Leaders can get a long way by being kind
This article was first published on Dagens Perspektiv
PA Consulting has carried out a large European survey of the important leadership qualities needed after COVID. That research shows regimes of fear and control do not work, it is the kind and generous leaders who will succeed in driving innovation forward.
In the report "A new way to lead", PA Consulting interviewed 300 managers from the USA, the UK and several other countries in Europe. The pandemic has definitely had an impact on the way organisations should be managed going forward. It has become clear that managers can be divided into two categories. "Revitalising" managers continue to prioritise growth, change, and invest heavily in innovation. Their counterparts are the "survivors", who only focus on cost cutting and spend most time on maintaining their current business model.
Room for error
Who are these good, revitalising leaders? The cream of the crop is Rune Bjerke. Bjerke survived a financial crisis and came out stronger. He digitised DnB away from being a branch bank to, what is in practice, a technology company. DnB has stood firm and promoted Vipps as the dominant payment solution against strong competition from both international and other Nordic players.
So what does it mean to be kind? Bjerke carried out a tough downsizing in 2016 when branches were closed as user behaviour changed. The bank went from 200,000 online banking logins in 2013 to over 15 million logins in 2015. The change was perceived at the time as perhaps not being kind, but was necessary.
Where, however, Rune Bjerke was kind was in addressing innovation in his own organisation. Bjerke really understood that innovation does not happen in a straight line, but arises through trial and error. He gave internal contractors enough leeway and room to make mistakes, and not least he set aside enough resources for development.
Control regimes in health institutions
The counterpart to Bjerke's generous approach to innovation management is the way in which many of Norway’s health enterprises are managed. They are examples of control regimes. Naturally, their starting point is different, because when dealing with patients' lives and sensitive health information, you must have good controls. Nevertheless, there should be considerably more room for good innovation management in the health sector.
It is a myth that all doctors and nurses are against technology, but they do not have the right framework to contribute to innovation. They are affected by a culture where managers keep a tight grip on development, leaving zero room for error. Healthcare workers are terrified of doing things in new ways because of a culture of fear and regimes focused on control. At the same time, it is innovation budgets that are cut first when they wield the money saving axe.
Nevertheless, there are positive examples of innovation in the health sector. Helse Førde is the birthplace of good technological innovations, and has, among other things, fostered the development of the Norse Feedback and Pust Deg Bedre solutions in collaboration with private business. These solutions would never have been developed if leaders had not encouraged clinicians with good ideas and given them time, money and the opportunity to try and fail.
These examples show that innovation in the health sector is possible, but it requires a new look at how to lead in order to create that innovation. You can get a long way with a generous and kind attitude when dealing with innovation in your own business.