Evolution of a Management System

I’ve had a very fulfilling career in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), first as the cofounder of CLG, and now as the cofounder of ChangePartner, a performance improvement firm dedicated to improving healthcare delivery. I wake up everyday feeling proud of the world-class results we have achieved with our clients over the last 30 years. And I’m hopeful about the future as I consider the successes of other OBM practitioners. In the back of my mind, though, is a nagging frustration that, in spite of our astounding achievements, the OBM community has never been able to establish behavior analysis as a specific discipline taught in business schools, or as an internationally recognized management system. Three decades later, the science of behavior analysis means nothing to, shall we say, 99% of the world’s business leaders.

Puzzled by our lack of progress in establishing OBM as a business essential, I decided to investigate how other business management systems such as “process management” and “strategy management” came to be widely accepted.  In my research, I turned to the principle architects of these disciplines to see how they had created such influential paradigms. I spoke extensively with Dr. Mikel Harry, the co-creator of Six Sigma.  I read the Lords of Strategy (Kiechel 2010) and spoke with a cofounder of Bain, one of the initial strategy firms. Each discipline followed similar stages of evolution, from which OBM can extract learnings:

Stage 1: The Guru. A ‘guru” spent decades scientifically testing the fundamental principles, tools and methods of their discipline. W. Edwards Deming, the guru for process management, was best known for his work with Japanese industry leaders after WWII. For OBM, our guru was primarily Skinner, who developed behavior analysis, the science that guides our work today.

Stage 2: The Applied Scientist/Consultant. During this phase, a number of small consulting firms arose in the 80’s and 90’s that used the science to achieve superior results for their clients. Each firm packaged the fundamentals a little differently, but results were reliably produced because the science was sound. Examples of firms that packaged and extended Deming’s work are: The Six Sigma Management Institute (Mikel Harry); Philip Crosby & Associates (Dr. Philip Crosby), and; Hammer & Company (Dr. Michael Hammer). Comparable firms in OBM are: CLG, ADI, and BST.

Stage 3: The CEO Convert. In this stage, one of the small consulting firms broke through the pack by achieving organization-wide results across a global corporation, causing the CEO to become a vocal, visible convert. For process management, Bob Galvin, CEO of Motorola, became the corporate face of Six Sigma, actively promoting it as the foundation for his company’s competitive advantage. He wove it into his management systems, published articles about it in business journals, introduced his Six Sigma consultants to Wall Street analysts, and funded the Motorola Six Sigma Research Institute. Our discipline, OBM, has yet to create a CEO convert willing to support our approach in the same dynamic way that Bob Galvin did.

Stage 4: Certification. Once a marquee company achieved success, other organizations clamored to learn the approach. The challenge quickly became one of training huge numbers of people to do what the scientist/consultant did. In this stage, successful consulting companies took a mishmash of confusing models, methodologies, terms, tools, and concepts and spent time packaging them into an easily understandable framework, using marketing experts to help develop and test their frameworks with their target markets. This is how Black Belt and Green Belt certification quickly spread across the globe. To-date, OBM has not created a comparable, cohesive framework that is easy to understand.

Stage 5: Adoption by Global Consulting Firms. Once there was an established market for the discipline, the big consulting firms such as McKinsey and Accenture ramped up to meet the demand. We often think of consulting firms as being leading edge, but my research shows they followed the market rather than created it. They remained on the sidelines until Stages 2-4 were completed, and until one or two smaller companies hit revenues of $100 million. Once they entered the game, it’s interesting to note that they didn’t feel compelled to develop deep mastery in a new discipline—70% mastery was good enough because their clients already viewed them as experts and trusted advisors.

Stage 6: Business Schools. As consulting firms scaled up their capabilities in a new discipline, they looked to universities to fill their talent pipeline. In response, prestigious universities developed specialty programs when it became clear that their graduates would be highly sought after. At this point these disciplines were formally acknowledged as business management systems, which led to them becoming firmly embedded into business school curricula across the country.

As I stepped back and looked at these stages, I saw that OBM is a young discipline, one that has made its way successfully through stage 2, but is not yet developed as a methodology that can scale easily and gain acceptance by the CEO of a global company. Due to the groundwork laid by process and strategy management disciplines, most leaders today expect any new improvement approach to be packaged in a cohesive, easily understandable framework—as a starting point. To gain acceptance today with a CEO, and more even broadly, I believe that we need to create such a framework for OBM. I think we can learn how to do this by examining frameworks created by other disciplines. Here’s a sample of a framework for process management—as you read it, think about the framework we could create for OBM.


Core Concepts: A business process is a collection of related structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product that creates value for customers. It has clearly defined boundaries delineated by inputs and outputs. Process management systems improve processes continuously by focusing on business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation and flexibility.

Core Principles (Samples): All work is a process; All processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, improved, and controlled; The definition of quality is conformance to customer requirements (or, “The customer is always right”); The goal is zero defects; The system of quality is prevention, not inspection (or, “Do it right the first time”); People closest to the process are best positioned to identify solutions.

