Ethics as a means of setting minds free


02/05/2012 09:14

Nick Allentoft

Offentlige medarbejdere skal blive bedre i stand til at tænke og handle af egen kraft, men det forudsætter frigørelse og opgør med mikroledelse, skriver direktør Lärke Johns I Effektiviserings-stafetten, og peger på, at løsningen er, at udstyre offentligt ansatte med friheden til at bruge egne kompetencer og kompasset til at finde den rigtige vej.

Lärke Johns, Director at Krus, Swedish Council for Strategic Human Resources Development

As head of Krus , I’m happy to pick up the baton regarding the question of how ethics can make a difference when new services are being co-created across sectors.

Do ethics actually make a real difference in effectively developing the services we want? How can values such as “democracy” promote innovation and modern solutions?

Citizens trust – a prerequisite for the welfare state

Let’s start with an observation: despite the challenges of decreasing growth and changes in demographics, Scandinavian countries show no signs of being prepared to abandon the idea of a high-quality welfare state financed by high taxation.

This achievement has been a major democratic project over many years and challenges. It has also been an exercise in trust. It could not have been carried out without the confidence of our citizens.

The politically-led institutions and organizations delivering this today are knowledge-based organizations operating in increasing complexity. Their continued success depends on two things:

- Staff able to transfer their education, professional skills and knowledge into operations

- The ability of their managers to create and sustain an organizational culture that promotes both individual learning and shared understandings

In other words: civil servants need to be able to think for themselves. They need to embody the skills and abilities to deal with – and succeed with – complexity without being micro-managed.

Our challenge – and our task as leaders – is to create the conditions for this, whilst ensuring a crystal-clear understanding of the values our organizations uphold and represent for the citizens we serve.

We “level-up” in complexity

The current challenges - and opportunities – have significantly raised the bar for us all:

1. Decrease in finance means pressures for efficiency, renewal and innovation in both approaches and solutions. Technical developments open up a new world of possibilities. This is a cocktail that fuels an accelerating drive for on-going change, and a combination that has long driven the private sector.

2. The interaction between sectors is increasing. Building on the mobility of the labor force between sectors is a vital element of any successful competence strategy. There are new partnerships between the private and the public sector to deliver services.

Yet, besides shared aspirations of contributing to welfare and growth, these sectors also have very separate goals, if not ways, for operations. While the private company aims for profit, the public sector must safeguard fundamental values for society.

3. We no longer operate in a domestic vacuum. Internationalization has a growing impact. We are bound by EU legislation, international law and new agreements. Civil servants in our countries need to respond to these, as well as changing political aspirations and cultural codes, while still clearly acting as representatives of fundamental values.

Civil servants need to effectively manage themselves

How then, can we create the organizational culture and competences needed to succeed in all this complexity? How do we not only enable civil servants and our organizations to deliver and develop services effectively, but also ensure our citizens continued trust in this work, and guarantee the future success of this democratic project?

It is probably safe to say that there is no great lack of legislation, regulations and rules governing the sector. We are all very aware of the presence of ‘the law’, and rightly so.

But how do we put the fundamental value of objectivity into play in new situations and innovative processes? What exactly does it mean to honor the value of ‘democracy’ on a practical level? Workplace democracy? Obeying any elected politician or agenda, no matter what my personal or professional beliefs?

One clear cut answer is: equip and empower civil servants to use their competence and judgment. Give them a compass to enable them to navigate through various situations and ‘manage’ themselves.

No matter if you work in the Social Insurance Agency, in the police force or in a ministry, there should be certain fundamental values that guide how you - and your colleagues -should try to solve operational tasks.

Public ethos - transferring values into practice

So far in Sweden, the work with shared values for civil servants has been under the label Public Ethos, and coordinated by Krus. It is supported by toolboxes, training programs and arenas for dialogue, development and transfer of best practices (see links below). Ethics, and ability to transfer fundamental values into practice, must be competences held by the individual and supported by the civil service.

What is becoming clear is such values can, however, be used as quality criteria, clear to those within – and outside – the organization.

Identifying, clarifying, simplifying and reinforcing such values also have the real potential to liberate- and empower- creative thinking in our staff and in our organizations. They can act not only as guidelines, but as professional imperatives and driving forces for smarter solutions, for innovation and renewal.

And this great democratic project – the welfare state – needs all of this. Our civil services face great challenges from within and without. In heavy seas, a good compass has always been vital.
Krus welcomes this debate, and certainty to hearing and learning more.

I thereby pass the baton to…

Mats Sjöstrand, former DG for the Swedish Tax Agency, and some groundbreaking work transforming one of the least popular government agencies into one of the most respected.


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