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7 Ways You Can Prepare for Success In Challenging Times

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on Apr 13, 2020 3:25 PM
Posted on Apr 13, 2020 3:25 PM. 7 min read time

It's tough living through challenging times like these.

How can our business succeed when it feels like we're teetering on the edge of a precipice? 

As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic which has brought much of the global economy to a halt. Many businesses are panicking about how the situation will affect them over the next weeks, months, and years.

It can be hard to get down to work in situations like this.

It's especially hard to think about long-term plans like adding automation to our business.

Of course, this pandemic is no ordinary market slump — it has a huge social and global impact as well — but from a business perspective, it's likely to have similarities with previous recessions (although at time of writing it's not yet technically a "recession" which is defined as "two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth" and we don't yet know if it will turn out as one).

What should we be working on right now to survive these challenging times?

How can we come out of this situation as winners?

Let's just wait it out with our fingers crossed?… 

For many of us, our first reaction to a new challenging situation is to panic. 

I've heard this described as the "hair on fire" phase of a crisis.

This phase happens immediately.

Before the crisis, everything was going fine in your business. You were meeting your targets. You were planning for the future. You were considering which tasks in your business you might be able to automate with a collaborative robot.

Suddenly, everything changed.

The world tilted sideways and everything you thought was true suddenly isn't true any more.

There are 3 ways that we, as human beings, tend to react in challenging situations:

  1. We freeze. We don't know what to do so we ignore the new reality and carry on as normal. We remain oblivious to the effects of the situation until it's too late to react preemptively.
  2. We hide. We immediately react by going into "survival mode," ruthlessly cutting back our operations as we try to avoid being hit by the challenging situation. We shelve all new projects and "batten down the hatches" (as they say in the navy).
  3. We fight. We immediately rush to counteract the situation by ruthlessly trying to bring in more new sales. But, the market isn't ready for it (as everyone else is also struggling) so we come across as pushy and alienate potential customers.

You probably know of these 3 responses as the "fight, flight or freeze response." According to neurobiology research, this is a hardwired neurological response.

It's natural.

This is exactly the situation that Robotiq's CEO Samuel Bouchard talked about at the beginning of his video to all of us

He said: "Quite honestly, when I realised the speed and the amplitude of the crisis my initial reaction was quite selfish. I thought about my family, my team, and my company..." 

The truth is that none of these 3 instinctual responses is usually the best strategy for the continued success of our business. According to the Harvard Business Review,  those companies who rush into survival mode "merely limp through a recession."

We need to be proactive and we need to be smart. 

How the top 10% of successful companies thrive in a crisis

hand drawn air balloons with crumpled paper ball as leadership concept

What's the alternative to going with our instinctive reactions?

The alternative is to look objectively at the new situation, reassess our options, and think strategically.

According to research into the last 4 global recessions, most companies were hit hard. However, about 10% of companies didn't just survive in the challenging situation… they thrived. These companies came out of the recessions positively better off than they went into them!

What did these companies do differently?

Various factors contributed to their success, but one thing they did was to remember that challenging situations "offer opportunities for change."

Those companies that succeed in a crisis are those that take the long term view. They react strategically.

For example, one 2018 research study found that investment in new technology often increases in a recession, not decreases as you might expect. Following the 2008 financial crash, for example, companies in the hardest-hit areas of the USA "increased their investment in information technology, driving the surge in IT skill requirements in their job postings."

This is not to say that investing in technology is necessarily the right step for you right now. It's just worth thinking about what opportunities might be open to you that you didn't recognize initially.

There are various reasons for that technology can help in a crisis. It improves the transparency, efficiency, and flexibility of a business, allowing it to better weather the challenging situation. It can also be more cost-effective due to a better "opportunity cost" compared to when times are good.

By taking the long view, we can not just survive in hard times. We can thrive.

We just need to get out of that "hair on fire" phase of the crisis and start working on tasks that will set us on the path to success.

You might even find that "thinking big" allows you to see some amazingly unique opportunities that that you would have completely missed if you'd kept thinking reactivity. 

When Samuel started thinking big, he and the team realised that Robotiq can actually help to combat the crisis itself. If you're a manufacturer who has found your demand shooting through the roof following the COVID-19 crisis, Samuel has a video especially for you describing how our COBOTS vs COVID-19 initiative could help you.

But, even if you're not struggling under a rush of new orders as a result of the crisis, there are still many ways you can make the most of this difficult situation. 

7 ways you can prepare for success in challenging times

Here are 7 tasks you can start right now to set you and your business up for success:

1. Learn something new

You may find, like many people, that you have fewer orders or jobs and less work as a result of the situation. Now is the perfect time to learn about something that you have been meaning to explore for a while and could help your business in the long term.

There are many things you could choose to learn about, but if you're interested in learning about robotics, we have a load of free eBooks, courses, and a book.

2. Investigate ways to improve efficiency

When times are easy, we just want to improve efficiencies in our business because we want them to run a little bit better. When times are hard, we need to improve them to stay operational.

It is now more important than ever to look at ways that you can improve the efficiency of the business. Here are 6 Powerful Strategies to Improve Manufacturing Process Efficiency.

3. Explore those changes you've been avoiding

You know those changes that you've been thinking about making to your process? The ones that could improve the operation? The ones you never have time to implement?

Now is the time to explore making those changes. Sometimes we just need a kick to make the changes we know we need to make.

4. Be a trailblazer and a leader

When times are tough, people look to their leaders to judge how they should react and what they should do next. Whatever role you have in your business, now is the time to be a leader and help keep everyone on course. That may mean proposing projects which seem counterintuitive to others in your company (look here for some strategies for making such proposals work).

5. Find ways to work smarter

If customer order numbers start falling, it can feel like we've got far more time than we did before. However, this is not the time to rest on our laurels. Look for ways that you can work smarter than you are already. Everyone's going to have to work hard to keep everything going so every improvement counts.

6. Reduce unnecessary waste

At times like this, any waste in your business is going to come up and bite you. Reducing unnecessary waste is one of the tenets of lean manufacturing (and by extension Lean Robotics).

You can make huge steps to improving your operation by taking this time to reduce waste in your business. This work will then carry through when the situation improves and continue to reap benefits long into the future of your business.

7. See it as a great opportunity

Many people view a challenging situation as something that needs to be endured.

But, we don't all need to view it in the same way.

If we want to succeed, we need to do what that 10% of companies did in the last global recessions.

We need to see the situation as a great opportunity.

There are a lot of opportunities out there right now.

Now is the best time to think about how we can take advantage of them.


Read the our recent blog posts from Robotiq's CEO Samuel Bouchard for specific advice about our COBOTS vs COVID-19 initiative.


How are you doing in the current situation? What concerns do you have? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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