Core Tools: Examples include process flowchart, Pareto analysis, root cause analysis, control charts.

Scientific Approach: Improvement activities are guided via the use of an organized, memorable scientific process such as PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) or DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).

Management Process: Process management systems are often deployed as “programs” sustained through management and employee engagement processes, though they are sometimes embedded as permanent support groups (e.g., departments deploying Six Sigma, Work-Out, Lean Sigma, TQM, etc.).

This framework is taken for granted today, but when elements like the core principles were first introduced in the 1990’s, they represented dramatic paradigm shifts. Examples of “mind-bending” core principles include “zero defects,” “the customer is always right,” and “employees closest to the work are best positioned to improve the processes.” These principles ran counter to common beliefs. Once they were broadly accepted, they drove dramatic performance improvement in organizations, as well as a new way of working.

Below is the first draft of an equivalent framework for OBM that my colleagues and I started to develop. It provides an example of how we might create a paradigm shift for leaders regarding behavior-based improvements.


Core Concepts: Behaviors are observable things people say and do. Keystone behaviors are the critical few behaviors that are highly correlated with achieving targeted business results and will not occur reliably without changing the supporting environment. Keystone behaviors can be relatively straightforward (e.g., safety procedures) or extremely complex (e.g., decision-making) and they can be identified at any level of an organization.

Core Principles (Samples): All results depend on the behaviors of individuals; Some behaviors are more vital than others in producing the desired outcomes (keystone behaviors); Behavior variability or keystone behaviors can be the root cause of poor performance; Behaviors have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, improved, and sustained. Behaviors can be understood and changed by analyzing and changing environmental factors that come before (antecedents) and after (consequences) them; Antecedents get behavior change started, sustainable behavior change occurs when the right mix of consequences occurs for individuals, at scale; If desired behaviors are not occurring, it’s almost always a consequence issue; Personalized feedback is one of the most powerful consequences available in organizations, and the most underutilized; The goal is self-direction and self-motivation. Proven leadership behaviors reliably shape self-direction in others.

Core Tools: Examples include the ABC analysis; Pinpointing; Behavior-based checklists; Observation and feedback; Interobserver reliability, etc.

Scientific Approach: Improvement activities are guided by DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) or some similar model developed specifically for OBM.

Management Process: Behavior management systems ensure that keystone behaviors happen reliably across an organization to produce the results cited in strategic and business plans, while allowing for behavioral innovation and flexibility. Such systems are often deployed as projects until new behaviors reach measurable habit strength, or as part of an ongoing management process involving behavior measurement, observation/monitoring, feedback and coaching, behavior-based root cause analysis, and barrier removal.

I know this type of framework would have helped in my discussions with my clients over the last 30 years. Further, I believe that a similar comprehensive and easily understandable framework could be developed for applied behavior analysis in general, so our science could be easily understood by the general public and compared to other approaches. I look forward to getting your feedback on the best way to position OBM as a widely accepted management approach. I hope this blog also triggers some ideas for behavior analysts who are working in other fields.




Kiechel, W. (2010). The lords of strategy: The secret intellectual history of the new corporate world. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.



Author Biography

Julie M. Smith, Ph.D.

CEO and Co-Founder, ChangePartner


Julie is a world-class expert in applying behavior science in innovative ways to achieve unprecedented results. As co-founder of CLG, one of the world’s largest behavior-based strategy execution firms, Julie and her colleagues pioneered the most powerful and practical organizational behavior-change approach available today, as evaluated by multiple independent benchmark studies conducted by organizations such as Chevron, the United Nations, and Bayer Corporation. Working with national and global clients, her track record proves her approach leads to superior strategy execution and dramatic performance improvement.

Julie's hallmark is her astonishing energy and ability to help leaders achieve "mission impossible." Gifted in looking at complex situations and making them simple, Julie has personally led dozens of CLG’s largest and most complex engagements. With her guidance, CEOs make their vision and messages crystal clear, distilling company strategy to the essence of how their organizations are going to win. Then, Julie uses her uncanny ability to identify the critical few behaviors that will get leaders the most traction, combining skill, experience, and art to pinpoint those behaviors that help executives improve their game, enhance their team’s effectiveness, and achieve broad-scale behavior-change across the organization.

Seeing a great need to improve healthcare provider performance, Julie launched ChangePartner in 2015. She and her team are developing a SMARTe Delivery Excellence™ enterprise software system, based on Adaptive Behavior Analytics™, that will transform healthcare. This technology platform will be like providing a personalized behavioral coach, at a moments notice, to any healthcare worker. Julie is looking forward to the day when the behavioral root causes of poor patient care are drastically reduced—or even eliminated—because of this innovative system. 

Julie holds a Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis from West Virginia University. She and her husband, Mickey, reside with their family in Fairmont, West Virginia, where they are building Heston Farm, a regional agri-tourism destination that includes the “triple threat” of a winery, distillery, and brewery.