July 26, 2016 Last Updated 5:49 pm

Study examines digital disruption in business, a problem publishers should be all too familiar with

Study from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital finds that a significant number of employees and executives ‘are prepared to leave companies that are falling behind in their digital transformations’

The study announced below, the Digital Business Study conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital, contains some warnings for businesses that are slow to deal with what the firms calls “the digital transformation habits of ‘digitally maturing’ companies.” Its warnings is that employees working at companies that are perceived to be slow to adapt may well be looking to leave.

“Nearly 90% of respondents to a 2015 global survey of managers and executives conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte1 anticipate that their industries will be disrupted by digital trends to a great or moderate extent, but only 44% say their organizations are adequately preparing for the disruptions to come,” the study warns.

The study finds that companies “are constrained by a lack of resources, a lack of talent, and the pull of other priorities, leaving executives to manage digital initiatives that either take the form of projects or are limited to activities within a given division, function, or channel.”

Well, we in publishing know all about this, don’t we? Our companies were slow to realize the impact of the Internet, often resistant to web publishing, many dismissive of digital advertising right up until the time that the effects of shifting budgets could be seen on the P&L.

I was stunned to find an announcement for this study arriving in my in-box mere seconds before the announcement for another study, this one shopper marketing. If publishers today are all-in with digital, or so they think, ask them about what they are doing in the area of shopper marketing. I know that two of the largest magazine publishers have in the past two years recruited shopper marketing professionals into their companies when executives there came to the conclusion that without shopper marketing talent on board they would lose out on digital ad campaigns. Both companies, in rounds of layoffs, then simply cut loose the talent they recruited and decided that their print ad people would simply have to handle the business.

The stories are all too familiar to me, as it reminds me of the way the newspaper and magazine industry approached the rise of Internet publishing in the nineties into the new century – in fits and starts, often losing their best people because they were not as committed to digital media as their executives said they were. It is the reason I am skeptical of what I hear from the big publishers, experience tells me they are simply saying things for the investor community. Most of the executives that run major publishing companies have never sold an ad in their lives, what makes you think they understand digital advertising? Because they read something in a trade journal, attended an event (where they likely heard of the enduring popularity of print)?

You can download the report for free here, simply register to receive a PDF copy.

Here is the announcement for the study:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –July 26, 2016 — More than half of employees surveyed at less digitally developed companies are ready to leave their organizations in less than three years, according to a new study released today by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital. The fifth annual Digital Business Study also found that approximately one third of SVPs, VPs and director-level leaders surveyed who do not have adequate access to resources and opportunities to develop and thrive in a digital environment expect to depart their company in less than one year.

The study, “Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future,” examines the digital transformation habits of “digitally maturing” companies and what sets them apart from “digitally early stage” companies. Among the key findings of this year’s study is the significant number of employees and executives who are prepared to leave companies that are falling behind in their digital transformations.

Based on a global survey of more than 3,700 business executives, managers and analysts from organizations around the world, the study also found that digitally maturing organizations place a decisive emphasis on recruiting and developing their workforces:

  • More than 75 percentof these organizations provide their employees with resources and opportunities to develop their digital acumen compared to only 14 percent of digitally early stage companies.
  • In addition, 71 percentof digitally maturing companies surveyed are able to attract new talent based on their use of digital technologies, while only 10 percent of their early stage peers can.

“Evolving to compete in an increasingly digital world, as well as retaining top talent, is about more than implementing additional and better technologies,” said Deloitte Digital’s Doug Palmer, co-author of the report and principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “The report found that digitally maturing companies have organizational cultures that share common features, including an expanded appetite for risk, rapid experimentation, heavy investment in talent and recruiting, and the development of leaders who excel at soft skills.”

In fact, only 18 percent of respondents listed technological skills as most important. The skills needed to lead companies in the digital era, according to the survey respondents, include having a transformative vision (22 percent), being a forward thinker (20 percent), having a change-oriented mindset (18 percent) or other leadership and collaborative skills (22 percent).


Additional analysis of this year’s study found three distinct cultural mindsets that relate closely to corporate stages of digital maturity. Some characteristics include:

  • Low appetite for risk– This mindset is common among early stage digital organizations. In addition to being risk adverse, early stage companies tend to have a hierarchical leadership structure, conduct work in silos, and make decisions based more on instinct rather than hard data.
  • Experimentation and speed– Conversely, digitally maturing companies value experimentation and speed, embrace risk, and create distributed leadership structures.
  • Collaboration– Digitally maturing companies also foster collaboration and are more likely to use data in decision making.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents surveyed from digitally maturing entities indicate their companies are actively engaged in initiatives that bolster risk taking, agility and collaboration. For early stage companies, the number falls to 23 percent.

“What this tells us is that developing a digital culture may require significant shifts in corporate behavior,” said Gerald (Jerry) Kane, guest editor at MIT Sloan Management Review and associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College and co-author of the report. “To navigate the complexity of digital business, executives should consider aligning their organizations’ cultures, people, structures and tasks to advance their companies’ digital congruence strategies.”

“Many companies are responding to an increasingly digital market environment by adding roles with a digital focus, or changing traditional roles so that they have a digital orientation. The list of ‘digital’ business roles and functions is extensive and growing,” says David Kiron, executive editor at MIT Sloan Management Review. “What stands out, and what our research shows, is that nearly 90 percent of digitally maturing organizations are integrating their digital strategies with their companies’ overall strategies.”

The MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital business study is based on findings from the fifth annual global survey of more than 3,700 business executives, managers and analysts from organizations around the world. The survey, conducted in the fall of 2015, captured insights from individuals in 131 countries across 27 industries, including organizations of various sizes. Digital maturity was measured by asking respondents to “imagine an ideal organization transformed by digital technologies and capabilities that improve processes, engage talent across the organization and drive new value-generating business models.” Respondents then rated their company against that ideal on a scale of 1 to 10. Three maturity groups were observed, “early” (1-3), “developing” (4-6) and “maturing” (7-10).

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