In what is possibly Sweden’s most publicly debated and criticized governmental organisation, we talk to the Head of Arbetsförmedlingen (Swedish employment agency) Mikael Sjöberg, about digitalisation, countrywide collaboration, and transformation.
How do you envisage the digital future of Arbetsförmedlingen?
Digital is transforming the public sector. At Arbetsförmedlingen in particular we work in an environment in which digitalisation is having an enormous impact.
My dream scenario is that we will create and manage an ecosystem with different partners from differing arenas. We may even join other ecosystems. Of course, it’s difficult to say exactly what our organisation will look like in the long-term, what is certain though is that as our customers – and by that I mean jobseekers and employers – transform, so must we. We need to be able to act quickly and adapt, both as an organisation and as individuals. But we need to do so without losing site of our vision and mission. Organisations that do that can quickly lose their way.
Getting back to your customers, what could digitalisation mean for them?
That’s something we’re exploring right now in a number of projects. It could be that in the future, initial interaction with Arbetsförmedlingen will be via a robot or another digital tool. As a jobseeker, for instance, you may receive a personal invitation for a meeting with an interactive tool rather than a person. Alternatively, the meeting might take place online with a personal advisor. Digitilisation offers amazing opportunities. It’s up to us to make sure we explore them and provide our customers with the right solutions.
How do you measure success?
It’s an interesting question. As a public organisation we have different demands put on us compared to a commercial company. Their first measure of success is if they still exist in the new digital environment. We need to think more like a business, and act in way that ensures we survive and thrive.
Having said that, a really tangible measure of success for Arbetsförmedlingen is attracting the competence we need to move forward in the way we want to. Ultimately, developing the right digital solutions for our customers comes down to having the right people working to deliver them.
“Digitilisation offers amazing opportunities. It’s up to us to make sure we explore them and provide our customers with the right solutions.”
How do you instil change and a sensation and inclusion across all Arbetsförmedlingen offices?
There’s always a lot of discussion about Arbetsförmedlingen in the public arena, which can put added pressure on our employees. But we all want to succeed. We all want to connect more companies with more jobseekers and help people get back into employment or find their first job. This mentality doesn’t change if you’re working at headquarters in Stockholm, in Jukkasjärvi, our mostly northerly location, or 2000km to the south in Malmö. For an organisation such as ours, we need to prove our worth by delivering results, which is what we constantly strive to do.
When everybody is working towards the same goals inclusion is much easier. But of course it’s important to invite representatives from the different locations into centrally driven projects. That’s exactly what’s happening in the week-long Daresay Design Sprint we’re running right now.
Speaking of Design Sprints, how does a fast, furious and collaborative way of working such as this impact an organisation such as Arbetsförmedlingen?
It’s good to introduce new ways of working and share them with colleagues, especially when you’re implementing a culture of transformation. This Design Sprint is a perfect example, as everybody can walk by, see what’s going on and interact with participants. It’s also an eye opener for me. Having participated for an hour, it gave me a real sense of wanting to get more involved. I can see how all business leaders could learn from the way decisions can be made quickly and collaboratively, as is a prerequisite in a Sprint. Not all decisions need to be taken at board level with extensive planning and research. Sometimes the quick decisions can turn out to be the best ones.
“I can see how all business leaders could learn from the way decisions can be made quickly and collaboratively, as is a prerequisite in a Sprint. Not all decisions need to be taken at board level with extensive planning and research. Sometimes the quick decisions can turn out to be the best ones.”
The head of Arbetsförmedlingen (l) with Project Leader and Sprint Decider (m), and Head of Employer Digital Services (r).
Lots of courageous decisions must have to be taken at Arbetsförmedlingen, how do you prioritise them?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to use the vision and mission as a guide, but with the focus on employers, job seekers and our staff. It’s about getting the right stakeholder balance, i.e. making changes that are internally efficient and provide better services for customers. And again, it has to be inclusive, so you need to ask yourself “How will this impact our eco-system?” Some decisions need to be about the here and now, while others will have a more long-term impact and therefore require more consideration.
Finally, can you be equally courageous in a public organisation as a commercial business?
I think it’s easier to take courageous decisions in a commercial business, as you’re not in the public eye as much and you don’t have the same regulative and political restraints. That’s not to say, all business leaders are courageous, or that there are no courageous leaders in public organisations, there are just different parameters. I do however believe we need more courageous leaders in general. For instance, in the future I believe we will see changes in country dynamics. There will be new successes and failures and the courage of a government will decide in which category a country lands.
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