‘Ask Aubrey’ Articles

We are all the same and different

DisneyI saw an ad for a webinar titled, Customizing feedback: The 9 different personality types. This kind of stuff drives me crazy. The Meyers Briggs people told us it was 16. Someone is always coming up with a new box to put people into. I would suggest that you don’t fit any of them. I talked with a man recently who is working on how people metabolize drugs depending on their DNA. Guess what? No two people do it the same. This is why some drugs work just fine on some people and not on others who have the same disease. I suggest that because there are over 7 billion people in the world, there are over 7 billion personality types. That is because no one has the same experiences you have had and that is why we are all unique. That means that people can’t figure you out or put you into some box with millions of others. With only 9 personality types that would mean that there are about 777,777,778 people in the world with a personality just like yours. How unique does that make you feel?

Surprising to many is the fact that the science of behavior, behavior analysis, has shown that there can be laws of behavior that can accommodate 7 billion unique types and many more. In other words, we are all the same and different. Unless you understand how that can happen, you will have problems in relationships at home and at work.

For more read What Box Fits You? on my Performance Reset Blog at Talent Management Magazine.

What Works Best Doesn’t Come Naturally: Leadership Actions for Preventing Loss

During my visit to ASSE 2014  for a talk earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Johnson,  Associate Publisher and Chief Editor of ISHN

leadership ishnISHN: You say in your proceedings paper, “It’s time that senior leaders recognize the key role they play in preventing Serious Injuries and Fatalities.” Isn’t it past time? OSHA, the modern safety movement, is 40+ years old. You cite widely publicized calamities. Why do many leaders continue to “not get it,” not step up to the plate for safety, to own up to their role and responsibilities?

Aubrey Daniels: One of the primary reasons is that safety is really all about behavior, it’s essential that managers and senior managers understand the science of behavior. Positive reinforcement is not simply patting someone on the back. When senior management doesn’t understand behavior, they can’t develop policies and procedures. Like you say in your question, when is someone going to realize what we’ve been doing for 40 years is not working? Read the rest of the interview at ISHN.

Top Ten Reasons why you should NOT give your boss a holiday gift (Christmas, or otherwise)

no giftsI wrote a blog several weeks ago in which I mentioned that it might be a bad idea to give the boss a gift on boss’ day.  I have been amazed at the comments and interviews that I have received since.  The response has been more than anything I have written lately.  So I decided that in light of the approaching holidays, I might write a “Top Ten List,” a la David Letterman.

Here are my top ten reasons “why you should NOT give your boss a holiday gift”: 

10.  If you do it because others do it, you are doing it for the wrong reason and you will probably resent it

9.  If the boss expects it, s/he is a bad boss to begin with and a gift may act as a positive reinforcer for bad boss behavior

8.  If a gift affects the boss’ behavior toward you, it is not a healthy work situation for you or the boss

7.  It puts pressure on the boss to reciprocate and it is not a good idea to put pressure on the boss

6.  It gets expensive for the boss if there are a number of direct or indirect reports who need reciprocating

5.  It is the economy, stupid

4.  It may cause the boss to question your motive

3.  It is a good time to break this bad habit

2.  A card with a hand written note is probably more meaningful – and it is a better, more appropriate habit

1.  The boss doesn’t need it – give it to someone who does

In addition to writing your boss a note, here are some more suggestions of how to recognize and positively reinforce your boss in a meaningful way all year round.

This post originally appeared on Aubrey’s blog December 16, 2009.


Announcing the launch of The Aubrey Daniels Institute

Aubrey Daniels Institute

It is with great excitement that I introduce to you the launch of an institute dedicated to increasing the understanding and advancing the use of the science of behavior (behavior analysis) in the workplace.

Organizations are fond of communicating to employees that they are their most important asset, yet because management processes and practices are not designed in accordance with what is known about the scientifically proven laws of human behavior, organizations are not able to fully maximize the potential of their people. This has led to management systems that waste time and money and frustrate employees, resulting in low rates of engagement, productivity and customer service, among other things.

