We’re all too familiar with the shift in buzzwords and industry jargon over time. Words such as “customer-centric” “big data,” and “innovative” are sure to grab our attention today, whereas “paradigm shift,” “synergy,” and “bandwidth” were hot terms in the past.

“Behavior” and its derivatives—such as “behavior change” and “behavior-based solution”—could be joining the race for buzzword status. If you’ve been looking for a behavior-based solution for your organization, or even on a personal level, you may already be familiar with the plethora of popular behavior-change books and articles, all of which include models from the various “experts.” More likely, you’re probably familiar with the inherent difficulty involved in actually creating sustainable behavior change.

So, how do you know whether an ostensible behavior change solution is simply leveraging popular buzzwords, or is actually offering a valid and effective method of getting different results? What does an effective behavior-based solution entail? What should it entail?

Below are three key criteria from Applied Behavioral Science research and literature for determining whether the solution you’re considering will truly affect your behavior, or someone else’s behavior, and ultimately your business results. An effective behavior-based solution should include:

1. A method for pinpointing behavior in observable and measurable terms or units

For example, consider “leadership behavior.” What is that behavior? Suppose you say it is “inspiring and motivating others.” But this is a result; it is not actual behavior. If you were asked to increase “inspiring and motivating others,” what would you do more of? You might come up with actual behaviors, things such as “provide one-on-one feedback to direct reports one or more times per week,” or “walk the shop floor, observing and talking with supervisors twice daily.” These are simple examples of real leader behaviors—and you can observe them and measure them.

The words “inspiring” and “motivating” describe the outcome or effect of a repertoire of discrete behaviors that could vary from individual to individual and recipient to recipient. Actual behavior can be recorded and captured on video—so it is observable, not an interpretation, and therefore can be measured.

2. An analysis of behavior relative to the specific conditions under which it occurs (the drivers of behavior)

We’re not always nice or smart all the time (okay, some of you may be!). Our behavior changes depending on our mood, who we’re with, where we are, events that happened to us last week, or even events that happened two seconds ago (e.g., the phone ringing).

It is important to understand the causal relationships between what we do and where or when we do it.

If the behavior change strategy does not take into account the circumstances in which a target behavior occurs (or doesn’t occur), then you won’t be able to identify the right (or missing) levers to drive and sustain the desired change in behavior.

3. A method for demonstrating the relationship between key behaviors and targeted business results

A sound behavior-change strategy must demonstrate the impact of key behaviors on results, either through statistical or visual analyses. In other words, if behaviors change but the results stay the same (or vice versa) then you haven’t identified the right key behaviors.

Or worse: performance improves, results improve, and then performance returns to the original level while results continue to improve. Many leaders may not give this kind of scenario a second thought, but it’s important, and here’s why: understanding the relationship between behavior and results allows organizations a certain element of control over results—which is, as they say, priceless.

The good news is, Applied Behavioral Science gives everyone the ability to shape behaviors reliably, sustainably, and at scale.  So, whether your organization is developing its own behavior-based strategy or you’re considering outside support, start by asking yourself the three questions we explored above:

  1. Do you have a method for pinpointing behavior in observable and measurable terms?
  2. Do you have a (reliable) method for identifying the key drivers of the current level of performance?
  3. Do you have a method for determining the relationship between key behaviors and business results?

Or, are you just considering buzzwords?

Next week: A useful tool for describing a behavior