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How to Analyze Behavior and Influence Behavior Change with the ABC Model

Having an agile mindset is not enough; we need to change behavior for adopting agile. With the Antecedent Behavior Consequence (ABC) Model, you can analyze the behavior, figure out what triggers it, and think about strategies to drive behavioral change.

Evelyn van Kelle and Chris Baron spoke about behavior change for adopting agile at Better Ways 2022.

Van Kelle started by mentioning that we are not changing people:

Unfortunately, we are not magicians who can put a spell on people and make them show desired behavior or stop unwanted behavior.

We can only change the environment of people so they can and are willing to show the desired behavior. And that requires a lot of observation to begin with, Van Kelle said.

Baron and van Kelle mentioned the Antecedent Behavior Consequence (ABC) Model which can help us to influence and drive behavior change:

  • A = Antecedent or a trigger
  • B = Behavior
  • C = Consequence

When performing the analysis, you start by specifying the behavior you want to analyze. The overall goal here is to identify the behavior (B) you want to analyze, the antecedents (A) or triggers that provoke the behavior, and the consequences (C) of the behavior, Baron explained:

You want to identify what comes before the behavior takes place and what happens after the behavior takes place. Always seen from the perspective of the person that is showing the behavior.

Analyzing the information provides you new insights into why the behavior takes place so you can think of strategies to try and change this, Baron said.

Van Kelle mentioned that it’s important to take a close look at the consequences of people’s behavior since this tends to influence future behavior the most:

When behavior leads to positive consequences, we’re likely to show the same behavior in the future. When it leads to negative consequences, we’ll be less likely to do so. When influencing behavior, it’s crucial to know what are positive consequences for the person showing the behavior.

The behavior to analyze can be desired behavior, but usually, we want to start analyzing undesired behavior because we want to change it, Baron mentioned. But we can also try to find out what triggered the positive behavior, and what we can do to have more of such triggers.

InfoQ interviewed Evelyn van Kelle and Chris Baron about behavioral change.

InfoQ: How can we influence human behavior?

Evelyn van Kelle: Behavioral change is always about the person showing the behavior, not about the person trying to influence the behavior. It’s about discovering what triggers the behavior and what consequences are related to certain behavior.

More specifically, which consequences are most powerful. Meaning that not all consequences are equally powerful. Some are more important for someone than others. And that’s on an individual level.

If you know which consequences are most powerful to someone, you know where to start with making changes to their environment. There’s no shortcut you can take to make universal changes to an environment that works for a big group. You’ll have to put in the time, effort and work to analyze this on an individual level. There are concepts and techniques that can help you with that.

Chris Baron: With the ABC model, you can do an analysis to try and figure out "why" certain behavior occurs and what factors keep this behavior in place. With the outcomes you can think of new triggers and consequences to add to the environment of people, so they want to show different behavior themselves.

InfoQ: How can we change the environment in order to enable people to show desired behavior and achieve results?

Van Kelle: Once you’ve done the ABC analysis, you have a better understanding of what triggers certain behavior, and which consequences are related to it. You also know which consequences are most powerful.

For example, you analyzed "looking at a phone every five minutes during a refinement session", and you found out that "not being bored for a while" is one of the most powerful consequences. You can use this to make changes to the environment. If "not being bored for a while" is an important consequence, then what can you change to the refinement session that will also lead to that consequence? It might mean you have to change something to the meeting structure, or to the list of people invited, or maybe you have to step up the preparation of stories before the session so there’s no time wasted on trivial stuff. What you get from this example is that it’s not about changing people, but about changing their environment.

Baron: This is very challenging to make happen. Improving your knowledge of how behavioral change works and unraveling the complexity in your own organization is a great way to start.

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