Survey reveals digital friction between leaders and employees in Canada

TORONTO, Canada — 03 Nov, 2016 — Senior leaders of Canadian businesses are significantly more satisfied with their company’s use of digital technology to gain a competitive advantage than employees in non-senior roles, research by Oxford Economics sponsored by SAP has revealed.

The study of 4,100 leaders and employees across 21 countries found that in Canada 85% of leaders believe they and their peers use technology effectively to get an edge in the market, yet only 33% of their employees feel the same. Furthermore, 78% of leaders in Canada said management is equipped to facilitate digital transformation, but only 41% of employees agreed.

These figures are in stark contrast with feeling in the US, where there is much stronger agreement between leaders and employees. There is less optimism from leaders, 64% of whom believe they are equipped for digital transformation, and more optimism from employees, with 61% in agreement. The global figures were similar, with 67% of leaders and 57% employees stating their business is ready for digital transformation.

When asked if business decisions are data-driven, 91% of employees in Canada said they are, however just 39% of leaders agreed. In the US, there was much closer sentiment than in Canada, with 48% of leaders and 49% of employees reporting that decisions are driven by data. Globally, the outlook was more positive, with 55% of leaders and 62% of employees answering yes.

Edward Cone, Deputy Director of Thought Leadership at Oxford Economics, said: “The responses to our survey, particularly in Canada, raise a hard question: How can executives be so confident in their ability to use technology to gain a competitive advantage, while their employees have so little faith in them to do the same?

“If leaders in Canada are content with their business’s digital readiness—but employees aren’t—it could be that many senior management teams do not appreciate what digital transformation takes, to the frustration or concern of their employees. Conversely, leaders in Canada might have created solid digital transformation plans but not effectively communicated them to their employees, leaving them in the dark about the company’s future direction.”

Only 3% of senior leaders surveyed in Canada are millennials (born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s)—a significantly lower proportion than the overall sample (17%). Globally, 37% of millennial leaders say senior management is using technology well, while the figure rises to 60% for non-millennial leaders.

Adrianna Gregory, Associate Editor at Oxford Economics, said: “The survey results indicate that much of the disconnect between leaders and employees in Canada could be generational. Digital-native millennials are less likely to believe leadership is able to adapt to the digital economy—and they may think they could do better themselves if given the opportunity.”

Marie-Claude Vezina, Vice President, Customer Support and Strategic Vendor Management, Maple Leaf Foods, said: “To be successful in deploying digital technology you need to get the strategy right, but more importantly you need to spend time with your technology users to really understand their needs, challenges and skillsets. Launching new technology is no different to launching a new product for consumers—the more you know about them, the greater chance you have of success.”

John Graham, President, SAP Canada said: “Clearly there is disagreement in Canada between senior leaders and those in non-senior roles over whether the business is ready to survive and compete in a digital world. The reasons for this vary across business and industry, but broadly speaking the solutions remain the same.

“It’s about communicating a company-wide digital vision with all employees, while continuously updating skill sets across the organization to give it the best chance of coming to fruition. Flattening the organization could help senior leaders in Canada bring digital-savvy, talented millennials (of which we know there is an abundance in the country) closer to the conversations that matter. Listening to young leaders and having more faith in them to help shape the future of the organization would be wise, too.”

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