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29. June 2017

The digital future starts now – but where are the bosses?

Study reveals an alarming lack of awareness

If you ask the right question, you might get surprising answers. A study by the personnel-consulting agency Heidrick & Struggles shows an alarming cluelessness among leading executives when it comes to the digitisation of their company. Are they concerning themselves with the wrong issues when the great tech revolution should be in their hands?

Execs are using Facebook, Twitter and streaming platforms

1,000 German executives from different industry sectors were polled for the survey, answering questions about their ‘digital lifestyle’. A somewhat vague categorisation, and one in which the participants graded themselves with a B minus. So let’s look at the individual areas from which the digital lifestyle in question is compiled. 81 percent of the people surveyed think of themselves as active users of social networks such as Facebook, Xing, Twitter and other platforms. 71 percent are using messaging services like WhatsApp. 61 percent are looking for information about hotels and restaurants. And 51 percent are streaming TV shows. All in all, no less tech-savvy than the average person and certainly worth a B minus.

Hey ground control, what’s going on?

Utilizing digital services in your spare time is all well and good, but the survey paints a different picture concerning the professional environment. Looking at the field of ‘digitisation and the company’, several answers give cause for concern.

  • 65 percent of the persons interviewed have never been involved in ab digital project in their company.
  • 24 percent are involved ‘from time to time’ while only 11 percent are ‘heavily involved’.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this, both of them not exactly reassuring:

  • Many executives are not aware of the significance of the digital transformation happening in all economic sectors.
  • Digitisation of the companies is not happening holistically, but only in certain departments or projects. It is implemented by just a handful of employees and for the most part does not include the executives.

The question concerning further education in the field of digitisation paints a more optimistic picture. 60 percent of the survey’s participants state they have acquired a basic knowledge of IT issues, hopefully meaning more than loitering about on Facebook, Xing and other platforms. 52 percent of the executives claim to have visited at least one IT seminar, while 26 percent see themselves as a bona fide ‘techie’. 9 percent, however, are by their own admission not interested in IT at all. According to them, digital technology just has to work. They just as well could have said the future doesn’t interest them, it only has to turn up.

Study shows a dangerous self-deception

The study by Heidrick & Struggles is worrying because it tells us a lot about German executives and their view of digitisation. Whenever it is convenient (WhatsApp) or fun (Facebook, Twitter), everybody’s on board. But as soon as there is some personal effort involved, only a general inclination to take part is expressed. Who knows if that willingness actually translates into taking the necessary steps? If Heidrick & Struggles had asked ‚Would you like to become a better person?‘, they would have received the same amount of positive feedback.

If executives knew how just pivotal the role of digitisation is for the future of their companies, surely more than 35 percent would have participated in digital projects. The study reveals a fundamental self-deception within the ranks of executives, because being active on Facebook and Twitter isn’t really digitising your company. It’s just a part of it – and a small one at that. And this self-deception could seriously blow up in their faces.

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