The Habit Loops works by using rewards by increasing employee motivation and establishing new employee behaviors.

The concept belongs to Charles Duhigg, who wrote the book The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Using his concept of the Habit Loop, we’re going to show you how you can modify employee behavior to align with company values and get employees to perform tasks the way you want them done.

Duhigg’s Habit Loop has three components: The Cue, The Routine, (which we’ll refer to as the Behavior); and the Reward.

The Cue is a prompt that tells the brain which habit is needed. Habits are the brain’s way of automating tasks and behaviors so that they can be done with the least amount of mental activity possible, thereby freeing up brain power for new challenges. When a new behavior or task is introduced, the brain has to work very hard to process the new information. However, once the task is understood the brain can make it into a habit.

Therefore, when a specific behavior is desired from an employee, they must be prompted with a Cue that initiates the desired behavior. For example, if the desired behavior is following a proper filing procedure then the Cue would be the necessity to file something.

This is where the Behavior comes in.

The Behavior is the action that needs to be done to achieve the desired results (i.e. files that are filed according to the procedure).  Now you could tell, remind and nag your employees about filing things properly or you could motivate them to remember the desired behavior with a Reward.

The Reward is what determines if the brain will bring about the desired behavior when it is cued. It needs to be something that the employee desires and will anticipate when they are cued. Therefore, when implementing the desired behavior, the focus needs to be on the Reward. The employee needs to know what they will get for completing the task as requested. Only when the employee begins to crave the endorphins or sense of accomplishment inherent in the reward will their behavior become automatic.

So, what kind of reward can you offer an employee so they will be motivated to file properly?

There is a variety of different ways you can reward desired employee behaviors and increase employee motivation. Here are a few of our favorites:

Gamification: Give points for each desired behavior that is performed. Create a scoreboard where everyone can see it and keep track of employee points. The employee with the most points at the end of the month wins a prize. Make sure the prize is something employees really want like a day off, a gift certificate etc. (For more about employee rewards and employee motivation see our post:Reward Achievement; Promote Engagement) Gamification can be done manually or you can do it with an app, like the Herd Wisdom Employee Engagement App. Employees will be motivated to earn points, this is the cue; in order to earn points they will perform desired tasks, this is the behavior, and in exchange for their performance they receive the reward.

Contract it: This is more of a negative reinforcement concept, but it does work. Basically, you create a list of performance review criteria and distribute it to your team. Explain to them that they will be graded based on their ability to comply with the criteria. Include the grading schematic at the bottom of the list. The grading scheme should imply what each grade means to the company. Explain that grades will be taken into consideration when considering promotions and layoffs. When communicating with employees continually reference the performance criteria and have a copy displayed prominently. Employees will begin desiring to achieve higher grades and will pay closer attention to what is asked of them, thus initiating the habit loop: Cue = desire to be graded well, Behavior: performing desired task, Reward: Earning a high grade.

Employee Recognition: Be aware of which employees are performing the desired behaviors and acknowledge them for it. This can be as simple as thanking them every time they complete the task. The employee will begin to crave the recognition and put the habit loop into place. You can also recognize employees by publicly acknowledging them through email or at team gatherings. In this way, they are prompted (Cue) by the desire to be recognized, the behavior is initiated and they are rewarded with recognition.

Being that the Habit Loop is circular, everything repeats itself. So once the reward has been achieved the employee is motivated to begin the loop again because they desire the reward once more. This is why it’s essential to choose employee rewards that invite repetition. The reward must be something that the employee can work towards again and again.


Glei, Jocelyn K. “Hacking Habits: How To Make New Behaviors Last For Good.” 99u. Behance, n.d. Web. <>.
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.

(This article originally appeared on

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