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Study Finds European Countries Differ Sharply in Embracing Digital Leadership

November 28, 2016 by SAP News 39

VIENNA Two out of five companies in Germany are capitalizing on the digital economy, compared to just one out of 100 in the United Kingdom, a new study shows. European business leaders are beginning to embrace digital transformation, but adoption levels vary widely by country, according to the study conducted by Oxford Economics and supported by SAP SE (NYSE: SAP).


Leaders 2020 Examines the Attributes of High-Performing Companies to Help European Organizations Adapt to the Modern Workforce and Succeed in the Digital Economy


The results were formally unveiled at SuccessConnect, taking place November 28–29 in Vienna.

The Leaders 2020 study is based on survey results from more than 4,100 executives and employees in 21 countries. The European findings examined the characteristics of organizations succeeding in the digital economy across Germany, Spain, France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

By examining several common capabilities and practices of high-performing companies, Oxford Economics and SAP identified a group of organizations capitalizing on the digital economy, called Digital Winners,* comprising 16 percent of all companies surveyed globally. However, in examining Digital Winners across Europe, digital leadership varied widely by country. Germany (41 percent) and Spain (22 percent) outpaced the global average, trailed by France (15 percent), Russia (3 percent) and the United Kingdom (1 percent).

“The digitalization of our world has brought about massive changes to the workforce and workplace, and businesses need to rapidly transform to keep up,” said Mike Ettling, president of SAP SuccessFactors.** “Our Leaders 2020 study revealed that many executives, both in Europe and other regions of the world, are not yet prepared to successfully lead in the digital age. There’s a substantial opportunity for leaders across Europe and beyond to embrace the notion of becoming more digitally minded and digitally connected. As leaders, we must create an environment where people thrive by enabling them to make data-driven decisions quickly, reducing complexity and bureaucracy, and embracing diversity and inclusion. Digital is not just about adopting technology — it’s about creating a culture of innovation, where exponential outcomes are not just possible but demanded.”

According to the study, Digital Winners:

Embrace diversity and inclusion: Globally, Digital Winners are more likely to see increased diversity in the workforce at the midlevel management level and have a slightly higher proportion of female employees than other companies.

In Europe, diversity levels are not where they should be for most companies, but are higher at those with superior executive leadership and stronger financial performance. On average, 39 percent of Digital Winners globally reported effective diversity programs, compared to 36 percent of all companies in France, 33 percent in Russia, 32 percent in Germany, 30 percent in the United Kingdom and 23 percent in Spain.

Develop millennial executives: Nearly all European companies reported a smaller proportion of millennial executives compared to the global average. While Russia reported a higher percentage of millennials in leadership positions (33 percent vs. 17 percent globally), Germany (16 percent), Spain (6 percent), the United Kingdom (5 percent) and France (1 percent) must prioritize attracting and developing millennial leaders — and also including them in decision making — to accelerate digital transformation.

Around the world, millennial leaders are more pessimistic than other executives about their organization’s digital readiness. Millennial executives ranked their organization’s leadership skills between 15 and 23 percentage points lower than nonmillennial executives across a variety of attributes, including facilitating collaboration, managing diversity, providing feedback and discouraging bureaucracy.

Engage and develop employees: Employees who work at companies with progressive executive leadership are more satisfied and engaged — and less likely to leave for a new position, according to the study. While the United Kingdom (91 percent) and Germany (87 percent) compare favorably to the Digital Winners worldwide, where 87 percent of employees are satisfied or very satisfied at work, France (76 percent), Spain (64 percent) and Russia (32 percent) trail. Further, while the United Kingdom (80 percent) and Germany (77 percent) again beat the Digital Winners worldwide, where 75 percent of employees would choose not leave if offered another job, France (72 percent), Spain (56 percent) and Russia (32 percent) stand to gain from better digital leadership.

Leverage digital technologies for improved decision making: Globally, 78 percent of Digital Winners make decisions that are data-driven, compared to only 55 percent of all companies. While some European countries outpaced their peers in this category, including Germany (72 percent) and France (55 percent), most European companies agree on the need for management to improve decision-making skills.

“The disconnect with millennial executives is a critical warning signal to senior leaders, and one that puts other concerns raised by the study in focus,” said Edward Cone, deputy director of Thought Leadership at Oxford Economics. “The future is knocking at your front door, and you ignore it at your own peril.”

For a detailed breakdown of leadership skills and attributes by country, including how you can become a Digital Leader, visit here.

For more information, visit the SAP News Center. Follow SAP on Twitter at @SuccessFactors and @sapnews.

*Digital Winners: These companies are much more likely to sustain top financial performance in terms of both revenue and profitability. Where leadership has embraced digital, companies:

  • Are 38 percent more likely to report strong revenue and profit growth
  • Have more mature strategies and programs for hiring skilled talent
  • Report one and a half times more-effective collaboration, which contributes to productivity
  • Achieve 87 percent employee satisfaction and significantly higher levels of employee loyalty
  • Are better equipped for succession planning
  • Listen to millennial executives, whose advice may provide shortcuts to digital transformation

About the Study

Oxford Economic surveyed more than 2,050 executives and 2,050 nonexecutive employees in 21 countries and across multiple industries during the second quarter of 2016. The executives surveyed included both C-levels and their direct reports. Roughly 48 percent of the sample is from the C suite. Employee roles range from entry-level to line-of-business management.

About Oxford Economics

Oxford Economics is the world leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis for business and government, and the most trusted resource for decision makers seeking independent thinking and evidence-based research. Headquartered in Oxford, England, with offices in London, New York and Singapore, and elsewhere around the globe, the firm employs more than 150 professional economists, industry experts and business editors — one of the largest teams of macroeconomists and thought leadership specialists.

About SAP

As market leader in enterprise application software, SAP (NYSE: SAP) helps companies of all sizes and industries run better. From back office to boardroom, warehouse to storefront, desktop to mobile device — SAP empowers people and organizations to work together more efficiently and use business insight more effectively to stay ahead of the competition. SAP applications and services enable more than 335,000 business and public sector customers to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and grow sustainably. For more information, visit www.sap.com.

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**SAP SuccessFactors is a new brand name launched in January 2016 and is used here to mean the offerings, employees, and business of acquired company SuccessFactors, which continues to be our legal entity until integration with SAP is complete.
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