The science of behavior is often not known or used in making business decisions, and therefore, many performance practices that have evolved over the years simply don’t work. Separating fact from fiction is one of the main goals of the institute.

The broader mission of the institute is to explore from a research perspective the conditions that will help to create and sustain individual excellence and business success. With this Institute, we hope to illuminate principles that will literally change the way the world works. In today’s competitive environment, organizations can’t afford to not understand the science of human behavior. At the end of the day, every business accomplishment is dependent on someone’s behavior. One can manage it by common sense or by scientifically validated data.

I hope you will take a few minutes of your time to visit the institute and explore, discuss, and share with others more about the science of behavior.


Contingent Reinforcement, Where?

Who would have thought in our lifetime there would be contingent reinforcement in Russia?

Apparently you can perform squats on an interactive machine and earn free subway rides. Now that’s a real win/win for the rider!


Zero Tolerance Policies should be called “Don’t Blame Me” policies

Zero Tolerance PoliciesWhile I understand the appeal of zero tolerance policies in that they allow difficult decisions about behavior to be dispatched easily and quickly, the decision to expel a child from school or to send someone to prison can be blamed on the policy, not the teacher, cop or administrator.  I have an intense dislike for the default ZTP that is becoming too popular and increasingly leading to ridiculous decisions.  Take for example the recent incident where a high school girl was called by her classmate to come pick her up from a party because the friend realized that she was too intoxicated to drive herself home. What she got for doing an honorable thing is arrested for underage drinking due to the fact that the police said that they had no choice but to report her, guilt by association I suspect.  Two others were reported last week, one involving an employee intervening in an assault in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and another in an attempted robbery of a convenience store. The typical response in print, TV and radio is that zero tolerance has run amuck!

When I started ADI, we had only one policy (and still do) relative to mistakes, misconduct or the like – “Each decision will be handled on its own merit.”  I never wanted to hear a manager say, “That’s the policy.”  We are all human beings here.  In this company we understand the effects of behavioral consequences on people’s behavior.  I wanted managers who were knowledgeable enough about behavior to make a decision which they knew would help the person deal with similar situations effectively in the future.

Since we are all unique individuals, there is no policy that is appropriate for all situations. Policy is usually the safeguard for delivering a difficult message usually involving negative feedback or punishment.  The behaviors involved and the context in which they occur all need to be considered before deciding what to do in all these situations.  Quit looking for a “one size fits all” solution.  There isn’t one.  Since most companies seem to think that the only one way to get people to do right is to punish the offenders, it leads to these ridiculous decisions. Typically, most managers and supervisors come to see that these policies are wrong for the situation.  As the policeman said in the case above of the high school student, “We have no choice.”  I think on the contrary we do.

Policy should be used as a guide, not as an absolute.  Policies should not use the words, everybody, anybody or all, as in “anybody caught doing X, will be…”  Begin instead with, “The policy is that…  Now let me hear the details.”  This is not about giving people a second chance.  It is about how can I help the person or persons involved change their behavior in future situations.

You might also be interested in the video Do Policies, Memos, and Safety Signage Work?

President Obama, You Say You Want Ideas—Here’s One!

President ObamaPresident Obama says he wants ideas.  How about this one?  The government will designate a fixed dollar amount to be deducted from each taxpayer each year.  This fund will be distributed equally to all people running for federal office.  Although it can be spent as the candidate sees fit, they will not be able to exceed that amount and will not be able to accept funds from their own bank account or those of friends or organizations.  Of course there will need to be some way to determine if a person is a qualified candidate, but that should not be an insurmountable problem.  It might be that at the local or state level, a candidate would have to have a number of valid signatures supporting their candidacy.

You may find that all kinds of people will run for office on the tax payers’ contribution—qualified but from completely opposite points of view of candidates they may have otherwise supported.  To make this work, citizens will need to agree that a level playing field is to everyone’s advantage.  It will produce many more ideas for solving the problems of their constituents and for increasing the general welfare.  It will focus voters on good ideas, not the biggest “War Chest” as it is commonly called. The position should not be for sale anyway.  This is how our democracy was intended to work all along.

