Are You A Digital Leader? If Not, You Better Become One!

Michael Rander

With the digital economy changing every part of society and business around us, it stands to reason that the way we lead and manage employees, companies, and customers needs to change as well. Much has been written around what good leadership looks like, and much have been said about the technological revolution that the digital economy is forcing upon us. Less clear is what the leader of the future will look like in the context of the digital economy.

To determine the impact of this sweeping digital change, we recently started working with Oxford Economics on a large-scale global research project entitled “Leaders 2020” with the intent to define how the digital leader of the future is changing the game on organizational management, collaboration, flexibility, technology, and success.

While we are still gathering data, we have currently collected more than 2,000 survey responses, and the preliminary results are intriguing. In the end we will end up with more than 4,100 survey respondents, and over the coming months we will do a comprehensive analysis of what it means to be a digital leader. But for now, here’s what the data tells us.

Digital leaders are characterized by being…

  1. Focused on developing, communicating, and executing a digital strategy
  2. Data-driven and focused on real-time decision making
  3. Facilitators of collaboration inside and outside the organization
  4. Providers of the necessary technology and development programs to keep employee skills up to date for the digital economy

While these characteristics are interesting, they might not seem that novel as most companies would say they focus on strategies that are closely related to these topics. However, the problem is that while they might be strategic priorities, the execution is often lacking, and true results of this transformation are not achieved if the execution is not a company-wide priority that is truly acted upon.

To this point, the initial analysis suggests that companies that can be characterized as digital leaders do in fact stand out from the pack and are defined by a series of characteristics that should make every manager, employee, customer, and shareholder take notice.

These digital leaders are…

  1. Seeing stronger revenue and profit growth
  2. Having more engaged employees who are willing to go above and beyond for their companies
  3. Focusing more on succession planning, collaboration, diversity, and digital skills.

From a productivity view alone, the initial data pointed to the fact that the most satisfied employees work for companies that value these skills (planning, collaboration, diversity, and digital). With 94% of very satisfied employees stating that they go above and beyond for the company vs. only 42% of dissatisfied employees, the bottom-line productivity impact is clearly significant.

Likewise, the initial data shows a clear trend: Companies that are leading the transformation in the digital economy are focused on real-time decision making and data-driven management and execution, and are proactively reducing complexity and enabling organizational flexibility, empowerment, and decision-making.

So far, the data paints a clear picture of digital leaders making a significant difference for both employees and the bottom line, which in the end is critical to survival in the digital economy and will set these companies apart from the rest.

As we complete the data collection and analysis, stay tuned as we dig into the many different factors affecting and defining the success of the digital leader across countries, company sizes, lines of business, genders, and many other parameters.

In the meantime, we will be discussing the concept of the digital leader and the Leaders 2020 project in much more detail over the coming weeks. If you are interested in following the latest trends on digital leadership, I highly recommend this series of sessions that took place at the SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando:

Join Ed Cone, deputy director of thought leadership and technology practice lead at Oxford Economics, for a Webinar on November 2, where he will reveal more findings from the “Leaders 2020” study. Register today!

About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, and operations manager, as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler, and entrepreneur.