Tobias Fredberg
Conducts research about change. “Succeeding with transformations and having employees whose heart is in their work are some of the most important and most difficult issues for an organisation to achieve its goals and to flourish,” says Tobias Fredberg at Chalmers.

Guiding Sweden’s big companies through change processes

Change is difficult. Even though companies need innovation and development to survive, it challenges everything that is stable and efficient in the organisation. Worse, there are so many changes going on simultaneously that it risks becoming very messy.
Now the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe at Chalmers University of Technology is bringing together some of Sweden’s largest companies to discuss how to navigate in this time of upheaval.
“We need to shift gears. And that means we need to change the way we work.”

Many companies today are wrestling with massive change processes, and the need for innovation just keeps growing. Associate Professor Tobias Fredberg at Chalmers knows. He is the director of the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe and has spent nearly two decades conducting research on change processes in large organisations.

“Organisations today are under huge pressure to change,” he says. “Globalisation, digitalisation, sustainability issues – many sweeping transformation processes in organisations happen all at the same time, and not symmetrically. Keeping it all together and creating a unified common vision is incredibly difficult.”

The big challenge is in being both innovative and efficient at the same time. It’s not an easy task.

“We know that if organisations don’t put time and effort into entrepreneurship and innovation, they won’t make it,” Fredberg says. “At the same time, these changes muddy the waters – suddenly the well-organised project portfolio no longer works, and everything we’re used to doing is turned on its ear. Efficiency falters – and not just in one area, but everywhere.”


Now the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe is bringing together Sweden’s biggest companies that are facing major transformations. At the Transformation Leader Summit on 2 April, participants will delve deeply into change processes, exchange experiences and gain new knowledge. One important element is that all participants will bring a challenge from their own company, which will be discussed in round table format. The day is largely about taking time to reflect and having the opportunity to develop new perspectives, Fredberg explains.


“Often, we are so focused on our tasks that we are not able to take a step back to see the big picture. But this summit will allow participants to share their experiences and challenges with others who are in the same boat. This creates respect for one another’s insights, and groups tend to develop faith in each other quite quickly. It’s completely different than bringing in a consultant.”

The staff at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe has many years of experience and a broad agenda for helping organisations to pursue change processes and create trust and dedication in major changes.

“We see that we have a role to play in one of the most difficult situations there is: making these transitions and fundamentally changing the organisation as a system,” Fredberg says.

“Companies that really care about the community and sustainability issues and are motivated by a higher purpose – and that have built this into their organisation – tend to have more dedicated employees and also make more money in the long run”

Tobias Fredberg, Chalmers
 
It’s common for organisations going through change processes to focus too much on things that divide them instead of on what they have in common, which can unite the organisation in its efforts, he explains. To a large degree, transformation is about “accepting the mess” and quickly make it work. Successful change is about how fast you organise the work on the new initiatives, even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly. You don’t have to be as quick about smoothing things out again, what you need is a focus on the common vision, the future value that the organisation is aiming for.

“One major challenge is that the relationships we have built up with our customers and employees must be reestablished. We need to understand how we can adapt and move these relationships into the future. This is difficult, because we want people to be happy.”

Fredberg emphasizes that getting coworkers involved in the process is key. “I don’t think people fundamentally oppose change, unless it involves losing their jobs, of course. Learning new systems and so on can be complicated, but the obstacle is not so much change resistance as worry. Change requires a good process, in which people feel motivated, respected, involved and dedicated.”

Engagement and trust in the organisation are important cornerstones, and the lack of them, Fredberg says, is a main reason that many transformation processes do not achieve their goals. He talks about a 2012 Gallup poll that showed that only 16% of Swedes are really engaged in their jobs, while another survey of western Europeansshow that only half trust their company’s management.

“If you don’t care about your job, why would you put your heart into a change effort?” he says. “Engagement is very strongly linked to different types of results in a company.”

Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR – has increasingly become a buzzword in recent years. But Fredberg sees a development in which there is a risk that CSR simply becomes compliance, “sticking to the rules,” or “giving back” as some sort of obligation, rather than building an organisation in a new way.

He promotes a different approach, a new relationship to the community and to the employees.

“Companies that really care about the community and sustainability issues and are motivated by a higher purpose – and that have built this into their organisation – tend to have more dedicated employees and also make more money in the long run,” he says. “But not necessarily in the short term. That is a great challenge.”

He hopes that the Transformation Leader Summit will lead to new insights for the participants, and also that the centre can test its ideas and learn from the participants. 

“Succeeding with transformations and having engaged employees whose heart is in their work are some of the most important and most difficult issues for an organisation to achieve its goals and to flourish. We at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe absolutely love what we do,” he says, “and we dare to believe that we can make a difference.”

Text: Ulrika Ernström

More about the Transformation Leader Summit


The Transformation Leader Summit will be held on 2 April 2019 at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe at Chalmers University of Technology. It will involve some 40 participants from 16 companies in Sweden that are going through major change processes.

Some of the speakers are: Rickard Berkling, CEO at CPAC Systems, a part of the Volvo Group.
Lynne Wedall, former HR manager at Selfridges

More about the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe


Chalmers’ Center for Higher Ambition Leadership Europe strives to help leaders with higher ambitions to create efficient organisations in which social and financial value go hand-in-hand. The centre is partnered with several major companies in Sweden, and they share their experiences and help to find innovative solutions for how to head companies that are more inspiring and efficient and create greater and more lasting values for their stakeholders.


The research centre is headed by Tobias Fredberg, director, and Emma Brink, operating manager.


Page manager Published: Tue 30 Jun 2020.