Top 12 Behavior Management Theories Explained + Behavior Strategies (2023)

There are several theories of management and behavioral management theories are also one of them. At the time of the boom of industrialization, the total focus of managers was on increasing the efficiency of workers and productivity.

Employees felt completely ignored, no manager even bothered to notice the working conditions. Later managers realized that organizational behavior do not improve by only increasing the efficiency of workers and productivity. The work environment also affects the behavior of workers that ultimately affects total productivity.

This is where Behavior management strategies and theories started to build.

We use Behavior management strategies in our everyday lives on a regular basis, whether we’re working with toddlers and teens or trying to figure out how to handle difficult employees.

So, this article is going to provide an overview of 12 different behavior management theories and outline ways to apply them to you improve your daily interactions with others, reduce negative behaviors and ultimately make your work life easier and better.

Many people contributed their thoughts on organizational behavior (OB), from which Robert Owen, Mary Parker Follett, Hugo Munsterberg, and Chester Barnard are prominent figures. Understanding OB also helps managers to understand management, motivation, teamwork, leadership, and Conflicts of Management in better ways.

Early Advocates

Some of the early advocates of Behavior management are:

  1. Robert Owen was a renowned Scottish businessman, who suggested a utopian workplace.
  2. Hugo Munsterberg was the person who introduced industrial psychology. Industrial psychology deals with maximizing the productivity and adjustment of individuals at work.
  3. Mary Parker Follett, a social philosopher proposed that the manager is responsible for harmonizing and coordinating group efforts.
  4. Chester Barnard proposed that an organization is not just an economic entity but it is a social system that needs cooperation among humans working for it. He thought that manager is responsible for communicating with workers and boosting their potential to a higher level. Additionally, he thought that managers should be examining the workplace conditions and then maintaining them to create equilibrium in the state of the workplace.

Before moving to the explanation of behavioral management theories, let’s first know what behavioral management is exactly with help of examples.

What is Behavioral Management?

Top 12 Behavior Management Theories Explained + Behavior Strategies (1)

Behavioral management is a subset of organizational development and is a complex discipline that focuses on designing and implementing interventions to improve work performance. It is also sometimes referred to as behavior modification, behavior management theory, and applied behavior analysis.

Most often, behavioral managers are experts in Human Resources who have a specialty in applied behavior analysis and other related fields such as organizational development. These professionals can help identify issues within an organization’s structure or culture, and come up with ways to address them through training methods or changes in procedure.

This may mean better-recruiting strategies, or it could mean overhauling current training practices to see if they fit better with company needs.

In many cases, companies hire behavioral consultants to fix specific behavior problems; however, some organizations hire permanent staff members who use behavioral management theories as part of their daily job duties.

An example would be a trainer who works with clients individually or in groups, teaching new skills and enforcing old ones.

What is Behavioral Approach to Management?

According to the definition of behavioral management, Behavioral Approach to Management is a management style that focuses on changing employee behavior. It is one of the most important HRM theories. It emphasizes action and looking at external behaviors. Behavioral Approach to Management is sometimes called behavioral, management by objectives, or positivistic approach to management.

Employers using a behavioral approach to management strive for efficiency over effectiveness. This type of management style encourages employees to develop routine patterns of work. Top managers give employees detailed instructions and closely monitor until they become proficient in their jobs.

Once an employee has demonstrated competence in a job, managers assign them more responsibility and allow them to work independently. Every detail of an employee’s job description should be included in his or her performance evaluation to get better results.

Time-and-motion studies measure how well each worker performs his/her duties during a set period of time. Then managers or consultants use these studies as benchmarks against which they measure the performance of individuals.

Behavior Management Activities

Behavior Management Activities are a great way to encourage positive behavior. For example, a teacher could reward students with stickers or marks on a scoreboard if they complete their work in class. This proved to have a positive effect on student motivation and behavior.

The same behavior and motivation work for employees in big firms.

Yet another fascinating area of research, behaviorism focuses on how learning is affected by reinforcement from outside sources. Behaviors change when bad ones produce negative consequences and good ones produce positive ones.

(Video) Motivation Theories Explained in 10 Minutes

Behavior Management Examples

Behavior Management is extremely important in order to regulate and direct employees’ actions.

