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The Behaviors and Habits of World-Class Manufacturers

Throughout the world, manufacturers are challenged to become world-class, produce a quality product, and deliver on time to customers all while innovating to stay ahead of the competition and maintaining safety standards. It is no easy feat.

Making this happen is the employees who work every day to accomplish these goals.

The habits and behaviors of employees play an integral role. “Developing people and process is the only thing you should be focused on,” Paul Dunlop, Founder of Dunlop Consultants explains.

But, why are habits and behaviors so important?

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit says, “Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” Focusing on good habits and behaviors increases efficiency, creates a great culture, and grows the bottom line. Simply put, they create continuous improvement and continued success.

Many think this begins with transforming culture, but often, we find that to change a culture, you need to change the behaviors first. The culture is simply the sum of the people and all of the behaviors. Where do we begin? How do we start?

Example: Transforming Alcoa with Good Habits and Behaviors

Those with experience in manufacturing know about the transformation that occurred at Alcoa beginning in October 1987 when Paul O’Neill took over as CEO. The changes resulted in a company that became the global standard for safety while increasing revenue substantially.

“I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill told Duhigg, “But you can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So, I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

O’Neill did this by concentrating on safety, and as he explained, other habits and behaviors followed. “It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: they’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence,” he explains, “Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire organization. That’s how we should be judged.”

There are no question habits and behaviors are key to the success of a company. Clearly, changing habits and behaviors for improvement will benefit the organization in the long term.

Habits and Behaviors Overview

In this blog, we’ll dive into the importance of habits and behaviors, how to change them, and how to make those habits and behaviors sticky once they’ve been changed. We’ll talk about:

  • The 3 w’s
  • Triggers and rewards
  • Small wins to prove it works
  • Leadership and the role it plays in habit forming
  • Using tools to support habits and behaviors, specifically PDCA and 5s
  • Diving into why everyone isn’t doing this

Throughout the blog, we’ll look at these topics and relate them back to manufacturing productivity software, too. How can a manufacturer be successful in implementing and accomplishing goals with software like Mingo? What needs to happen for employees to adopt the system?

“What if, however, we can be even more creative, competitive, smart, out of the box, and successful precisely because we have a routine that does a better job of tapping and channeling our human capabilities?,” Mike Rother writes in the book, Toyota Kata.

This blog is designed to take a deep dive into how habits and behaviors contribute to the success of using manufacturing productivity software that in turn, helps manufacturers improve efficiency and productivity.

The 3 W’s

Changing habits and behaviors is no easy feat, and at the end of the day, comes down to human psychology. Why should someone change their behavior?

Allison Greco, the founder of Continuous Improvement International, says, “We have to be very good at persuading people so we focus a lot on the why.” Specifically, there are 3 key questions designed to understand and emphasize with employees.

  • Why are we making a change?
  • Why now?
  • What’s in it for me?

In Allison’s situation, she was tasked with implementing a new software solution. How do you get employees to be on board with software that is going to change their day-to-day routines, even if it is going to improve the company? The 3 w’s give you insight.

Employees are naturally going to be wary of new software that alters their habits. People inherently do not like change, but when you begin to understand the problems they face and the motivation to improve those problems, change can occur.

Think about how current processes or systems are impacting someone’s day. Could there be a way to improve these processes or systems?

What is driving the change? What is driving the motivation to change a process?

And, finally, what is the benefit of changing the current process or system? How will each individual person benefit?

The idea behind the 3 w’s is to go a lot deeper into motivations, and subsequently, your ability to influence and change habits and behaviors. Think about approaching employees with a phrase like, “I know you have a lot of challenges about…” and show them how they can improve the challenge with a new tool, like Mingo.

“Soft skills are the most important thing you need to do because if you can’t get people to change their behavior, it’s not going to work,” Allison explains. “I can teach you the tools. We’ll spend a few days learning them but where you need more practice and coaching is the soft skills so you can be really powerful in implementing those tools.”

