World Cup 2018: What are the key takeaways for industry?

Now that the dust has settled, and the nation has made peace with the fact that it’s not coming home (until 2022!), Helena Sans explores what lessons executives can take from England’s better-than-expected performance.

world cup 2018 - Gareth Southgate celebrates with fans at Fifa World Cup Russia 2018 - image courtesy of Marco Iacobucci EPP / Shutterstock.com
Gareth Southgate optimises many of the traits needed for effective leadership – image courtesy of Marco Iacobucci EPP / Shutterstock.com.

Three things dominated headlines in June/July: Brexit, World Cup 2018 and, of course, Love Island.

I know very little about one of them, I’m bored of the apparent stalemate of another, which leaves me with just one to deliberate upon. And that is, of course, the World Cup 2018.

Russia served up the typical twists and turns of eleventh-hour line-up changes, questionable decisions, last minute goals and shock exits. England, however, did unusually better than any of us dared hope!

Being wife to a German, daughter to a Spaniard, aunt to a Dane, and having survived the family wrath of the great Brexit debate, we’ve spent much of the past month embroiled in our division of what makes for good captaincy on the field.

Going further, and accepting I’m certainly not a football expert, maybe we can even take some learns into Industry from the approaches taken by those who competed in Russia…

  1. Strong leadership and team unity

Just hours prior to World Cup 2018 kicking off, the Spanish team’s manager, Julen Lopetegui, was dismissed from his job and summarily replaced by Fernando Hierro.

Although the team’s performance was less than stellar, Spain managed to top their group but eventually came unstuck against Russia, surprisingly losing to the host nation on penalties. Hierro stepped down shortly after.

Similar divisions behind the scenes are suspected to have played a part in the flat performance and subsequent shock exits of footballing powerhouses Argentina, Brazil and Germany.

Conversely, England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, optimises many of the traits needed for effective leadership: communication, stability, integrity, vision, passion, confidence, empowerment, positivity and creativity.

He has consciously built a team mentality which helps his players collectively deliver together – there is a clarity of vision which ensures each man knows exactly what role he can play in achieving the team’s goal.

  1. Don’t overlook competition from rising nations

Prior to World Cup 2018 kicking off, not many would have expected the likes of Russia to make the quarter-finals, nor Sweden to top their group table or Germany to come unstuck against both Mexico and South Korea.

Could these surprising results have come about because of long-established footballing dynasties disregarding the ability of the teams they faced? Somehow seeing the opposition as less capable or worthy of their full efforts?

Advanced technologies (particularly digital and automation-based) are now widely available and within arm’s reach of any and every business the world over. Traditionally, UK manufacturers may have been primarily concerned with the likes of Germany, the US, Japan and China, but the list of countries capable of competing with us on quality, delivery, cost and innovation grows annually.

Any business which ignores the rise of nations such as India, Indonesia, Russia and Turkey, does so at their peril.

  1. Support young talent

England had one of the very youngest World Cup 2018 squads – with an average age of 26. Of this squad, only a handful played a part in the 2014 World Cup.

In Gareth Southgate’s own words, his squad is “young”, “inexperienced” and for some of them, their recent match-ups have represented the “biggest games they’ll have been involved in”.

Southgate has also noted that his digitally-savvy players have grown up in the “era of social media” and are therefore familiar with the added pressure such platforms create, alongside the enhanced opportunities to communicate with the public.

Rather than lamenting the passing of the old guard, we should be celebrating the chance to usher in a cohesive, digitally-savvy team, full of youthful enthusiasm and energy, a willingness to demonstrate their talents, and an openness to new ways of working and thinking.

  1. Learn from failure

England’s 2-1 defeat to Iceland and subsequent exit from Euro 2016 crystallised a necessary resolve within the national team.

There’s been no shortage of analysis as to why the defeat happened, but what’s important is that mistakes were acknowledged, learnings were taken and a plan for improvement was implemented – the fruits of which gripped the nation.

It’s long been argued that the UK has become increasingly risk-averse, preferring to focus on what’s likely to guarantee any sort of return, rather than that which may create the largest return.

Fear of failure is widely regarded as one of the biggest inhibitors to innovation, which in turn is one of the fundamental drivers for business growth. Studies have shown that the most successful companies are those who effectively build a culture where employees aren’t afraid to fail, where failure is viewed as an important learning experience, and where there is a system in place to capture the learnings and move forward.

  1. Embrace diversity

Several organisations have noted that the England team which competed in Russia was the most ethnically diverse squad ever to represent England at a World Cup – almost half (11) of the 23-strong squad are black or of mixed ethnicity, a nearly 50% increase on the six England players who went to Brazil in 2014.

The Manufacturer recently held the inaugural Women & Diversity in Manufacturing Summit where it was noted that 25% of engineering graduates are from minority ethnic backgrounds, yet that same group represents just 6% of the industrial workforce. The question was asked, “Where are the other 19%?”

At a time when the UK faces a seemingly ever-widening skills gap, business leaders need to ensure that they are doing everything they can to make industry more inclusive. Advice from the Summit included: having visible role models at all levels, offering mentoring programmes, having transparent progression paths, and listening to and acting upon feedback.