These examples range from negative consequences (like Time Out) to positive reinforcements (like Positive Reinforcement). There are also several theories that discuss how children learn these behaviors and how they can be put into action for managing behavior.

Behavioral Management Theories

Top 12 Behavior Management Theories Explained + Behavior Strategies (2)
As there are many types of Behavior Management, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what Behavior Management entails.

Below are 8 Behavior Management theories that have proven to be effective.

1. Hugo Munsterbeg

Hugo Munsterbeg (1863-1916) is known as the “father of industrial psychology” and is as important for psychology students as F.W. Taylor is for management students.

He focused to provide a view of psychology’s practical applications. Munsterbeg believed that industry can get benefits from psychologists in three major areas:

  1. Seeking modern ways to hire the right person for the right job.
  2. Achieving optimum efficiency by identifying psychological conditions.
  3. Finding methods to direct the behavior of individual employees to be in harmony with the management’s objectives.

2. Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) was the person who introduced the concepts of social Work Political Science. She identified:

  1. Working in groups is more important than working individually in any organization.
  2. That “power with” should be the principle of management-employee relation in the organization rather than “Power over”.
  3. Use of integration to resolve conflicts like providing a solution that offers mutual benefit to both of the parties involved in the conflict.
  4. Integrative unity is the secret of success in an organization where different departments are present and working to achieve the same goal.

3. The Hawthorne Studies

Several experiments were done in Western Electrical Company, situated in Cicero, Illinois that is known as “Hawthorne Studies.” It is considered as the best historical contribution to the field of Organizational Behavior that provided a clear view of the relation of working conditions to the efficiency of employees and productivity.

Industrial engineers at Western Electric started these studies in 1924 as an experiment of scientific management and the studies continued till the 1930s. They tried to identify how different illumination levels affect worker productivity.

They created two groups, the control group, and an experimental group. The engineers examined the experimental groups working in different lighting intensities; however, they examined the control group under a constant lighting intensity.

Keeping this working scenario in mind, everyone would think that output was related to lighting intensity. However, engineers found that there was something else that also contributed to the change in output. Initially, they increased the light in the experimental group, and surprisingly, the output increased in both groups.

After that, when they decrease the light to almost moonlight, the output was decreased in the experimental group only. Thus, it was concluded that illumines lighting intensity was not the factor that directly relates to group productivity. There was “something else” that needed to be identified, but the engineers were not able to find it.

After these great experiments done by engineers, the Western Electric Company, in 1927, invited Elton Mayo, professor at Harvard for consultation on the studies. It contributed to creating a long-lasting relationship among employees of the company and Elton Mayo along with his associates.

The relationship resulted in various interesting experiments, including job redesign, changes in the long working day and working week, and individual versus group wage plans. One of the experiments was to examine how group piece work rewards affected group productivity.

Hawthorne Studies was almost connected to the traditions of scientific management because it also focused on increasing productivity by improving the methods and tools of work such as lighting.

The Hawthorne studies provided different findings:

  1. Initially, studies did not provide any evidence of the correlation between the work performance of individuals and changes in lighting. In fact, work performance almost increased with any change in illumination lighting.
  2. After that in the second phase, the studies become apparent. They revealed that workers’ performance can be improved by just giving them the required attention not because of the factors that the study aimed to examine.
  3. In the third phase of studies, the focus was on group productivity and the motivation of individuals.
  4. Ultimately, the Hawthorne studies provided a concept that the organization also has social aspects that, if given proper attention, can contribute to better performance for workers.

4. Human Relations Movement

The human relations movement was aimed at providing social skills to managers that they needed to make management-employee relations better.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was the person who proposed the motivation theory (also known as Maslow’s Behavioral Theory), which is based on three assumptions about human nature.

  1. The needs of human beings cannot be satisfied completely.
  2. Humans always strive to satisfy their needs, which are still unsatisfied.
  3. The priority of needs can be sorted into a hierarchy that ranges from basic, lower-level needs to higher-level needs:
    1. Physiological (lowest)
    2. Safety
    3. Belongingness or social
    4. Esteem
    5. Self-actualization (highest and not everyone is capable of achieving it)

Douglas McGregor (1906-1964) provided a view of the Theory X and Theory Y dichotomy. These theories tell how managers make assumptions about workers and what the effect of these assumptions is on the behavior of the employee.

