Why Sweden's municipalities need a cultural strategy
An extensive reorganisation of governance and management in Swedish municipalities is currently underway. Roughly speaking, this is a counter-movement against the formalistic control and focus on measurable goals of New Public Management. The idea of being able to control organisations from above using vertically broken down targets has meant that many of the public sector's competent and idea-driven employees have had to spend far too much of their time reporting instead of doing their job.
"It is about an improved working environment, strengthened core activities, increased efficiency, flexibility and user focus, reduced unnecessary administration and an employee leadership where people are allowed, willing and able to take the initiative."
The goals the trust delegation is aiming for are attractive. It is about an improved work environment, strengthened core business, increased efficiency, flexibility and user focus, reduced unnecessary administration and an employeeship where people are allowed, willing and able to take the initiative.
One of the reasons why the Trust Delegation has had such an impact in the Swedish public sector is that people recognise themselves in the Trust Delegation's description of the reality of the public sector. Many recognise the problems, but they also see the potential in increasing trust in employees and professions. They see how increased trust will release more power to act and create more customer or user value.
"The formal part of the transition, that of governance and its structure, is important, but the development towards greater trust that is now being sought is, in our view, at least as much about culture, about a changed culture."
The transition currently underway in Sweden's municipalities is about changing the municipalities' formal governance models, i.e. adapting governance to promote trust and action in the organisation. This includes allowing organisations to relate to their basic mission, which is often statutory, and reducing the number of imposed goals and focus areas. Control and follow-up are replaced by dialogue and collaboration.
The formal part of the transition, that of governance and its structure, is important, but the development towards greater trust that is now sought is, in our opinion, at least as much about culture, about a changed culture.
The management systems that have characterised administrations for a long time have created habits and behavioural patterns among managers and employees. Some personalities have benefited from the emphasis on control and formal governance, while others have been disadvantaged. The transition to trust-based governance and management entails a cultural change in which the view of leaders, employees, users or customers is revised and renewed. Our experience after 25 years of working with cultural change around the world is that the control system is much easier to change than the culture and people's behaviour. This is why Swedish municipalities need a strategy for how to adapt their culture to new conditions.
What is a cultural strategy?
A cultural strategy for trust-based governance and management means that the municipality has taken stock of its current situation. Finding out the current cultural situation means making visible the behaviour that characterises the organisation today, e.g.: How do we lead? How do we meet? How do we co-operate? Who are our heroes today? The current state of the culture needs to be set against an equally clear picture of what the culture needs to look like for us to be an organisation that leads and creates results based on trust.
"By making the impact of culture on performance and results explicit, culture becomes a powerful tool for the organisation."
As the picture of the current situation emerges, it needs to become clear which parts of the culture favour trust-based governance and management and which current behaviours stand in the way.
By making the impact of culture on performance and results explicit, culture becomes a powerful management tool for the organisation. An instrument with unrivalled potential that complements formal governance and makes the whole stronger and more credible. A cultural strategy describes and anchors awareness of the development required and the changes people in the organisation are facing in relation to the vision and objectives.
In our meetings with municipalities, we see that organisational culture is often not a strategic priority for local government. Culture is what it is and there are scattered attempts to nudge it in the right direction. Few have taken a proper grip on the issue and really incorporated it into the management of administrations and companies. Here we at YesP have a lot to contribute to today's development. We can support the process of developing a strategy and then help the organisation to gradually work with the required change.
We have the practical experience of making culture the key competitive factor for large and complex organisations.
Feel free to take contact with us for a conversation about your journey!