Monthly Archives: August 2011

Why won’t they behave?

Cause analysis: The Gilbert model

The Gilbert Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) was developed by Thomas Gilbert (1978) as a way to systematically attack the barriers to employee performance in organizations. Although the name “Behavior Engineering” conjures up a science fiction tableau of bending workers to an über corporate will,  its  premise is respect for individuals and the value they bring to organizations, a value that needs to be bolstered to thrive. Wisely, Gilbert recognized that workplace performance usually requires both individual and environmental interventions.

Behavior Engineering Model (Gilbert, 1978, p. 88)

An updated model

Chevalier (2003) updated Gilbert’s  model to emphasize:

  • The importance of the physical and psychological work environment on employee performance
  • The need for assessment and reward systems that emphasize positive behaviors
  • The need for an overall atmosphere that leads employees to believe that they can succeed in the organization

The individual repertory was modified to highlight the importance of cross-training and matching employees to the right job. The updated table also stresses that the motives of employees need to be aligned to the work required of them and to the work environment (Chevalier, 2003, Figure 3) . Employees not only need to have the necessary knowledge and skills to perform a job (i.e., their placement in a position needs to be appropriate), they also need to have the right emotional skill set.

Solutions to performance problems require leveraging solutions “based on the potential impact that a change [will] make and the cost associated with that change” (Chevalier, p. 10) . While timely, constructive feedback is a relatively low-cost solution that can have a large impact, Chevalier notes that no amount of individual improvement will be successful if the environmental issues (information, materials, tools, time and process issues) are not addressed (p. 9).

Chevalier’s updated BEM provides a checklist which can be used to evaluate gaps between optimal and actual performances in the workplace. But if you already feel daunted by the need to confront organizational inertia (particularly when it comes to issues of time and the need to revise processes), there’s always force-field analysis.

Force field analysis

Pioneered by  Kurt Lewin (1947), force field analysis is a technique that requires assessing the balance between driving forces, which initiate and propel change,  and restraining forces, which resist change,  in an organization. Since both these forces work together, net change can be achieved by tilting the balance in favor of driving forces.

It’s important to note that change isn’t always positive and is influenced by perspective, so  driving forces have to be evaluated carefully. For example, a manager may drive productivity by overworking employees. Productivity can be a driving force that  benefits the organization in the short-run, but it can drain  employees, which can result in higher turnover. High turnover can be a  long-term restraint on productivity. Your view of whether a driver is ultimately positive depends on whether you are focused on the short term or the long term.

Force field analysis and the BEM

Given these caveats, force field analysis provides a way to assess gaps in the environmental and individual needs identified by the BEM model and as well as a way to gauge their net impact. Closing gaps requires strengthening driving forces (BEM needs that are being, at least partially, met) and reducing restraining forces (BEM needs that are not being met). Chevalier reported a case where providing an illustration of these gaps and the interplay of forces helped an organization to see the larger context in which training was required and that a complete solution would be necessary. (“As a result of the systematic cause analysis with the sales manager and his salespeople, everyone involved could see that training was necessary, but only as part of a more comprehensive solution” (p.13).) See Figure 7 in Chevalier (not reproduced here because of copyright reasons).

Lessons learned

There are a number of lessons we can draw from seeing BEM in action as described in the Chevalier article.

  • Thoughtful analysis is important to effect thoughtful change
  • The benefits of analysis to the organization have to be clearly articulated/illustrated to get buy-in for a comprehensive solution
  • You can not separate individuals from their environment so it’s critical for individuals 1) to see themselves as valuable contributors to the health of the organization; 2) to feel that the organization recognizes this value (i.e., don’t skimp on the affective components of workplace performance)

While instructional designers and trainers face increasing pressure to skimp on analyses (and we can always strive for increased efficiency), it’s worthwhile to remember Chevalier’s admonition that “prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.”


Chevaliar, R. (2003). Updating the behavior engineering model. Performance Improvement, 42(5), 8-14. Retrieved from

Gilbert, T.F. (1978). Human competence: Engineering worthy performance. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method, and reality in social science, equilibria, and change. Human Relations, 1(1), 5-4.