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General Guideline to Intervention Strategies

When it comes to intervention strategies, some models are better than others. As a general guideline, the model should have credibility and status in the target person's eyes. Less learning occurs when the model's credibility is discounted, but some learning still occurs. But the more real and believable the model, the better. The model should also have the target person's respect, and it is best if the model is a member of the target person's current group or of the group to which the person aspires.

Models can be used in any of the intervention strategies. We learn not only how to perform the behavior from a model and what consequences to expect, but also what situation to perform it in. The important thing to remember is that modeling is occurring constantly. When you reinforce one subordinate's behavior, you increase the probability that that subordinate—and all those watching—will perform that behavior in the future. And when you punish an employee, you set an example, and observers are less likely to engage in the undesirable behavior. But punishment can produce counterproductive side effects, which mean that any or all of those who learned from the example are more likely to sabotage, steal, engage in angry outbursts, become overly anxious, or withdraw.

Behavioral Rehearsal

In behavioral rehearsal, the target person rehearses the role or behaviors that he or she wishes to learn, and is reinforced for practicing each link in the chain of behaviors. It is vital that you use shaping during the rehearsal—that is, give detailed feedback on what the target person did well and a minimum of "constructive criticism." Focus on successive approximations of the desired behavior rather than on the undesired behavior.

Antecedents are an important consideration in behavioral rehearsal. Whenever possible, gradually make the rehearsal setting more and more like the target setting. If this is not done, the target person may learn to perform the behavior in the rehearsal setting but not outside it (stimulus control). By making the setting increasingly realistic, you are creating stimulus generalization.

Shape one class of behaviors at a time during the rehearsal. For example, in teaching assertive behaviors, first shape the words, then the voice quality and control, then the body movements, and finally all of them together. Try it—it's easy, it's free, and you can shape up your management skills when you participate in the rehearsal.


Evaluation is not a separate activity that occurs after the termination of the plan; it is an ongoing process in behavior change programs. Through constant monitoring and counting, the current behavior frequencies are compared with the baseline. As long as the desired behavior steadily increases, the program continues. When a plateau or drop in target behavior frequency occurs, the program should be critically reviewed and revised. By charting Otto's behavior, Georgia can easily evaluate her intervention. Because the frequency of Otto's negative comments about the program has dropped, she can conclude that her intervention has been successful.


All behavior change programs should contain a precisely stated goal. The goal can specify a behavior, such as being on time or making problem-solving comments, or it can specify an outcome, such as a completed proposal or a successful sale. It is important that the goal be quantitative: How many sales? How many days on time? Without a numerical statement you cannot determine when the goal has been reached. The behavior occurring at the desired frequency is the signal for termination of the intervention phase. Maintaining a behavior at the desired frequency is the final step in the behavior change program.

Change programs in which the contingencies were rearranged become self-maintaining as long as the new arrangement of contingencies stays in effect. Suppose that you want to reinforce your staff's prompt arrival at meetings. You might rearrange the existing contingencies (waiting or avoiding waiting) by starting on time instead of starting late and thus reinforce promptness. This behavior change will probably stay in effect as long as the contingencies remain the same—that is, as long as you start the meeting on time. Some change programs have built-in contingencies that reinforce the desired behavior. These programs could be considered self-maintaining. For example, a salesperson's improved skills will be continually reinforced by increased sales. But with interventions that require additional or new reinforcement, building in natural reinforcements becomes an important step. For example, if Arlene's supervisor stops reinforcing her for independent problem solving, Arlene is likely to begin asking for assistance again. Arlene's supervisor needs to develop natural reinforcements as a maintenance procedure.

Natural reinforcements generally fall into two categories: self-reinforcement and reinforcement from others. For example, Arlene's supervisor could encourage Arlene to implement a self-management program to teach herself to use self-reinforcement ("I just made a good suggestion!"). In addition, the supervisor could encourage others in the work environment to reinforce Arlene's suggestions. This is done by reinforcing the reinforce. For example, positive remarks about Arlene's suggestions from her peers could be prompted ("Lorrie, what did you think of Arlene's suggestion?") and then reinforced ("I'm glad I asked your opinion, Lorrie, because you made a good point."). To do this you simply set up a behavior change program that has as its target behavior increased mutual reinforcement among peers. Collect baseline data on your staff and use appropriately applied contingent reinforcement. Monitor the frequency of peers' mutual reinforcement. This barometer reveals the cohesiveness of your team. Reinforcing is an important technique for building a team. Once this has been achieved, the demands on you are reduced, because the team maintains itself and can actually energize you. If you read between the lines in Michael Maccoby's analysis, you will see that this is a technique unique to gamesmen.

Another necessary maintenance strategy is to alter the frequency or schedule of reinforcement. Reinforcement of each instance of the behavior (continuous reinforcement) is important in increasing a behavior, but intermittent and unpredictable reinforcement is most effective in maintaining a behavior at a high frequency. But don't make an abrupt switch (that would be contingency shock); slowly stretch or fade out the reinforcement. If a feedback system was used as part of the intervention, continue it into the maintenance phase. Employees can use the feedback to prompt self-reinforcement.

Another tool in maintenance is the antecedent. Whenever possible, build stimulus control into your program. Arrange for antecedents in the environment to prompt the behavior. Reinforce peers for prompting one another, and don't let the antecedent become contaminated. If you want the office to retain stimulus control over work behavior, make sure that socializing occurs only in the social area.

Clearly defined rules and limits adhered to fairly and consistently maintain stimulus control. "Smoking in the social area only and never by anyone in the stockroom". Such a rule is a statement of stimulus control. Rules do not have to be rigid, but they must be consistent.

And it is the consequences of rule-following or rule-breaking that reveals consistency. Rules and norms can maintain work-oriented interactions. "People work together around here." This creates an expectation. If cooperative work is subsequently reinforced, the expectation can become a maintaining antecedent. In a similar manner, goals can maintain high productivity. Goals become a maintaining antecedent when goal attainment is consistently reinforced.

The Target Person: You or the Subordinate?

A behavior is not an isolated event; it occurs in an ongoing chain of antecedents and consequences. And a behavior is not merely a behavior—it also functions as a consequence to the behavior that precedes it and as an antecedent to the behavior that follows it.

When Georgia discovered that it was her responses to Otto's negative comments that were maintaining his behavior, she had to change her behavior to eliminate the negative comments. A self-management program can help you effect the desired change easily.