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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Swedish style extends to the boardroom
Sven Goran Eriksson
Swedish soccer manager Sven Goran Eriksson has taken the England team from bottom of their group in the World Cup qualifying rounds to the top. BBC News Online's David Walker looks at how Swedish management style may have played a part.

Japanese management style is out, Swedish management style seems to be in, thanks to Sven Goran Eriksson and his current success as coach of the England football team.

As Japan struggles with economic reforms following years as the industrial model for many countries, the easy style of Mr Eriksson and the impact he has had on the England squad are leading many to question if there is something we can learn from the Scandinavian approach.

Swedes are relatively non-hierarchical - the power distance between the top of society and the bottom is relatively small

Julian Birkinshaw, London Business School
Julian Birkinshaw, of the London Business School, has spent three years studying Swedish management style and told the BBC's World Today programme that it has a number of distinctive characteristics.

"It is very consensus oriented and fairly pragmatic," he said. "Egos do not get in the way of making good decisions.

"It is a funny combination of very plain speaking discussions as well as very polite ones, whereas in England we tend to talk around issues and often be quite confrontational.

"It is ultimately an empowerment model, that is to say, dissent is encouraged, senior managers listen to junior people and solicit their opinions. These things together mean that good decisions are made."

Although empowerment in the workplace has been talked about in Britain and America for many years, Mr Birkinshaw says there is something in the national culture of Sweden which makes it a more natural process.

"Research has been done in this area and the Swedes have been shown to be collectivistic rather than individualistic, similar to many oriental cultures in that respect.

Swedish flags
Sweden has developed its own economic model
"Swedes are relatively non-hierarchical - the power distance between the top of society and the bottom is relatively small."

The Swedish ideal of consensus came through in an interview Mr Eriksson gave in the lead up to England's vital World Cup game with Albania on Wednesday night, which they won 2-0.

Warning against complacency, he said: "The day you lose respect for your staff, your team-mates, and, most of all, your opposition, is the day you will go down."

He is also reluctant to allocate blame.

He conceded that Germany - despite losing 5-1 to England last Saturday - missed some good chances, but refused to criticise the England defence, saying: "You must work as a team in all areas to prevent these opportunities from occurring but it is something we can work on."

Feminine qualities

During its long periods of political stability, the country developed what became known as "the Swedish model" - a mixed economy based on public-private partnerships, with centralised wage deals and a heavily subsidised social security network.

Holding up this national infrastructure is a population displaying strong "feminine" qualities making Swedes - male and female - more inclined to nurture and take care of people.

Unlike many other European countries, it is considered quite normal for men take time off work to look after children.

Stockholm skyline
Sweden looks for consensus in the workplace

"All of these characteristics make Sweden and other Nordic countries quite distinct from say the Anglo-Saxon model or the Latin model," says Mr Birkinshaw.

But it is not all good news. There can be cost to this style of management.

"The risk is perhaps an obvious one that, if you let go and empower people to do as they see fit you are putting an awful lot of trust in the individual. If it backfires, well, think of Nick Leeson and Barings Bank. You are basically acting on trust."

Similarities with Japanese systems of management exist - reaching decisions through a consensual process has led to the Swedes being referred to as the Japanese of Europe.

But the Japanese business model has become rigid, which has it difficult for them to change, says Mr Birkinshaw.

Turning companies around

"You have to unpack all the things that have happened in Japan and say some of them were good, some of them were not so good.

"The Swedes are very good at turning their companies around and making the lay-offs they need to.

"So we can draw this parallel with Japanese management style but I wouldn't stretch it too far because I think it is very different as well."

However, any companies rushing to hire Nordic managers on the qualities of Sven Goran Eriksson had better bear one thing in mind.

He has spent many years in southern European football, most famously with Italian team Lazio.

Some experts argue that those experiences charged him, making him adopt more of a game that focuses on individuals.

Julian Birkinshaw, London Business School
"Egos do not get in the way of good decisions."
See also:

01 Nov 00 | UK
What is the 'Swedish way'?
30 Oct 00 | World Cup 2002
Man with the Midas touch
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