‘We have a totally different management style’: what makes Sweden the world’s most responsive government?

By on 23/11/2021 | Updated on 02/02/2022
The Swedish prime minister's office is located in Rosenbad in Stockholm. Photo by Holger.Ellgaard

Sweden came out at the top of a whole host of rankings in the Responsive Government Survey 2021, conducted by Global Government Forum and PA Consulting. Richard Johnstone takes a look at the data to find out what the lessons might be

Sweden stands out as the world’s most responsive government, according to the responses of its leaders to the Responsive Government Survey. It stands atop the rankings for responsiveness across categories including ability to work at place, empowerment, autonomy and accountability, use of evidence, and available tools and resources.

Its high scores made it easily the most positive of all the nine countries surveyed.

These high confidence ratings continue across the different aspects of the report. 60% of leaders responding from Sweden agreed that there was little unnecessary bureaucracy in their organisation – a high that it shared with Norway – compared to just 12% of senior civil servants in the UK, for example.

The respondents also said that the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has helped it develop capabilities that were not present pre-Covid. Sweden was also among the top countries (New Zealand and Denmark being the others) that were most confident in their ability to adapt to significant change is part of their long-term strategy.

These same three countries’ leaders also think they are able to proactively seek to anticipate and respond to changing citizen/stakeholder needs, and can operate in an environment where diverse teams can be assembled at short notice to solve problems. This group is also the most confident they can continually develop the skills and capabilities of their workforce.

Among the leadership cohorts, Sweden again outpaced all other nations on questions of empowerment and autonomy – a reflection of the ‘high trust’ culture promoted by Swedish employers in all sectors. Along with Nordic colleagues in Denmark and Norway, Swedes also scored highly on agreeing that it is “always clear who is accountable for the actions and decisions made at each level of this organisation”.

Leaders in Sweden, as well as colleagues in the US and Norway, also had significantly more confidence than those in other countries that “the technology we require is available or can be developed and that digital technologies are fully embedded in policymaking and service design process from the outset”.

They were also the most confident that they would get the resources they needed, with 60% of the leadership group surveyed strongly agreeing that their budget was sufficient.

Trust, experimentation and risk taking

So, what is the story behind these high ratings? Given the consistently high ratings for Sweden in the World Happiness Report, it might be that Swedish civil servants are as satisfied with their life professionally as they are personally.

But there could be other – more managerial – explanations, that provide lessons for other governments around the world.

Dani Dawoodson Razmgah, chief customer officer at the Swedish Companies Registration Office, said in the report that the high scores were the result of what he called “a totally different management style”.

He added: “I don’t know how to directly translate it, but we have some kind of trust in each other. They give you the ‘what’ to do, but the ‘how’ to do it is up to you, within a frame of course. But I also know that if I don’t deliver what is expected, I don’t have a job any more.”

Indeed, empowerment and autonomy was another area where Sweden was top of the charts, a reflection of this high trust culture. The Swedes’ willingness to trust their people also manifests in their appetite for experimentation and risk-taking – they were, again, the most bullish on most statements about supporting staff to develop new ideas and solutions.

“If you think about the 80/20 rule that says 80% of the people are doing the right things but 20% are not following the rules or not delivering, then we take the view that instead of checking up on everyone, let’s just check on that 20% instead,” said Dani Dawoodson Razmgah. “And that’s why I think this survey shows that people here are quite happy – it is a good place to work.”

Read the Responsive Government Survey in full here.

Global Government Forum and PA Consulting will present the findings of the Responsive Government Survey during a webinar on 20 January 2022 – register here for Responsive government: investigating the agility of the civil service in nine countries

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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