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What We Learned From ‘The Power of Habit’ to Encourage Employee Engagement

If you’ve been following Mingo, you probably know everyone participates in a company-wide book club, diving into topics like The Toyota Way and manufacturing to The Goal and lean to the best way to grow a business. We’ve recently finished ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, an award-winning business reporter.

We’ve gained knowledge of how to improve internal processes and help our teams become more productive, but the greatest benefit lies in the improvements we can help manufacturers make. Unsurprisingly, these improvements can all be attributed to better habits on the factory floor.

‘The Power of Habit’ provided the team with best practices and practical tips to guide Mingo customers in creating better habits that will contribute to improved productivity and increased efficiency, both of which inevitably grow the bottom line.

Duhigg writes that this is a “Framework for understanding how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change… This is merely a practical guide, a place to start. And paired with deeper lessons from this book’s chapters, it’s a manual for where to go next.”

The lessons we’ve learned and begun to implement for our own customers have proven to be a game-changer.

I echo one of the most important ideas from the book, “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

With that, I introduce our summary of ‘The Power of Habit’ and how it can directly encourage employee engagement in the plant, with a specific emphasis on implementing and using manufacturing software.

First, it’s important to understand the framework of building better habits, coined by Duhigg himself.

  1. Identify the routine
  2. Experiment with rewards
  3. Isolate the cue
  4. Have a plan

“You can change to a better routine by planning for the cue, and choosing a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving. What you need is a plan.”

These, my friends, are the lessons I’ve learned to create a plan for manufacturers to foster and support employee engagement on the floor.

Lesson #1: Identifying the Routine, Isolating the Cue, and Replacing One Habit with Another

The best way to build a new habit is to build from an existing one, or simply, replace it with another.

Let’s say I smoke cigarettes, but I want to break this habit. It’s not good for me and I want to live a healthier life. I likely won’t succeed in eliminating cigarettes from my life if I don’t replace the habit with another, healthier choice. I recognize I have a specific routine when smoking cigarettes – I go outside and take a ten-minute break.

Instead of smoking cigarettes, I start drinking coffee. But, I find that I start to falter when I go outside with the other “smoke-breakers”. It’s hard to resist smoking when I’m still going outside and spending time with other smokers. So, now, I add in a walk, too. Instead of going outside for a smoke break, I make my coffee and go outside for a ten-minute walk, completely bypassing the designated smoking area. I walk around the block and after, go back to my desk. I find it’s much easier to resist smoking, and instead, focus on drinking coffee and walking. I’ve successfully identified the routine and replaced one habit with another.

The same concept can be applied to any bad habit. Instead of eating Doritos, I grab grapes in replacement. Instead of drinking alcohol, I pop open flavored seltzer water. Instead of laying on the couch binge-watching Netflix that inhibits movement, I walk on the treadmill while binge-watching Netflix. You get the idea. Instead of simply eliminating one habit, you replace it. The habit still exists, it’s just replaced with another, healthier, better-for-you option. It’s still the same thing with only a slight change, but the key is identifying the routine, too.

‘The Power of Habit’ has taught us that if you want people to adopt a change, it’s easier to modify the habit only slightly. It’s slightly different than what they were doing before, but it fits within the daily rhythm of the existing habit.

Relating this concept to improving habits and getting better visibility with a system like ours, think about data collection on the plant floor. When you think about data collection, every manufacturer does something to collect production, quality, and any other meaningful data, whether manual or automatic. These habits already exist. That data collection routine exists.

Many, many manufacturers have been collecting this data manually. There are probably 4-5 key data points that someone is collecting every single day. But, what if that data was collected automatically?

Data that can be automatically collected is set up for automatic data collection, and where it needs to be collected manually, operators are putting it into a system like Mingo. That person (or team) is now spending more time doing value-added work – actually making parts, setting up machines, and improving processes. Whatever value-added work they’re doing, they’re spending less time writing data down.

Whether an injection molding, blow moldingauto parts, bottling, food, or any other type of manufacturer, you’re giving your people more time to do the tasks that actually contribute to your bottom line with manufacturing productivity software. They no longer have to write down when a machine started and stopped, instead it’s automatically collected in the system. Or, it’s typed into the computer. It’s simply identifying the routine and tweaking what they’re already doing.

That habit of manual data collection is replaced with another, similar, but a more effective habit.

Lesson #2: You Just Have to Start

Doing something is better than doing nothing. Also, if you fail at first, it’s fine. Just keep going. That’s the lesson. It’s self-explanatory if I’m being honest. There’s no point in waiting for the “right time” because there will never be a right time to modify habits and behaviors. You just have to take the plunge, begin the initiative, and get started.

Duhigg found that it takes 30 days to create behavior change. That’s following a 7-day week format. In manufacturing, the 5-day work week needs to be accounted for. So, what would take 30 days, or roughly 4 weeks, in personal lives will take about 6 weeks in the professional world.

That’s more time and focus needed to change habits. The sooner you start, the sooner the habit will be improved.

