Forming Effective Habits with ActionPads

Learning Statement: In this article we explain how to use ActionPads to form habits amongst staff in a customer-facing role.
Audience: This article is aimed at all OMBEA ActionPad users working in customer-facing settings.


The key to staying relevant is to evolve as the world changes around you. The secret to long-term success is persistence. The easy way to be persistent is to form habits.

In your workplace, if you can keep introducing new improvement ideas and you can make each one stick, you tilt the odds of success in your favor.

In this article we will explore this principle in more detail. We then show you how to use the ActionPads alongside this principle to make your improvement ideas stick.


Adapt or die

Everything in your industry is changing, all the time. Competitors are raising their game. Customers are demanding more. Or their tastes are changing. Employees are shifting their perspective. The technology behind your product or service is getting bigger, faster, and better. And that’s true even if you have a non-tech product.

In short, if you stay still, you’ll get left behind. So, you need an ongoing flow of new ideas.

New ideas

There will be no end of improvement ideas that come your way. You’ll have some of your own. Company brainstorms, customer feedback, industry conferences, and wider reading will all be sources of inspiration for you.

If you’re struggling with new ideas, then you can always use your OMBEA ExpressPods or Link to canvas customers and employees for their suggestions.

Now you have your latest ideas, let’s talk about persistence and habits.


The importance of persistence

Small actions taken every day will, eventually, outweigh the impact of huge but infrequent efforts.

You already know this. You’ve been exposed to this idea from a young age. It’s the central theme in the story of the hare and the tortoise. The animal that moved slowly but took no breaks beat the one that switched erratically between speed and rest.

It’s true outside the fairy tales too. Just look at the world’s greatest athletes, for example. They turn up every day. They might not train physically every day, but they do not stop. No matter what. Every. Single. Day.


The relationship between persistence and habit

Habits are just activities that you do without thinking about them. They’ve become automatic and therefore they’ve become persistent.

How habits form

There is lots of information available ‘out there’ about how habits form. Here at OMBEA we are fans of James Clear and his book, Atomic Habits. We won’t replicate that book here (feel free to read it yourself) but we will summarize one key point that is important to you and your ActionPads: Habit Formation.

In the book, Clear explains the four stages of habit formation. These are:

  1. Cue: Some external or internal trigger that creates a craving.
  2. Craving: This is your desire to act. It elicits a response.
  3. Response: This is you acting out the habit, which in turn makes you feel rewarded.
  4. Reward: This is the feeling of satisfaction you get at the end.

The time that passes between each stage can be extremely quick and often you won’t even notice it. It all seems to happen at the same time.

In time, the feeling of reward becomes tightly associated with the cue; the habit is now compelling.

Let’s break a real example down into the four stages to see for ourselves. We’ll pick a habit that many of you will be familiar with: Your morning cup of coffee (or tea!). If you’re not one for a hot drink in the morning, switch out the example for something you can relate to.

  1. Cue: You’ve just woken up. You feel ‘fuzzy’. You’re in the kitchen. You see a kettle, a percolator, some mugs. You can smell the coffee granules. Or perhaps you use capsules, in which case the shiny design is so inviting. You’re basically flooded with cues. No wonder this habit is persistent and so hard to break!
  2. Craving: It’s so quick you can’t tell when you switch from cue to craving.
  3. Response: You make your drink. You bring it up to your lips for the first taste.
  4. Reward: The instant gratification you get from that first sip? That’s what the reward feels like.

In time, the rewarding feeling of drinking coffee becomes associated with waking up. Now the habit of your morning coffee is in place, and hard to break.

You might argue that we picked an easy example here in the sense that caffeine is addictive. However, apply the four stages to any persistent habit you have, and you’ll see that it fits. In fact, you might see that all your persistent habits feel like an addiction. In a way, that’s because your brain has come to relate to them that way (you can read more in Atomic Habits).

You can exploit this idea

One idea in Atomic Habits is that you can ‘hack’ each stage to form (or break) habits more easily. There are lots of ways to do it but here is the basic principle.

  1. Cue: Make it obvious. Leave physical cues out for yourself. The presence of the kettle, the mugs, physically being in the kitchen, are all cues in the coffee example.
  2. Craving: Make the habit attractive. This might be hard at first, especially for the more ‘boring’ habits, but it’s vital. One trick is to buddy it up with something that is attractive, like ‘every time I finish doing X, I will treat myself to doing Y’.
  3. Response: Just do the thing.
  4. Reward: Now you’ve done it, reward yourself with whatever ‘Y’ was.

Over time, you’ll be able to do X without needing Y anymore because you’ve rewired yourself to find X attractive.

While this idea is endlessly useful in your personal life, it’s surprisingly powerful in your work life too. If you have an idea for a new way of doing things, and you want it to stick, all you need to do is make it into a habit.

The role of ActionPads

Some of your ideas will require behavioral change amongst your employees.

This is where ActionPads fit in, and this is our suggestion for a step-by-step approach to turn those new ideas into habits.

  1. List all the actions you could turn into habits. Cluster them into related groups (see tip below).
  2. Pick up to three actions from this list that you will start with.
  3. Pick a timescale for review, e.g. 1 week, 1 month, etc.
  4. Code these into the ActionPad dashboard. You’ll find more details on the exact steps here.
  5. Brief your teams on the actions you want them to take. It helps to give them the background reasons and to let them roleplay or give them some suggested wording to use.
  6. Monitor your ActionPad dashboard. Are all the actions being completed? Check with local managers to triangulate what the dashboard tells you with what they report back.
  7. Share the results with the team. Create competition around the scores so that you can make the habit exciting. If you consider rewards, you will normally be better off with lots of small ones than one big one. You want everybody to feel the reward phase, rather than just the ‘winners’.
  8. When the review point comes around, ask the people on the ground how well embedded the habit has become. Back up the reports with what you see in your dashboard. Has every site come on board to your satisfaction?
  9. If you are happy, start again at step 2. If you want to continue with the current cluster then set another review date and repeat until everybody is ready to move on.

You will be more successful more quickly if you cluster together habits that are connected in some way. It could be that one flows directly from the other, or that they can both be done at the same time, or they happen in the same place. For example, ‘greet the customer’ and ‘ask customer if they found everything they were looking for’ are better connected than ‘greet the customer’ and ‘offer the customer a product guarantee’. In the latter example, the product guarantee moment will come towards the end of the interaction, after much time has passed, and so it is easier to forget.


The key takeaways from this article are:

  1. Habit hacking: If you understand habit formation, you can ‘hack’ it to your advantage.
  2. ActionPads: ActionPads can play a central role in this hack for up to three habits at a time.
  3. Habit clustering: Habits form more quickly if you cluster them into connected groups.
  4. Triangulation: You should triangulate feedback from your Insights ActionPad dashboard with live observations and local manager reports so that you know when to move on to the next habit cluster.
  5. Rewards: This stage is key, so consider sharing the ActionPad data and perhaps even making rewards available to staff for forming habits.