Funds at the local level would be contained as well although TV stations and newspapers might be asked to donate TV time and newspapers asked to contribute column space where the candidates will be able to define their position on the issues and convince the electorate that they have the qualifications, personal work habits and ethical standards needed to represent their interests at the national level.

Right off the bat, I can think of seven benefits for why this approach to government appointment would benefit us all.  Maybe you can think of others to add to my list.

  1. The campaign will be about ideas and solutions for problems facing the constituents.
  2. It will not be about wealth—anybody’s.  “Joe the plumber” will not have to worry about financing a campaign.  This will generate a broader representation of candidates from all walks of life, to include education, occupation and life’s experiences.  The career politician will be on shaky ground. Financial influence will be eliminated from decision making.  Those who are wealthy or in positions of influence will have no more influence than the power of their ideas.  It eliminates PACs and all of the problems associated with them.
  3. There will be no debts owed to any individual, group of individuals, companies or other organizations.  The benefits of this for improved decision-making are obvious.
  4. Lobbying will be reduced and what is done will be on the merit of an idea, not on influence.
  5.  The cost of the campaign will be reduced.  When the funds run out campaigning is over.  Spending billions of dollars on a presidential campaign will be a thing of the past.
  6. The length of the campaigns and the endless TV and newspaper commercials will be shortened to everyone’s approval.
  7. It eliminates “War Chests.”  There will be no carry forward of funds not spent which eliminates a current advantage of incumbents.

If only it worked this way. Here’s hoping for a positive change to the future of our election process by changing the role of PACs and other influence peddlers and reinstating the central role of the electorate. I am open to your ideas and comments—pro and con.  It is time we change the way business is done in Washington.


5 Tips for Improving Your Effectiveness as a Coach

There is always a lot of buzz surrounding leaders– what makes an effective one, are they born or made, and why do some transform into bad bosses.  Yet the most common trending topic today seems to be how to improve your leadership skills managing others. There are many “experts” who claim to have the answers, but the truth is there is no quick fix or magic bullet for being a better boss. What can give you an edge over others, however, is an understanding of the science of human behavior. 

A manager’s goal is to create successful employees. Learning how to motivate, inspire, and challenge your direct reports can be difficult since no two people are alike. What works for one may fail to be effective in improving the performance of another. It can be easy to fall into a trap of micro-managing or not providing enough positive reinforcement, often without realizing what is happening.  Practicing the tips below takes skill, time, and effort. But these items below will not only improve your effectiveness as a coach, but the overall performance of your team as well. 

  • Listen and ask questions. Asking questions allows employees to relive accomplishments and earn reinforcement. Listening to how goals were met provides opportunities for reinforcement and when problems are encountered, listening enables you to be more effective at problem solving.
  • Check in and follow up – frequently. Be available to your team. Ask “How are you doing?” or “How can I help you to be more successful?” Provide both positive reinforcement and constructive feedback. Doing what you say you are going to do will build accountability and trust.
  • Provide Reinforcement. Don’t just pop up when something is wrong. Provide positive reinforcement when you see people doing something right. The fastest path to improvement is one where positive reinforcement is present every step of the way.
  • Practice shaping. Plan and shape incremental improvements in behavior and then reinforce it along the way. Difficult behaviors or behaviors involving significant change need more encouragement in the beginning to get them going. Have patience and watch for these small steps towards the desired behavior.
  • Celebrate! Make accomplishments visible and celebrate as a team. This creates another opportunity for reinforcement as people share their success.

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The Behavioral Minute: The Secret to Listening

Behavior is all around us: the good and the bad.  Yet so often the actions and reactions of others go by without thought.

In support of our quest to bring the science of behavior to the masses, ADI is now launching a video series titled Behavioral Minute. In these short video segments, ADI experts will address a variety of topics related to behavior in the workplace and at home, and include tips for how you can be more effective and successful.

