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September 21, 2016

Are You a Digital Winner?

Keith Jackson


"Listen and lead - or get out of the way!" That's the stark message from employees and younger executives to their digital leaders.

An emerging generation of Millennial executives is feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the ability of middle and senior managers to drive innovation in a digital economy, according to new research.

Research firm Oxford Economics surveyed more than 4,000 executives and employees around the world to discover what organizations are doing to succeed in a global digital economy - and its findings will likely set alarm bells ringing in boardrooms from the U.S. to New Zealand.

The report, Leaders 2020, identified that "Digital Winners" performed better and had happier, more engaged employees than companies that are failing to embrace change and new technologies. The bad news is that only 16 percent of companies surveyed qualified as Digital Winners.

Embrace Digital Technologies

The survey found that those organizations that made the grade were led by executives who drive digital transformation with these four imperatives:

  • They embrace digital technologies.
  • They streamline decision making.
  • They reduce bureaucracy.
  • They build and invest in a digital workforce.

And Digital Winners enjoy some impressive results. The study showed that they are 38 percent more likely to report strong revenue and profit growth than other organizations; they have happier and more loyal staff; they have a stronger leadership pipeline; and they place a higher value on diversity in the workplace.

So, why are 84 percent of organizations getting it so wrong? The answer comes from an army of Millennial executives that is frustrated and impatient with traditional leadership methods.

Across a range of leadership criteria, the Millennials’ responses to the survey differed greatly from those of non-Millennial executives. For example, when asked if they thought that their organization's senior leadership was "highly proficient" in facilitating innovation, only 42 percent of Millennials agreed, compared with 61 percent of non-Millennials.

Wake Up Call for Business

The Millennial vs non-Millennial split was evident in responses to the same question regarding managing a diverse workforce (39% v 54%); using technology to achieve a competitive advantage (37% v 60%); navigating a changing business environment (37% v 57%); and inspiring and motivating employees (35% v 51%).

Edward Cone, deputy director of thought leadership at Oxford Economics, said, "These findings should serve as a wake up call for business leaders. Your employees, your younger executives, and your financial results are all sending you a clear message about the importance of updating and upgrading leadership skills for the digital age. It's time to listen and lead—or get out of the way."

The danger for organizations that have been slow to react to the demands of a digital economy is that the pace of change is so fast that existing skills and practices will rapidly become out of date, and the gap between them and digitally aware organizations will only widen.

If it's possible to put a positive slant on such a scathing report, it may be this: if your organization is not a Digital Winner, chances are neither are your rivals! With only 16 percent of companies in that high-functioning category, it's not too late to look at your digital leadership and address any shortfalls in the four digital imperatives set out, above.

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