This is the main driving force behind being successful with Mingo. People need to understand ‘Why?’ and ‘What?’. Understanding this is important before they even begin to want to make the change in their habits and behaviors. To create change, understanding and transparency need to be embedded at every level of the organization. This is the only way to be successful with a manufacturing productivity solution.

Triggers and Rewards

“Simply giving employees a sense of agency – a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority – can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs,” Duhigg says.

Duhigg makes a very important point. In a manufacturing company, triggers, rewards, and the ability to make decisions play a significant role in developing new habits and behaviors that support the software you’re trying to implement.

Duhigg explains further, “Rather to change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

This circles back to the idea of empathizing with your employees. Many manufacturers want to implement a manufacturing productivity solution to simply get rid of manual reporting. If you’re automating reporting, how does that help the employee? What is the end result? What will they gain by doing this?

Maybe it makes hitting goals easier because they’re now focused on only making products, rather than writing things down on a clipboard.

Nick Hinman, VP of Corporate Strategy at Tacony, enacted an incentive program at the plant level to further embed habits into the workday, and when goals are accomplished, employees are rewarded. “It’s a simple way for people to fall in line with the goal,” he says.

Rewards and triggers help cement good habits.

Small Wins to Prove Habit Changes Work

Your employees understand why processes need to change and how triggers and rewards play a part, but now, you need to prove this new system will be effective. The best way to prove this is with small wins that stress the importance of a change in habits and behaviors.

Duhigg writes, “Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins.” They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious… Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

And, he’s absolutely right. When people see small wins, they want to work towards accomplishing the big goals. They want to keep improving. They see how small wins contribute to company-wide goals.

“The idea is to focus on the small wins and teaching people. This creates a level of engagement that is needed to ensure buy-in and change,” Nick Hinman says.

He adds, “It’s hard to accept change so if you can work with the line lead or the line manager, all of the small wins are noted and proved out. This proves the strategy and gets people to buy in.”

Leadership and Habits

A change in habits and behaviors starts at the top as Nick explains in the previous paragraph. Mike Leigh, President and Founder of OpX Solutions, reiterates this.

“Good leadership has a vision. They want to be the best in all areas, not just profits. They want their organization to be inherently better. When this happens, that mentality trickles down the organization. It prompts everyone to want to improve the company, in all areas,” he explains in his podcast episode, What Makes a Great Leader.


When everyone wants to be better, habits and behaviors become easier to change and cement themselves into the culture. The rewards and triggers are there, small wins are proven, and leadership provides an example of how to do this in a meaningful way. Mike explains this with an example from his tenure at GE.

While there, Jack Welch, then CEO, implemented six sigma. Since this initiative started at the very top, it transformed the organization and was able to become sticky. Habits and behaviors took hold to improve the culture for the better. Leadership sets an example as to what behaviors and habits should be like and this permeates throughout the organization.

“If I can get leaders to buy into the habit, it feeds throughout the organization and becomes an expectation throughout the company. It enables everyone else to hold themselves to the same standard,” Nick Hinman says during his podcast interview, “The Foundations of Lean”.

Do you Need Tools to Support Better Habits and Behaviors?

A tool is simply a tool if the habits and behaviors aren’t in place to support the success of that tool. If you ask people to implement and use a new tool, such as Mingo, you need to make sure you’re involved and responding to what they’re doing so they feel heard.

If they do what they’re asked and see no one else is invested in the success, they’ll feel discouraged, and habits and behaviors formed will start to fail. They’ll revert back to previously held habits and behaviors that will inevitably force the new system to fail.

To ensure habits and behaviors become sticky, it’s important for the operator to understand what’s in it for them, referencing back to Allison Greco’s 3 w’s. Logistically speaking, you need to have meetings that convey how operators will benefit from Mingo. Many of them. These meetings will explain exactly how the system will be used and what will be gained from it.

When the system is implemented and in use, respond to questions and feedback in a timely manner so they feel like what they’re doing has value.

