German companies losing ground on innovation: Survey

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 27 Aug 2018


German technology company Continental has published a new representative, four-country survey highlighting the extent to which employees in Germany, China, Japan and the U.S.A. recognise the importance of innovations. When it comes to innovation culture, however, the study reveals a number of shortcomings.

The study finds that in Germany, for example, the working environment in many companies is not considered to be conducive to innovation. Although German employees are interested in new technologies and see innovation as a task for all employees, few companies have so far implemented specific measures to promote innovation. Only 30 percent of German respondents feel that their working environment promotes innovation; in Japan, this figure is as low as 21 percent. By international standards, the US (45%) and China (54%) are the clear leaders when it comes to innovation culture.

On behalf of Continental, the market and opinion research institute YouGov surveyed 4,500 employees over 18 years of age in Germany, the USA, China and Japan. The study was carried out online in July 2018. The results are representative for the group of employees.

Continental says in contrast to many German organisations, it recognised early on that innovation is a key success factor in the digitalised world of work – and that is its own employees who are driving precisely these innovations. “To secure the company’s long-term success, companies need to create a culture in which employees are willing to not only embrace change but also actively promote it,” said Dr Ariane Reinhart, executive Board Member for Human Relations at Continental.

Expressing his concerns on the findings of the survey on innovation culture in German companies, Dr Reinhart said, “The results are worrying. Without a strong innovation culture, German companies are at risk of losing ground against international companies. Digital transformation further increases the pressure to act. Thanks to the company-wide measures we have implemented here at Continental, we have over many years successfully demonstrated how, as a major international company with more than 243,000 employees, we can promote innovation in our own company, remain agile and actively involve our employees in the change.”

It says by doing so, the technology company focuses on four central themes: agile, team-oriented leadership based on the four corporate values; diversity; flexible working models, including for our production employees; and fresh inspiration through its own startup program.

The results of the Continental survey show that the employees surveyed recognise the importance of innovation. But it is equally clear that innovation culture is still in its infancy in many companies. Germany, the USA and Japan still have some catching up to do here.

Low interest in technology in Germany – China leads the way
A third of Germans (32%) are interested in new technologies such as collaboration tools, business apps and artificial intelligence in the company. The interest in Germany is roughly the same as in the USA (30%) and Japan (28%). Leading the way, however, is China, where almost two thirds of respondents (63%) – twice as many as in the other three countries – are passionate about the state-of-the-art technology. This reflects China's ambitions to become internationally competitive through advanced technologies and a fresh innovation drive.

Germans see innovation as a joint task of the workforce and management
Despite the rather low interest in new technologies, the German employees surveyed clearly recognised (38%) that every employee is responsible for innovation and that it should be promoted by everyone. In the US, 41 percent have a similar view, while in Japan and China only 17 percent and 25 percent respectively agree. Interestingly, 40 percent of Chinese workers and 36 percent of Japanese workers believe that management personnel and company management are responsible for innovation, and around 32 percent in Germany and as little as 18 percent in the US share this opinion.

Promoting innovation – a lack of measures in Germany 
The survey findings say that although many employees are aware of the importance of innovation in the workplace, not enough specific measures designed to foster innovation have been implemented in the day-to-day work routine. The employees lack not only an environment in which they can work creatively and try out new things, but also the financial and technical resources needed to put their ideas and projects into practice. Only 30 percent of German respondents state that their company has created a working environment that is conducive to innovation; in Japan, this figure is just 21 percent. By contrast, more than 50 percent of Chinese employees and 45 percent of American employees state that their company offers an innovation-friendly climate.

And when it comes to specific measures designed to promote new ideas in the company, Germany is still in the starting blocks. Just 14 percent of respondents stated that they had received the necessary resources from their employer to implement new projects. Only 17 percent of respondents felt that they had the freedom to pursue innovative ideas during working hours outside of their day-to-day work, while only 9 percent felt that they had the opportunity to draw inspiration from external sources, for example at events. In China, however, companies are providing intensive support for their employees.

Almost one in two Chinese companies (45%) support their employees in the development of new ideas by offering financial resources or technology. Respondents in one in three companies (33%) stated that their company offers a creative work environment, while 28 percent of employees stated that they have the opportunity to spend part of their working time on innovation projects.

Representational images courtesy Daimler