  1. Theory X, managers assume that workers always remain lazy and do not put their complete efforts into their performance; therefore, they need to be pushed. Workers have no or just a little ambition and mostly focus on their security needs. This kind of manager thinks that these assumptions are true and they treat workers accordingly.
  2. Theory Y managers assume that workers have self-control and do not deliberately put less effort into the work. They can be innovative and creative and in a general manner, their needs are higher than the needs met on the job. These kinds of managers then treat their subordinates as if their assumptions are true.
  3. Workers are assumed to work sometimes at a higher capacity and sometimes at a lower capacity like all of us.

5. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a form of behaviorism and was first developed by John B. Watson and, later, expanded upon by B.F. Skinner. Operant conditioning relies on a concept known as reinforcement and a basic understanding of operant conditioning can help you understand your pet better—or even yourself!

To understand the concept of operant conditioning, let’s take an example.

A dog that barks when he wants attention will be rewarded with attention if he barks frequently enough; people who exercise often tend to stay in shape because they know they’ll feel good after working out. By understanding how different forms of positive and negative reinforcement work, you’ll be able to manipulate or encourage specific actions or behaviors in others.

Additionally, knowing how to properly reinforce those around you or your employees will help avoid unwanted behaviors in the company!

Remember, just because something is considered positive doesn’t mean it isn’t still reinforcing bad behavior.

(Video) Organizational Behavioral Theories - Management Theories

For example, an office worker that tends to chat too much could find herself promoted if she chatters away at her boss often enough (but not so loudly and obnoxiously that everyone hates her).

On the other hand, an employee who chats too much may soon find himself unemployed unless he quiets down before his employer finds someone else to take his place.

6. Andrew Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning

Let’s understand this theory with the help of an example.

Pavlov found that, by sounding a bell before feeding his dogs, he could condition them to salivate at merely hearing a bell. Thus, salivation is a learned response to what would normally be an involuntary reflex.

Classical conditioning occurs when we associate new stimuli with previous ones in such a way that one stimulus naturally causes us to respond in a certain way.

In Pavlov’s experiment, for example, food caused saliva production because of prior pairings with a bell.

In simple words, classical conditioning occurs when two things are paired repeatedly until one comes to trigger a reaction from another thing.

Though classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov, it was actually discovered earlier by William K. Honer who observed taste aversion in hungry rats, and John Garcia who observed fear-conditioning in mice.

7. B.F. Skinner’s Shaping Method

B.F. Skinner introduced his shaping method in 1938 when he wanted to help children with disabilities. It’s a technique that involves rewarding behaviors you want to see more of with positive reinforcement like praise or access to an activity.

How does it work?

Identify a behavior you want to encourage (like eating all your veggies). Then, every time that child does something slightly related to that goal (like chewing for 30 seconds), you respond by providing positive reinforcement (Good job! Another bite!) and increasing the rewards as time goes on.

To use a different example, let’s say you want your kids to take a 15-minute break from screens at least twice a day. You could set up systems where they can earn one point per 15 minutes of screen-free play time outside during recess and two points per half hour during the family game night each week. When they reach 10 points, they get to choose a prize—an extra TV show, a new app, or a new toy.

This same system works well for employees too— give them awards when they reach the targets.

8. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura developed a theory of human behavior management based on watching children play and their reactions to adult feedback. His theory is known as a social learning theory or SLT for short.

Simply put, Bandura believed that children observed things that adults did in their lives and later imitated them, or modeled them. One example he gives is parents telling a child not to jump on furniture. After seeing such an action done by an adult, they will do it themselves because they want attention from others, even if it’s negative.

This study was published in 1961. He used dogs playing with toys as his subjects, and other animals have also been studied using SLT. He observed that different modelers affected dog behavior differently; some dogs learned better from treats while others learned better from verbal cues or no model at all.

There are five basic principles to SLT:

1. Observational Learning:

When individuals observe behaviors and rewards they remember what causes what and can mimic these behaviors more quickly than if they had learned through traditional reinforcement.

2. Encoding:

Events are only encoded when there is the importance attached to them, so whether you learn something depends on how important you feel it is when you see it happening around you.

For example, you may often hear yourself say it doesn’t matter where I put my keys until you misplace them.

