 of my students published a book about OBM in our Dutch language, focused on their particular sector.

For four years, I have been a member of the Staff Council of this university and have recently been appointed chair. This staff council has direct contact with the university’s board of directors and their supervisory board. They are busy with all kinds of “change programs.” When working to improve practices in the clinical field, you would expect that these programs, since economic organizations and savvy managers initiate them, would be very effective and rational. Sadly, nothing is further from the truth. As broad as its knowledge is, even the hired consultancy agency, McKinsey, could not pinpoint and develop a plan to change behaviors that needed to be increased or decreased to hit improved performance criteria, as we behavior analysts know how to do so well.

As a member of the staff council (with 25 employees from a total of 6,000 university employees), I convinced my colleagues and the management that a behavior-analytical approach is viable and important, becoming one of the reasons I was elected to the position of chair for this newly starting three-year period. I now have the opportunity for significant exposure about the foundational science behind behavior analysis within this university. The chair of the staff council is a crucial function. I can send my message about behavioral change through lots of channels. But most of the time, I listen and shape my network’s (verbal) behavior toward a more behavior-analytical repertoire. Of course, they like it, partly because it is much more effective than derivative behavior concepts, like culture and leadership, all too often ill-defined.

So OBM and Behavior analysis are being brought in The Netherlands step-by-step, and that process and my continuing learning in helping the process is always exciting. I was brought to this path of OBM by a citation in the book Behavior Analysis for Lasting Change, in which Dr. Aubrey Daniels was recommended for deep diving into OBM. After contacting him, he and the then CEO and President of Aubrey Daniels International, Dr. Darnell Lattal, sponsored me, providing access and information to help me refine my learning and meet extraordinary people in the field, for which I am grateful for the rest of my life. I graduated with my doctorate with them, and OBM may be introduced in the Netherlands.

Man in suit next to a stack of four books.

If I have any tips for the furtherance of Behavior Analysis in Organizations, the title to this series of blogs, outside of places where it is well accepted, it is always to explore what is going on around you, read books that expand your thinking, meet, and listen to various practitioners inside and outside this field. Travel. Seek to understand multiple perspectives, try techniques as to their effectiveness, and use your growing knowledge to help others get sustainable results in ways they value.  Such a journey does not tarnish your core foundation as a behavior analyst. Instead, it deepens and reinforces it. And remember, when you do work in Europe, you need not worry about converting Europeans to your point of view. Focus on demonstrating the effectiveness and clarity of what you bring. The outcomes you achieve will stand in testament to the science, as I am striving to show in my work with organizational change.

R­­eferences:

Brethower, D.M. (1972). Behavior analysis in business and industry. A total performance system. Kalamazoo: Behaviordelia Inc.

Daniels, A.C. (2014, 2nd ed.). Bringing out the best in people. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Daniels, A.C. & J. Bailey (2016). Performance management. Atlanta: Performance Management Publications.

Dickinson, A.M. (2000). The historical root of organizational behavior management in the private sector: The 1950;s-1980’s. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 20, 3-4, 9-59.

Mawhinney, T.C. (1999). An abbreviated history of OBM in ABA. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 19,1, 7-12.