Danish leaders pride themselves on developing people‘s skills and stretching their competencies.
Danes scored themselves highly on all statements relating to leadership and organisational purpose, and almost as high on staff empowerment
Denmark’s results give some insight into the benefits and difficulties of providing public service in a small country.
For example, its leaders reported strong teamwork and collaboration, which may be easier to achieve in a geographically small system. The Danes were 100% in agreement that they work well together in teams to generate and implement solutions, and they were more confident than peers in any other country about their efforts to collaborate outside their own teams.
However, as one might expect in a small country, finding people with the right skills to bring in change is not always easy; just 40% of leaders agreed they were able to do this. Perhaps because of this, once staff are in post, Danish leaders pride themselves on developing their skills and stretching their competencies (at least 80% agreement).
The Danes were the most positive of all leadership cohorts that being able to adapt to significant change is part of our organisation’s long-term strategy – 100% of them strongly agreed.
Ronnie Eriksson, public sector expert, PA Consulting, says that for at least the past 20 years, the government has been working with private sector partners to build an IT infrastructure connecting municipalities, regions and state agencies, so there is a “strong culture and tradition of collaboration”.
However, only 40% of Danish leaders agreed that technology is available or can be developed on demand or that digital is embedded in processes from the start – a finding that surprised Eriksson.
He says Denmark usually scores highest in international benchmarks on its use of digital technologies because the Danish government operates a ‘digital by default’ policy, where citizens are expected to engage with public services online unless they are granted an exemption.
“I think this is unique on the international scale. While in other countries it is still voluntary, we’ve been pushing this very strongly from a regulatory point of view and we have a digital-ready population,” he says.
This approach, along with the underlying IT infrastructure that has been developed, really proved its value as an enabler to responsiveness in the Covid pandemic, says Eriksson – in the survey, 100% of Danish leaders agreed that adapting to change has helped to develop capabilities that did not exist three years earlier.
“It has become very clear to politicians and senior leaders in public organisations that what they always thought was just boring IT stuff suddenly makes things happen at a very rapid pace, because you’re able to just build on top of what’s already there,” he says.
For example, it took Denmark just three months to build and implement a coronavirus passport scheme. “All the data was there, the basic infrastructure was there, and they were able to push it out to all citizens on a very effective scale. Whereas, in other countries, it seems to be a huge task.”
Eriksson hopes that politicians will realise it is vital for Denmark to keep investing in maintaining the IT infrastructure, so that momentum is not lost.
“We have to keep making sure that it is sustainable in the long run,” he says, adding: “We have a lot of legacy IT systems in the Danish public sector, and it will take some of the speed out of your new ability to respond if you have to work with 50-year-old systems that are only supported by one supplier.”
Only 10% of Danish survey participants said there was little unnecessary bureaucracy in their organisation – Danes were markedly more negative about this than their Nordic neighbours.
Eriksson was, again, surprised by this result: “I guess there is a tendency when you have a highly regulated system, a big welfare state and a lot of policy, then maybe it will feel like a lot of bureaucracy. I don’t know if it is any more bureaucratic than other countries but it is definitely a very heavy system.”
Danes scored themselves highly on all statements relating to leadership and organisational purpose, and almost as high on staff empowerment.
However, only four in ten agreed that bottlenecks are avoided by holding staff accountable for results, with the same number disagreeing – and just half agreed that individuals and teams have the autonomy to design and deliver their own solutions. Finding ways to improve autonomy and accountability could help to disperse these pinch points that stymie agility.