Both commonalities and differences among OBM and OD approaches to organizational change have been noted, along with suggestions whereby each field may learn from examining the other’s history. We now examine some issues that require consideration in order to enhance the likelihood of behavior change by practitioners in both fields.
Humble Behaviorism Issues
Neuringer (1991) outlined a concept he named “humble behaviorism,” wherein he called upon behavior analysts to be more tentative in their methodological and theoretical positions, to consider alternatives, and to realize that all knowledge is subject to change. Chase (1991) suggested in response to Neuringer’s humble behaviorist position, “An I’m right/ You’re wrong perspective is disheartening, damaging to the image of behavior analysis held by other scientists, and probably as responsible for the misinterpretations of behavior analysis as any single variable” (p. 15). This call for greater acceptance of diversity by behavior analysts constitutes a critical issue both for evaluating the feasibility of interaction among OD and OBM and for gaining widespread acceptance of OBM.
The issue is not so simple as greater tolerance by behavior analysts, nor does Neuringer imply that it is. As McDowell (1991) suggests, there may be fundamental, and perhaps irreconcilable differences between behavior analysis and other competing behavioral science approaches. The difference that McDowell emphasized was ontological: behavior analysis and other behavioral sciences disagree about what constitutes reality. Behavior analysts advocate a materialist ontology, i.e., the world consists of material objects and events, while other approaches, such as OD, include nonmaterial phenomena, as well as spiritual underpinnings.
OD in Transition
As a field, OD is in a state of flux (cf. Church and Burke, 1993). Many forces evoking behavior in organizations will require new OD techniques. These forces include a shift from traditional hierarchical organizations to flexible networks, empowerment of employees for decision making, and transitions to global thinking as a consequence of ever-increasing competition. Such changes have recently called into question whether the old OD techniques are now appropriate. Alternatives to the traditional top-down, single-organization OD interventions are now being proposed. One approach, for example, might involve interventions with the organization’s board of directors, taking a bottom-up rather than top-down approach, and focusing the OD effort at an interorganizational level.
Regardless of the anticipated changes in organizations and concomitant OD techniques required to meet the challenge of these changes, it is clear that OD has never been a panacea for all of management’s problems (cf. Mirvis and Berg, 1977). Perhaps OD can respond more effectively to these challenges by adopting some of the contributions that OBM has to offer.
Reconciling Different Verbal Communities
OBM and OD have developed concomitantly but are a part of very different verbal communities. The OD approach has been grounded in humanistic philosophy and applied social psychology/management theory, while OBM relies on behavior analysis for its technical and theoretical foundations (however, see Newman, 1992, for a view of behavior analysis as an extension of humanistic philosophy). Consistent with a behavioral perspective, the effectiveness of the two approaches may be left to empirical evaluation and the data that emerge from their application.
But an empirical evaluation is not a criterion for the acceptance of such a descriptive approach in the marketplace. Often description (without empirical evaluation) in the social sciences is accepted by consumers as equivalent to explanation. Management fads come and go and neither OD nor OBM can claim the current spotlight in this arena. Although organizational culture received a great deal of attention in the 1980s, the shift is now toward organizational learning and continuous improvement and related efforts. A metacontingency that encompasses all of these trends or fads is the globalization of the marketplace under conditions of diminished worldwide resources and overpopulation. Clearly, these are challenging times and we need to constantly reexamine the extent to which our technology is serving to enhance the human condition. An overriding implication is that marketability of an organizational change technology cannot be considered as a benchmark of success for either OBM or OD.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The points made here describe important ways in which OBM and OD may reciprocate in developing change technologies that address the challenges of these crucial times for organizations. Behavior analysts are rapidly adopting many of these suggestions and are improving the acceptance by management of behavioral methods (cf. Redmon, 1992). OBM is truly expanding its focus to wide-scale system change. Witness the recent issue of Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (Mawhinney, 1992) devoted to organizational culture and rule-governed behavior. The edited book on behavioral analyses of culture by Lamal (1991) is also an important contribution to this expanded focus by behavior analysts.
In spite of an expanding focus, however, OBM can still benefit from making contact with the OD literature. A rich source of research ideas can be gleaned from the effort. For example, Kurt Lewin’s work was not cited by Skinner, perhaps due to Lewin’s incompatibility with the Baconian orientation that drove Skinner’s work (Smith, 1992). Yet it is clear that many of the ideas behind Lewin’s action research paradigm are proving beneficial to the advancement of behavioral approaches to community development (cf. Fawcett, 1991). Action research is a basic paradigm for the OD field and it is not incompatible with a rigorous, empirical approach.
Many of the research ideas that emerge from a perusal of the OD literature by OBM practitioners will probably be centered on pinpointing the complex social and verbal contingencies that prevail in organizations, contingencies that are currently lumped together under the generic notion of organizational culture (cf. Agnew and Redmon, 1992; Eubanks and Lloyd, 1992; Malott, 1992; Malott, Shimamune, and Malott, 1992). It is not clear at this juncture, however, under what metacontingencies either OBM or OD are effective. As Mawhinney (1992) suggests, even the best-developed organizations may not survive under conditions of chaotic change or a punctuation in some critical aspect of the environment. As contingency theorists, OBM practitioners have much opportunity awaiting them in determining the metacontingencies of organizational survival and in continuing to demonstrate the utility of behavior analysis in solving crucial problems for organizations. There is much work to be done and behavior analysts are well equipped to do it