From being in control to being in the know – a Tax Agency in (constant) change

On January 30, 1976, civilian-clad police stormed into the middle of a rehearsal of Strindberg’s play The Dance of Death at Dramaten to seise world-famous director Ingmar Bergman. Bergman was suspected of tax evasion – a suspicion that was later dismissed, and the charges were dropped. However, the event gained international attention, and Prime Minister Olof Palme uttered a soon-to-be famous sentiment: the Swedish people do not want a police and control state looming over them.

More than 40 years have passed since then, and the Swedish Tax Agency has worked hard in recent decades to become a service authority where taxpayers are regarded as customers. Whether the customer is a private person, a company or an organisation, they should receive good service and support to be able to do the right thing easily.

– The big change now is that we are supposed to be in the customer’s environment, says Daniela Eriksson, HR director at the Swedish Tax Agency. We need to develop our own business and enable the Swedish Tax Agency, together with other public and private actors, to be able to adapt and simplify based on the customer’s different situations.

Replacing the employee survey

In order to drive continued change, the Swedish Tax Agency needed to replace its previous employee survey to something that could more actively support business development. The Agerus method is based on dialogues about sustainable performance.

About Skatteverket

The Swedish Tax Agency, with about 10 000 employees, administers taxes, the population registration and estate inventories.

– The old employee survey did not fit in with us anymore, says Ulrika Lindhoff, who is an HR developer at the Swedish Tax Agency. The classic employee survey asks whether or not I like my job. That may be interesting to know, but what do you do with that information? Managers at all levels should provide their employees with the right prerequisites, and then the dialogue on sustainable performance can be pursued. The method also incorporates a kind of self-leadership that we want to see at the Swedish Tax Agency, where we unleash the power of all employees in the business through a dialogue where everyone can be heard and actively involved.

The Swedish Tax Agency’s vision is to make society possible, together.

– The concept of togetherness is important for us at the Swedish Tax Agency. Employees must understand where we are and where we are going and see how they are affected and can contribute to the journey. It is absolutely crucial then that there is a context and a direction that we talk about together, says Daniela Eriksson.

A clear mission

The dialogue about sustainable performance is based on the work assignment that all individuals and groups have in an organisation.

– At the Swedish Tax Agency we look at the assignment and have a dialogue about it. After the assignment has been established, we use dialogue on sustainable performance to ensure the right prerequisites for succeeding at the job and thus create the commitment needed for the move we want to make.

– We have worked a lot on what words we use in this context, says Ulrika Lindhoff. We decided not to mention survey and measurement because the most important thing is that we drive development in the business – not that we get a result based on the organisational structure. And if you want to carry out the dialogue based on a different structure than the organisational chart, do so. The groups choose for themselves when they want and need to do so.

Team-based and cross-functional

– Classic measurements follow an organisational structure. We work increasingly agile, team-based and cross-functional, says Daniela Eriksson. Dialogue on sustainable performance can be used in temporary groups and projects outside the line organisation to aid in clarifying what the group’s assignment is.

Ownership of the group is very important and means that no results from the dialogues are shared with senior managers at the Swedish Tax Agency. Once a year only, the Swedish Tax Agency management group takes part in how the employees of the Swedish Tax Agency as a whole feel about their prerequisites.

Group responsibility and ownership

– That was both unusual and a little scary in the beginning, says Daniela Eriksson, because we scrapped something that was always done in the past. Previous measurement results have provided comfort, as they gave us something to adhere to and follow. It is often the case that the management team is given a summary of the figures and then produces a list of measures. We want a different leadership at the Swedish Tax Agency, where the leader’s task is to find the right prerequisites for their employees through dialogue in day-to-day operations.

– The most important thing for us, then, is to be able to follow a development, says Ulrika Lindhoff. We do not need to know every decimal of a data set. We want to be able to follow that the various groups have the right prerequisites to do a good job. This is far more important than them being able to compare themselves with each other.

From being in control to being in the know

What role does leadership play at the Swedish Tax Agency?

– We want to be a brave authority that is in continuous development. Leadership is crucial in order to succeed in this and in our mission, emphasises Daniela Eriksson. Our leadership has gone from being in control to being in the know. At the Swedish Tax Agency we attribute it to trust; that is, a belief in the inherent ability and desire in humans to perform well. At the same time, we are not naive and do not leave things unattended. This means that sometimes the leader has to step in and take action if things do not work well.

– One step in this is to recruit the right managers and further develop the ones we have. Our leaders must be able to translate the Swedish Tax Agency's vision, strategy and business plan on to their employees. We work hard on these issues throughout the organisation. Continuous dialogue is key for a brave organisation in constant need of development.