As I write, the World Cup is in full swing. It's been going long enough for my beloved Egypt to have already been eliminated, despite having Mo Salah, one of the finest players on the planet, in the team.
Through my disappointment, and that of my young son and two daughters, who are all football mad too, it strikes me that lessons can be learned from an approach that relies too much on a star player. In fact, in business and in football, a star player - be that a stand-out product/employee that's the best around, or a 40-goal a season striker - is not enough on its own.
Winning in the Middle East Needs Commitment in the Field.
Maybe it is a bit of a cliché to say that business is a team-game, but my recent experiences as sales director – Gulf & NE at Rockwell Automation, have shown me just how important it is. For Rockwell Automation, our relatively recent regional focus on the Gulf and Near East is a strong indicator of our commitment to this market. The product, software and solutions portfolio we bring to this market is our star player, but we have come to understand very quickly that it is the strength in depth of our team that gives us success. The reason is that, especially in our region, business happens best in a face to face environment.
Over the past year and a half, we have embraced the challenge of meeting as many existing and potential customers as we possibly can. Our ambitious programme of dedicated visits, workshops, seminars and exhibitions has helped us take our 'star player' to more decision makers in the region. It has helped us to show how committed we are to the region and prove that Rockwell Automation may be a global company, but it has a very human and very local presence in this market.
Our best proof-point of this approach to date was the successful Automation University event held on 8th and 9th May 2018 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where an unprecedented number of customers from Gulf & NE visited expressing their commitment towards our company. Automation Universities are a fantastic way for us to showcase latest trends in industrial automation, comprehensive portfolio of trainings, hands – on labs, demo rooms, presentations, valuable interactive experience, industry sessions and round tables about Rockwell Automation and its Partners offerings. We conduct them all around the world, and we've learned a lot about the needs and benefits to our customers from such events. It's a great example of what a global organization can bring to a region - something that is tailored to a local market, with the backing of global experience and expertise. Our third AU in the region was a huge success and feedback that not only showed the value of the event, but will help us continue to develop it for the future.
Thinking about the World Cup again, I believe that Egypt were too reliant on Mo Salah alone. The same might be said about Argentina and their reliance on Lionel Messi. While making the most of your prize talent is good sense, there are too many things that can go wrong if it’s the only real plan. In Egypt's case, an injury to Mo Salah ahead of the tournament meant that he was not at his best. That is, of course, beyond the control of the manager. And there are other factors that might be considered beyond the control of the manager too - just think of the close games that are decided by refereeing decisions, own goals, freak deflections, or stand-out contributions from an opposing player. While these things are beyond the control of the coach, they should not be beyond the reckoning of a coach. They should be understood and worked into contingency planning and tactical flexibility. Winning a world cup, reaching the later stages, or even just winning a game at a world cup, is not easy. Nor does it happen on the perceived strength of the team assembled - as the saying goes, football is not won on paper.
My own experiences in the Gulf and Near East region exemplifies this too. There are many external macro-economic and political situations that can have a dramatic effect on our team's ability to deliver. In my role, which is a bit like that of a football coach in the region, it is my job to be aware of the nuances of factors beyond our control and to be flexible. With all of the geopolitical changes and tension and the fast rate of change, it's important to follow developments closely and adapt how we do business. We can't control the big picture, but we must work within what we can control and be receptive and adaptive to the ever-changing needs of customers from countries in the region, as well as the particular pressures they face.
The winners of the World Cup, just like winning businesses, might have a star player, but they will also have a coach who has shown adaptive leadership and tactical flexibility to deal with the things that they can’t directly control. Most importantly, they will have a team on the pitch who work hard together and for each other, and a team of staff around the players who have created the right environment and platform for success. It’s a good recipe for winning in business in the Gulf and Near East too.