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

An agile mindset is not enough; We must change our behavior to adopt agility. With the Antecedent Behavior Consequence (ABC) model, you can analyze behavior, find out what triggers it, and think about strategies to drive behavior change.

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

Van Kelle began by noting that we don’t change people:

Unfortunately, we are not magicians who can enchant people and make them exhibit desired behavior or stop undesired behavior.

We can only change people’s environment in such a way that they can and want to show the desired behavior. And that requires a lot of observation at first, Van Kelle said.

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

  • A = antecedent or a trigger
  • B = behavior
  • C = sequence

When performing the analysis, you first identify the behavior that 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 determine what happens before the behavior and what happens after the behavior. Always seen from the perspective of the person performing the behavior.

Analyzing the information gives you new insights into why the behavior is happening, so you can strategize to change it, Baron said.

Van Kelle mentioned that it’s important to look closely at the consequences of people’s behavior, as this is what influences future behavior the most:

When behavior leads to positive consequences, we are likely to engage in the same behavior in the future. If it leads to negative consequences, we will be less likely to do so. When influencing behavior, it is crucial to know what the positive consequences are for the person exhibiting the behavior.

The behavior to analyze can be desirable behavior, but typically we want to start analyzing undesirable behavior because we want to change it, Baron said. But we can also try to find out what triggered the positive behavior and what we can do to have more such triggers.

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

InfoQ: How can we influence human behavior?

Evelyn Van Kelle: Behavior change is always about the person performing the behavior, not the person trying to change the behavior. It’s about finding out what triggers the behavior and the consequences associated with a particular behavior.

More specifically, which consequences are strongest. This means that not all consequences are created equal. Some are more important to someone than others. And that on an individual level.

When you know what consequences are most severe for someone, you know where to start when making changes to their environment. There’s no shortcut that lets you make universal changes to an environment that works for a large group. You need to invest time, effort and work to analyze this on an individual level. There are concepts and techniques that can help you with this.

Chris Baron: With the ABC model, you can perform an analysis to find out “why” certain behavior occurs and what factors perpetuate that behavior. With the results, you can come up with new triggers and consequences to add to people’s environments to make them want to behave differently themselves.

InfoQ: How can we change the environment so that people can behave the way they want and get results?

Van Kelle: Once you have completed the ABC analysis, you will have a better understanding of what triggers certain behaviors and the consequences associated with them. You also know which consequences are strongest.

For example, they analyzed “looking at a phone every five minutes during a refinement session” and found 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 “don’t get bored for a while” is an important consequence, what can you change about the refinement session that also leads to that consequence? It may mean you need to change something about the meeting structure, the list of invitees, or maybe you need to step up the preparation of the pre-meeting stories so that time isn’t wasted on trivial things. This example shows that it is not about changing people, but about changing their environment.

Baron: This is very difficult to implement. Improving your knowledge of how behavior change works and resolving the complexity in your own organization is a good place to start.

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