Most managers in organizations today are good at talking and telling but listening is in short supply. The ability to listen to others is more important than most people realize. When you listen, others have the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. And you have the opportunity to choose what you respond and give attention to, shaping the behavior of the other person.

If you spend more time listening and less time talking you can achieve higher levels of engagement and experience better interpersonal relationships. Watch as Aubrey Daniels shares more on why listening is so valuable in our latest Behavioral Minute video.

Stay connected to new Behavioral Minute segments by visiting ADI’s YouTube Channel or our media center.

When is enough, enough in education?

On NPR this week I heard a report of a study on teacher education in the US. The study evaluated over 1400 colleges of education and found that 7 out of 10 are doing a poor job in teaching reading! They do a worse job with other basic subjects like English, math, science and history. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says, “Right now, much of higher ed believes that it’s not their job to have a teacher be ready for the classroom on Day 1.” Joshua P. Starr, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, said he is concerned that the new ratings amount to teacher bashing. Mr. Starr misses the point; it is not about the teachers at all but about the poor training in Universities and the management of teachers in local school systems. He seems not to understand that he is one of the people being bashed.

This report just adds fuel to my fire about the poor state of public education in the U.S. In May at the Association of Behavior Analysis International conference, I attended a presentation by members of The Wing Institute, an independent non-profit organization promoting evidence-based education policies and practice. The title of the session was “Directly Influencing Teaching in The Classroom: A Systematic Approach.” Jack States’ presentation showed that the $60 billion spent on preparing teachers to teach effectively was utterly wasted – wasted time and wasted taxpayers money –in terms of the dismal impact on student learning. This new study provides further validation of States’ research.

The mission of the US Department of Education is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. In 2013 they have $70 billion to do it. This does not count $100 billion included for education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. They have received billions of dollars since the Department was given cabinet status in 1980. The total expenditure on the Department approaches two trillion dollars since 1980 at the Federal level alone. And what is the return on that “investment?” According to reports from NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, there has been no appreciable improvement in what students learned since 1980.

This reminds me of a patient I treated for Agoraphobia years ago. She had been receiving electroshock treatments for 26 years. I have often wondered how long it would have taken her psychiatrist to conclude that electroshock was not working. (By the way, it took less than two months of behavioral treatment to “cure” her and she did beautifully till her death two years ago.)

How long will it take for the Government and the public to conclude that what we have been doing in education since the 1970s is not working? The system is broken and in my opinion is not capable of being fixed. The time for tweaking is over. It is a wreck, dead, done. There are schools that are doing a good job but almost all are not public. Public access and quality education could go together well if anyone in education was looking to what science can tell us about how learning occurs. Schools are fascinated with process almost to the point of ignoring the impact on the most important outcome—student learning. If the school systems were measured by their impact on student performance—all up and down the chain they would demand better preparation of teachers and hopefully begin to look at the effect of their own behavior in terms of whether it helps or hinders teacher performance in the classroom.

The sad truth is that technology and effective processes exist today that can teach effectively and efficiently. Morningside Academy in Seattle is one such example, hiding right in plain sight for decades.  For a book on their teaching methods, see Generative Instruction: What It Means to Leave No Child Behind by Johnson and Street.

Getting the establishment to use new methods requires significant behavior change on the part of many administrators who are highly reinforced for keeping things the way they are.  Consequences necessary to make that happen are unlikely to occur. There are many teachers who try to use more effective methods “under the radar” but find little positive reinforcement from the educational hierarchy. What teachers need is help in shaping and accelerating learning, not bureaucracy.

Until accountability comes to education, driving more parents who have the capacity to abandon the system through home schooling or private schooling, little will change. Such change need not take a very long time. It takes active and measurable commitment. It means holding yourself as head of any educational unit responsible for the success of those you supervise—not for creating beautiful plans but for taking their very good ideas and helping them do their job—educate the youth of America. It then means holding teachers accountable for the individual success of students, not for the average achievement of the class but the number of students who met their individual achievement targets. Morningside Academy can show us all how to do that. If we would only look and learn!

Thanks for reading my rant. I am calm for now.

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