“The pandemic has shown the importance of working with decentralised and transformative leadership in the long term. Companies that previously had a functioning leadership model with delegated decision-making have managed the pandemic's structural challenges better”, according to Oskar Almén at PA Consulting, who has served on the jury for Leader of the Year for three years.
Sweden was an early adopter of a leadership model where decision-making is pushed out into the organisation and everyone takes their decentralised responsibility. This decentralised leadership is also something that characterises the majority of winners of the Leader of the Year award, which has now been running for over three decades.
“Globally, there will be winners and losers in all sectors in the future. The winners are those who can quickly transform and meet the demands of the new normal, both in terms of digital processes and the ability to control and lead an organisation without having to gather everyone together in one room ", says Oskar Almén.
It is, he says, not an individual innovative idea that is the decisive factor, but how to create a structure that allows you to be continuously innovative throughout your organisation, and how to enforce rapid adjustments and changes. During the first twelve weeks of the pandemic, a move to digitisation took place that would have previously taken five or six years.
“The leadership required is about the ability to define where in the value chain one should be in five to ten years, what the company's core business should be and what needs other players can satisfy in an even better, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way. We are probably talking about an increased degree of automation with redundancies and retraining of staff and, perhaps, completely new distribution channels. It is not just about looking into the crystal ball, but also about daring to act and enforce the digital transformation in the new normal ", adds Oskar Almén.
Is decentralised leadership a model that suits everyone?
“You will still want an element of oversight. It is always difficult to know what people are actually doing. I think we need to work more in groups as that creates dynamism and energy. In that context, diversity is important not only in variables such as gender and ethnicity, but also in the diversity of ideas in decision-making. These present themselves more easily in exchanges between individuals at different levels and with different experiences ”.
How important is clarity in decentralised leadership?
“The decentralised model requires a clear framework. If we look back to last year's winner, Björn Rosengren, he set the direction for Sandvik with clear expectations of results. It was then up to the division heads to decide how to achieve that goal. Everyone wants clarity, regardless of their level. Decentralising an organisation does not mean letting people out of your sight ", he says. He continues: “As a matter of principle, I do not believe that the same level of creativity can be achieved with centralised decision-making, nor do I believe that authoritarian or hierarchical leadership works in a knowledge-based economy. That kind of leadership does not unleash positive creative forces in people”.
There have been a number of leadership trends before. Do they work today?
“If you look at Fordism, which was developed in Henry Ford's car factories, where everyone worked according to the assembly line principle, it would not be something that suits today's knowledge society. On the other hand, one can perhaps discern a new era of Fordism in the developing demand for specialist knowledge that characterises today's service sector. This is particularly clear in, among other areas, consulting services and business law, where experts are required to keep up with developments in a number of different areas. It is no longer enough to be a generalist with a certain amount of specialisation, but to go as far as to talk Fordism in Swedish business would maybe be too bold ”.
Is Anders Tegnell an example of a decentralised leader, since the responsibility has been placed with the individual?
"Yes I think so. The overall instructions we have received from the FHM have generally worked for us because we live in a democratic society where individuals are used to taking responsibility. But I believe that the high degree of digitalisation in large parts of society is what has really made us able to live up to decentralised responsibility and be able to keep Swedish business afloat during the pandemic, which has not worked as well in some other countries. We have a habit of working digitally, and of decentralised working. You work a little, pick up from preschool, attend a virtual meeting, submit today's report, and do what you have to do, but in a more flexible way, showing great responsibility and loyalty to your assignment ”.
How has the corona crisis affected your business?
“We, like everyone else, have become extremely dependent on working remotely. We work on projects and, as we are consultants, we are also used to working flexibly. As long as we can do things remotely, it is a very positive experience. We also have many long-term relationships with our customers. The challenge in our industry is meeting new customers and creating growth, and just like all other professions, the current situation is presenting a major social challenge, where the impact of the lack of seemingly simple things, like a summer party, is enormous. We are herd animals, after all. We also need to be creative in developing solutions to our customers' challenges, and that creativity often arises when we meet each other. On a personal level, I have three key words that I prioritise for teleworking: being clear, visible and brave ”.