3. Mere Exposure Theory:

The mere exposure effect means people like those things that are familiar to them. According to research, repeating stimuli creates liking for them. If you try new foods, watch new movies and go to new places then you’ll be less likely to dislike those activities compared to sticking with one type of food, movie, or place over time.

Repetition creates familiarity which leads to liking. The same can be applied to employees by assigning them work they like the most


4. Social Validation Theory:

People will often make their decisions based on what other people say about an experience. Other people are usually perceived as authorities on certain topics and we tend to use them as proxies for our own experiences until we gather enough information to come up with our own opinion about something.

5. Similarity-Attraction Model (Social Loafing):

Social loafing happens when groups take part in certain tasks together, whether it be business-related or sports-related.

9. John Watson’s Behaviorism

In 1913, John Watson published a paper, Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It, which is considered by many to be one of the most important papers in behaviorism. A key influence on his thinking was Ivan Pavlov’s research on classical conditioning.

Behaviorism focuses on objectively observable behaviors (rather than subjective internal states) and associations with consequences. Because he stressed so much on the external environment as determinants of behavior, Watson was known as The Father of Behaviourism.

Additionally, because the association is at its core, it has been said that Watson believed in anything that goes with respect to positive and negative reinforcements for desired behaviors.

10. Ainsworth & Bell’s Attachment Theory

According to Ainsworth & Bell’s Attachment Theory, infants become attached to their primary caregiver or parent because they provide a safe haven. The infant uses his or her caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and learn about its environment.

Researchers surmise that if there is no attachment between an infant and his or her primary caregiver, there will be serious long-term negative consequences in that child’s social and emotional development.

According to Ainsworth & Bell’s theory, a parent can have either a secure, avoidant, or anxious attachment style with his or her child depending on how sensitively he/she responds to their needs during infancy.

All three of these attachment styles influence how children behave when they’re older. As adults, children who feel securely attached maintain healthy relationships with peers and partners but might not handle stress well.

If you have an avoidant attachment style, you don’t seek comfort from others and may even act distant toward loved ones under pressure. Anxious attachment people seem clingy to those around them, may exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety disorder, and struggle socially and emotionally due to their excessive need for approval.

11. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology that argues that human beings are motivated to meet certain basic physical and psychological needs in a particular order. Once these most basic needs have been met, people then strive to meet higher-order social and personal needs.

Often referred to as Maslow’s pyramid, it was first proposed by Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. It builds on the foundation laid by his self-actualization theory.

Without meeting our bottom-level needs of food, water, sleep, homeostasis, and safety we will not be able to function let alone thrive at anything above them.

The same applies to firms and businesses. If you are successful to meet the basic problems and needs of employees, they will perform better.

They are in no particular order of importance but must be addressed one by one.

The second group consists of love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Only after these latter three are met can a person begin thinking about their own potential contribution back into society and what he or she might like to do with his or her life.

Here is a picture that illustrates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Top 12 Behavior Management Theories Explained + Behavior Strategies (3)

Credit: Lumen Learning

Since Maslow’s hierarchy has been criticized as being overly broad and lacking specificity, other models have been proposed that focus on specific achievement-motivation constructs.

From an educational standpoint, behavioral management theories provide insight into learning environments that allow students to become active participants rather than passive recipients of the information.

12. Walter Mischel’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory

In his famous experiment, psychologist Walter Mischel found that children who were given a choice between receiving one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes to eat them were more likely to be successful later in life.

These children resisted their desire for instant gratification, delaying their gratification even though they could enjoy two treats for doing so. Their ability to delay gratification is linked with greater success later in life.

(Video) Management Theories

Therefore, we can learn from Mischel’s research and use it as a basis for motivating employees in business settings.

Basically, if you can show employees how certain behaviors will help them get what they want at work down the road (i.e., promotions, awards), then you can motivate them to do things now that might not seem all that fun but which will benefit them later on.

While bosses should certainly reward people for completing positive tasks—like going above and beyond—they should also emphasize delayed rewards: If an employee does something great today, he’ll feel good about himself tomorrow; later on down the line, he’ll probably receive praise or some other kind of accolade.

Think along these lines when talking to your staff. By using these tactics, you can get employees to do things they don’t necessarily like but which ultimately produce better results down the road.