Also, think about those habits in conjunction with the factory. If your operators are only entering in 1 data point per hour, or per shift, it may take longer to modify and change the habit than if they were entering data every 10 minutes. It’s a harder habit to learn when you aren’t doing It as frequently.

Lesson #3: Experiment with Rewards, Small Wins, & Layering Habits

Small wins are a fantastic way to experiment with rewards. You can also layer habits on top of each other.

A problem that a lot of people have is that they want to boil the ocean. Let’s do everything all at once. Let’s collect all of the data all at once, even that data isn’t currently being collected. If that’s the case, this “new” habit is going to undoubtedly overload and overwhelm someone. They’re going to get frustrated. That’s the opposite of the rewards, small wins, and habit layering you want to experiment with.

You’re not only changing habits but learning something new at the same time.

Instead, you just need to do 1 or 2 things to get started. It goes back to the idea of start small, think big, move fast. You start so small so you know that you can succeed. Then, when there is a small win, celebrate it. That’s the “reward”, a feeling of success. When one thing works and succeeds, layer on top of that. Then, you’re building a culture of small wins and successes that will eventually lead to positive habits and behaviors.

Lesson #4: Management Needs a Plan

Management plays a big role in habit change in a plant, not only to monitor progress, but to implement the plan for change. What does the plan entail? Based on the effective habit change time frame, what needs to be accomplished? How will it be accomplished? What rewards, cues, and small wins need to happen to make the plan successful? How will the plan be rolled out?

As learned, it takes roughly 6 weeks to establish a habit. This is about how long management should be paying close attention to how well the data is entered in a system like Mingo. By the end of that period, the data should be stable.

As the manager, look at the operator’s reports every single day. Make sure everything looks good, and the counts are accurate. Go to the floor and talk to them to see how the plan for change is going. Do they have any problems or questions? These “checks” ensure the support of the person(s) undergoing habit change.

Is the plan being followed? These are “implementation intentions” and management needs to ensure they’re happening and happening successfully.

Lesson #5: Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate More

The other thing that I’ve talked about is that supervisors, managers, and coaches need to help people change these habits through communication. Of all the lessons learned, this is most important. Help your employees understand what’s in it for them. Sitting down with people, on a daily basis, and saying, “This is how we’re doing; this is what it’s going to help, and this is what’s in it for you. It’s not big brother. It’s only slightly than what you were doing before. You used to do this, and now you’re doing this.”

This is important; they’re not only changing habits, but they’re learning something new at the same time while trying to do the job that they’re measured on. Making it as easy as possible for them to accomplish all three of these things is key to success.

Be aware of that during this 6-week period. Communication is important, and as a follow-up to that conversation of, “You’re changing habits,” you have to support them to make sure things are getting done during those first 6 weeks. If they don’t build those habits, and you’re not there to provide key leadership, it’s never going to work.

It’s not hard. This is really, very simple. You’re going to take stuff off their plate, and you’re going to slightly tweak what they’re already doing. You’re not adding more to it. The process might be a little bit different, but they’re still doing the same stuff. You’re making their lives easier in the long run, but all of this needs to be communicated well, otherwise, wrong impressions and assumptions will be formed which will inevitably derail your success.

Lesson #6: Keystone Habits are the Key to Success

Over and over again, the book talked about keystone habits.

Let’s say I have a goal of being a healthier person, and for the sake of the example, let’s say I smoke, drink, eat badly, and don’t exercise. So, saying tomorrow, “I’m going to start eating right, stop smoking, stop drinking, and exercise every single day” just simply isn’t going to work. It’s not realistic. You have to pick one to start.

Good habits drive other good habits. What’s the keystone habit that drives everything else? For me, working out is a keystone habit that makes everything else fall into place. If I’m eating badly, smoking, and drinking, and I go to work out, I’m not going to be at my best. It’s not going to go well, but if you start changing the habits one at a time, it makes the keystone habit better.

Plus, when I lose one pound, it’s a small win that I celebrate. When I’m able to weight lift 5 more pounds, that’s a small win. All of these contribute to my desire to continue eating healthy, ignoring cigarettes, and drinking sparkling water instead of alcohol because they help me achieve those small wins.

“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,” and “small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach,” Duhigg explains.

The Power of Habit and Automating Data Collection

These lessons learned, while Mingo specific, form the habit loop. Identify routines, experiment with rewards, identify the cue, and have a plan. This will lead to success, not only in personal habit change but in the plant, too. When encouraged and supported to make a habit change, specifically in regards to data collection, employees will be on board with the initiative. This is where success with Mingo lies.

Manual data collection is tedious, yet most manufacturers still do it. Why? It’s all they know.

Instead, take those habits, automate where you can, and keep manual data collection where needed. They’re still doing slightly similar work, but with a small tweak. Most importantly, this needs to be standardized. Don’t modify the routine too much.

“Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. But once you understand how a habit operates – once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward – you gain power over it.”

That’s how you encourage employee engagement and productivity with manufacturing productivity software.


How Habits Work, Charles Duhigg

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Picture of 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.