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Intercultural Management - Sweden

Being a Manager in Sweden
Management Guide Sweden

Effective cross cultural management will bear in mind that the Swedish like to treat all people with equal respect and deference. Avoid "hard sell" techniques and use direct communication without hyperbole or superlatives. Focus on arriving for meetings punctually and making the most productive use of the available time. Swedish like to get down to the business at hand as swiftly and efficiently as possible. They generally say what they think and expect others to do the same.

The Role of a Manager

Cross cultural management needs to recognize that Swedish value the specialized knowledge that employees at all levels bring. In Sweden, as in most egalitarian cultures, positions of authority are earned largely on the basis of individual achievement and people at all levels of the organization, while respecting authority, are free to aspire to those positions.

The role of the leader is to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.

Approach to Change

Sweden’s intercultural competence and readiness for change is low, meaning that social change is difficult to bring about and the idea of it is not received with enthusiasm. The underlying belief is that change may threaten the social fabric.

Even though they are cautious in business, they are some of the most rapid high-tech innovators in the world. In order for change to take hold, however, it needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group. Intercultural sensitivity is needed as Sweden’s attitude toward risk is dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Sweden is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In Sweden missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence. People in controlled-time cultures tend to have their time highly scheduled, and it’s generally a good idea to provide and adhere to performance milestones.

Effective cross-culture management skill will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.

Decision Making

Swedish organizations are relatively flat with few management levels. Matrix organizations are common and employees often report to more than one manager.

Swedish management style is based on the premise that all work has value and that employees come to work wanting to do a good job. Swedish managers see themselves as coaches rather than as autocratic rule-makers. They guide subordinates and pride themselves on being good listeners. Subordinates are free to solve unexpected problems without referring the matter to the manager.

Status is not very important in Swedish companies. Any employee of a company can approach the Managing Director. Employees downplay their achievements and do not expect to be praised for doing their jobs well.

Cross cultural management needs to understand the Swedish fundamental belief in an egalitarian society. This means they support a participative management style.

Boss or Team Player?

The role of the leader is to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Cross cultural communication should be relatively straight forward when dealing with the Swedish. Swedes prefer to get down to business quickly. Swedes are tough negotiators. Mid or low level managers can make decisions. Decision-making is often slow because Swedes are consensus driven. Efficiency is important. Proposals will be viewed from this perspective. Swedes avoid confrontation. Be alert for a non-committal phrase that denotes a negative response. Swedes use silence to think before speaking and to avoid confrontation. Do not continue speaking simply because the other party is silent. Swedes do not interrupt others who are speaking. Verbal contracts will be followed, although written agreements are quite common.

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