There is immense value in tools and software like Mingo, but to be successful, you need everyone on board with habits and behaviors that will support the tool. It may sound ironic coming from a manufacturing productivity software company like us, but we’ve seen this happen time and time again. The habits and behaviors absolutely have to be in place if you ever want to be successful and get the full benefit of the software. This is why we stress the importance of doing everything we just talked about in this section on tools.

Using PDCA to Change Habits and Behaviors

We’ve placed significant emphasis on the behaviors and habits themselves, but there a few tools, beyond software, that can help to enforce habits and behaviors and help them become sticky. PDCA is one of those tools, or in many conversations, it’s an ideology. Jesse DePriest, a Lean Transformation Coach and Director of Operational Excellence at First National Bank of Omaha, explains why PDCA is helpful in changing habits and behaviors by asking employees, “What’s our next step? What did I learn? Where are we now?” The scientific approach to problem-solving, and subsequently the habits and behaviors that contribute to solving those problems, provides discipline for everyone involved.

Jesse further explains, “An obstacle may require dozens of steps to get rid of that obstacle. Once that obstacle is no longer relevant, we go to the next obstacle. The whole point is that we are creating the habit of problem-solving and scientific thinking in the world of work, every day. We’re taking crazy small steps, every day. And I think that is far more effective than our traditional project management approach.”

Applying 5s to Habits and Behaviors

The same applies to the concept of 5s. While this is a lean tool, it can and has made a significant impact in enforcing habits and behaviors for many manufacturers.

“In my opinion, 5s is a critical component of a successful lean plant. Clutter causes confusion and confusion causes inefficiencies, Nick Hinman says, “So, when emphasis is placed on 5s, it’s easy to onboard, move people around as needed, establish standard of work, put in visual management tools like Kanban boards, and it creates opportunity for employees to brainstorm and come up with fresh ideas on how to innovate.”

“A lot of the teaching around 5s and visual management is what helps the plant operate when you’re not there. When you can teach people through practice and conversation, it creates a habit that helps people connect the dots. It becomes a waterfall effect,” he adds.

Once employees have established those habits and behaviors, it continues throughout the organization, in all aspects, and on all levels. People begin to imitate and improve without realizing they’re doing it. It becomes so ingrained in the organization that it becomes the gold standard and part of the culture.

5s supports habit and behavior formation that allows for goals to be met and new initiatives to be implemented.

Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This?

That is a question we’ve asked ourselves many, many times. It seems simple, but changing and engraining new habits and behaviors isn’t done easily or quickly. It requires a deep dive into the mindset of people and the goals of the organization.

You may think you can find a software that will solve all of your problems, and while it will solve many such as in the case of a manufacturing productivity solution, but to remain sticky and really provoke change, habits and behaviors need to change, too. This is why we say good software isn’t just about the software. There’s so much more to it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Yes, it’s difficult to accomplish, but once those habits and behaviors change, it makes a profound impact on the organization that will lead to greater success and larger returns. We’ve mentioned Paul’s thoughts at the beginning of this blog, but it bears repeating once more, “Developing people and process is the only thing you should be focused on.”

“Organizational routines for improvement and adaptation, not quantitative/financial targets, define the pathway to competitive advantage and long-term organizational survival,” H. Thomas Johnson writes in the forward of ‘Toyota Kata’ by Mike Rother.

We couldn’t agree more.

Change Habits and Behaviors and You’ll Find Success

Paul Dunlop leaves us with one great piece of advice, “If we focus on the right things, develop the right habits, give things the right focus, then the results will take care of themselves.”

NOTE: Don’t forget about the importance of a daily production meeting which can further engrain good habits and behaviors in your culture.

So, what are you waiting for? Start transforming your organization by changing the habits and behaviors embedded in your company. Then, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the opportunities software like Mingo offer. Remember, these changes will not happen overnight, but when they do begin to change, albeit slowly, the benefits will be eye-opening.


Videos featured throughout this blog are snippets from our podcast, Zen and the Art of Manufacturing. You can listen and watch the full episodes wherever you get your podcasts or on YouTube.

Episodes, guests, books, and organizations featured in this blog are:

Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.