Behavior: The New Business ‘Buzzword’

I just came across an article on Forbes online by George Bradt titled, “The Five Most Important Questions for BRAVE Leaders.” Although the article is basically about “on-boarding,” that is hiring, I was interested in the BRAVE reference. Turns out it is an acronym. As with many acronyms he had to find a way to spell a word. The acronym stands for: Behavior, Relationship, Attitudes, Values and Environment. While it sounds good to say that the leader should help employees be BRAVE, it offers little practical advice.

Some 40 years ago when I first took the science of behavior (behavior analysis) to business, I discovered that the concept of behavior was foreign to business people. If I heard it once, I heard it 100 times, “Our people behave alright; they just don’t want to work.” Behavior was on a continuum of behaving (doing what you are supposed to do) on the one end and misbehaving on the other. Children behave, or more frequently, misbehave. At work managers were all about results. Who cares how you get them?

Thanks in part to behavior-based safety where the focus in on leading indicators (behaviors) rather than lagging indicators (results), business has discovered that it does matter how you get results. There are far too many companies that have ended up in court, or in front of a congressional committee, where they had to explain their failure to properly manage the behaviors that led to business results created by unsafe, unhealthy or unscrupulous behavior; behavior that resulted in death, fraud, theft, complacency, etc. The recent JPMorgan Chase fiasco was caused by a failure to manage the right behaviors both inside the bank and on the part of the banking regulators.  Although complacency on the part of senior officials in the bank was identified as a problem, complacency is the result of the lack of reinforcement for valuable behavior or the inadvertent reinforcement of improper behavior.

However, even though the word “behavior” is used more commonly today, many in the business world still have a limited understanding of what it is and more importantly, how to manage it. As a case in point, even though behavior is the first element in Bradt’s BRAVE acronym, relationship, attitude and values are nothing more than collections of behaviors. Changes in behavior are required to change any of them. If you want to change someone’s attitude, what precisely is the behavior that is troublesome and what behavior would you want in its place? Unless you break the concepts of attitude, relationships and values into their component behaviors, you will likely be inefficient and ineffective in your attempts to be a better leader. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because someone uses the term behavior that they know enough about it to give good advice about how to change organizational outcomes.

Since the RVE in BRAVE are really about behavior, the acronym should simply be contracted to BE. Naw, that is not as sexy as BRAVE.