Behavior Management Strategies

So far, we have discussed the 12 most important Behavioral Management Theories.Let’s now learn some behavior strategies as well. Principles of behavioral management theory are mostly based on these strategies.

  1. Reinforcement Strategies-rewarding an appropriate behavior to encourage repetition of it.
  2. Extinction: It is quite opposite to reinforcement; we gradually fade out a positive response when the response is no longer needed, by ignoring or not responding back.
  3. Negative Punishment: Remove something favorable when a person commits an inappropriate behavior, like saying no when they want something they can’t have and taking it away as punishment for their poor choice in behavior at that time
  4. Escape/Avoidance strategies: Remove yourself from triggering situations for a period of time until you feel calm enough to deal with them and then proceed towards what you are avoiding.
  5. Punishment Strategies: Remove negative stimuli after doing something positive as Punishment, which leads to decreased motivation towards any further action because they think they won’t be rewarded
  6. Antecedent/Behavioral Approaches: Make sure you never let things escalate beyond control level- treat situation based on context so each situation may require different steps or escalation triggers than others
  7. Desensitization: When exposure therapy isn’t possible, exposure therapists may try desensitization therapy where exposures are simulated so that patient becomes comfortable with similar triggers until he could face real exposure.
  8. Using Emotion regulation strategies such as thought stopping, relaxation techniques, etc.

The Behavioral Science Approach

The behavioral management theories depend on scientific research to develop any theory about human behavior at any workplace that could be helpful to make practical guidelines for employees at managerial levels.

  1. It overall emphasis developing helpful tools that managers could use to improve workers’ performance. Behavioral science does not depend on mathematical certainty, because it is about the behavior of humans that is very difficult to predict. It does not conclude that the scientific approach cannot be practical or its findings have less importance in the studies of human behavior in an organization.
  2. In that connection, setting a goal for an individual can be the best example, where the individual finds it attainable; however, it is not too easy.

Contributions of the Behavioral Management Viewpoint

  1. The behavioral Management viewpoint reveals that group dynamics, communication, motivation, and leadership are of great importance for managers.
  2. Provides a clear view that behavioral studies can be applied practically.
  3. Provides findings of various other disciplines including psychology, management, anthropology, sociology, and economics.
  4. Shades light upon the importance of employees of an organization as a precious human asset rather than passive tools.

Theories of behavior management focus on the importance of human behavior. It can also be a part of scientific management because it also focuses on increasing the efficiency of workers that resulting in maximum productivity.

However, behavioral management theorists do not take it as a part of scientific management, but managers can combine these ideas with those of F.W. Taylor. Humans are an important asset of an organization and if they work in a good environment and managers motivate them, will work more happily.

It is human nature that if a person praises their work, then they will work with more passion and try to make it even better. Hawthorne studies also provide this view that making a work environment better will help workers to perform better.

For Further Reading:


1. What is behavior management?

In business, behavior management means improving the behavior of employees towards the company’s goals to improve their performance in the long term. It works based on different strategies and theories. Some famous behavioral management theories are:

  • Hugo Munsterbeg’s Psychology Theory
  • Mary Parker Follett
  • The Hawthorne Studies
  • Human Relations Movement
  • Skinner’s Operant Conditioning
  • Andrew Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning
  • B.F. Skinner’s Shaping Method
  • Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory
  • John Watson’s Behaviorism Ainsworth & Bell’s Attachment Theory
  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Walter Mischel’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory

2. Why is Behavior management important?

No matter if it’s a classroom or a company, behavior management is important to improve performance and efficiency overall. It creates an appropriate working environment where employees feel motivated towards the goal of achievement.

3. What are the types of behavior management?

There are different types of behavior management strategies. Some of them are:

  • Modifying Working Environment
  • Modifying Rules, Procedures, and Routines
  • Withdrawing Privileges
  • Behavioral Plans

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Top 12 Behavior Management Theories Explained + Behavior Strategies (4)

Richard DanielsAuthor at Business Study Notes

Hello everyone! This is Richard Daniels, a full-time passionate researcher & blogger. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Economics. He loves to write about economics, e-commerce, and business-related topics for students to assist them in their studies. That's the sole purpose of Business Study Notes.
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