Does Your Leadership Have What it Takes To Succeed In The Digital Economy?

Sophie Wade

The “reality” of business is in flux, with technology as a primary driver. Digital transformation has taken over as the resounding phrase, which has emerged as our digital economy awaits the fundamental integration of technology. Who really understands this new environment, and who is leading the way forward effectively?

Yes, our economy is already digital to the extent that is it an economy based on computing technologies. It is run on, operated, and facilitated by and connected through computing technologies, before we even get to the Internet of Things, which surpassed 6 billion connected things this year [Gartner, Nov. 2015]. However, true technology integration is much more than networked connectivity, email, social media, and online retail.

It means utilizing the cloud and embedded applications as fundamental tools of operation. It means incorporating technology as a core technique to respond to a faster-paced business world, and leveraging data gathering and analysis to facilitate rapid decision-making, product/service development and iterations. Success in the digitally infused world, therefore, also has new parameters, to which corporate leadership is in the process of adjusting.

SAP and Oxford Economics just released a new study, Leaders 2020. It not only highlights new attributes of successful leaders and companies in this technology-based environment, but also shows where important internal company discrepancies lie, and sources of potential learning.

More than 4,000 executives and employees worldwide took part in the research, which identified criteria and actions that defined the organizations that are currently performing at the highest levels among the respondents. These companies, with higher revenues and happier, more engaged employees, they call the Digital Winners – further emphasizing the essential role of technology in future corporate success.

Learn more about the Leaders 2020 study.

The core themes show that successful digital leaders are:

  • Embracing digital technologies – Embedded into the corporate vision and operationally pervasive
  • Streamlining decision-making – Data-driven and transparent company-wide
  • Flattening the organization – Reducing complexity and embracing current technologies
  • Building a digital workforce – Focusing on raising proficiency and utilization levels throughout.

These echo, and perhaps reinforce, some of the new workforce demands in describing familiar traits of many newer ventures that are heavily populated by younger recruits. They also demonstrate the evolution away from certain elements that are characteristic of “traditional” hierarchical organizations.

To Karie Willyerd, head of global customer education and learning at SAP and the study’s research lead, it made sense when she noted the differences in responses from non-millennial leaders and senior executives versus millennial ones. The latter group made up 17% of the survey’s participants.

Willyerd did express surprise at the size of the differences – the millennial executives were much less confident than other executives that their company’s senior leaders were “highly proficient” in a number of areas that are important for strategic advancement and growth. These include using technology to achieve competitive advantage (37% vs. 60%); navigating a changing business environment (37% vs. 57%); and managing employee retention (37% vs. 55%).

Since millennials are digital natives, the digital economy is their inherent reality. Their experiences and understanding of where we are and what is needed to progress successfully is both current and relevant. The study supports this, and one of the four key recommendations is to listen to millennial executives.

So is your company set up to be a digital winner? How old is the data you are utilizing to inform your decisions and who is it shared with? Does your organization hire and nurture the type of leaders and employees who will ensure you will be successful going forward? In the years ahead, success will be a function of strong and aligned internal leaders. Are yours up to speed and in sync?