Launching a cultural revolution


Some five years ago, SJ was in a difficult position – facing competition from private and international train operators for the first time in its history, unimpressive customer satisfaction, and improvement of punctuality; all while substantial savings were to be made. Furthermore, a large share of SJ’s employees had worked in the company for decades, resulting in a quite “old school” and traditional culture, unprepared to change at the required pace. Therefore, in 2013, the management of SJ initiated the programme “Vinnande SJ”, a journey to shape up the company and create a more modern culture and organisation equipped to keep up with the current speed of change.

A journey back in time

SJ’s division for maintenance, Division Fordon, was to account for almost 30% of the savings. Indeed, major changes had to be made in this area in order to reach the ambitious targets.

According to Claes Broström, Senior Vice President and leader of the Fleet division, it takes a strong vision of the future to drive change at this scale. Claes joined SJ in 2006 and has worked with change processes throughout his career. Coming from industries subject to a much higher degree of competition, his first impression of SJ was one of having travelled back in time – an organisation consisting of mostly men hired before the deregulation and a strong culture of “doing things your own way”. Claes soon realised that a cultural revolution was needed.

Claes Broström Bio

Claes Broström has been with SJ since 2006. With previous employments in large organisations such as Ericsson, Nokia, SAS, Capgemini and Volvo, it is safe to say that moving things and people has been a recurring theme of his career.

“Companies change because no industry stands still. The trains need to be more efficient both to run and to maintain. It’s not only SJ that is changing; it’s the industry as a whole”

Claes Broström, Senior Vice President and leader of the Fleet division

“Carrying the sky on our shoulders”

Fast forward to 2014. The employee composition in the maintenance division had changed. A number of the old employees had left or been dismissed. People with experience from outside the rail industry had been hired. The average age had been reduced by 15 years, and more women had joined. A cultural transformation was underway, and the team was prepared to work with the management to make “Vinnande SJ” a success.
As part of the programme, Claes and his team developed project “Atlas”, named after the titan who supposedly carried the sky on his shoulders. The purpose of “Atlas” was to take more control over train maintenance and ensure proactive leadership of suppliers. And so they did. The maintenance team took all plans and split them into single activities to systematically identify room for improvement. “I believe many train operators will follow our example in the years to come”, Claes says.

SJ AB employees ensure that

passengers each day can hop on one of its

daily departures

An engine of change

While increasing control of maintenance contractors, SJ and the Fleet division were faced with another daunting task: let more people go and drive an aggressive change agenda. The results showed with time. SJ made a lot of changes to its internal processes and is now in a position where it needs to hire 8-10 people with new competences.

Finally, promoting co-creation across SJ was a key element of “Vinnande SJ”, and according to Claes, the culture has changed considerably. A dynamic environment has been fostered: “A strong overall vision is a mobilising force to drive change. Now, the people who work here are adaptable, and they are an engine that will drive continuous change in the organisation”, Claes says.

Being an environmentally friendly, safe and comfortable mode of transport, the railway still plays an important role in society. And the future still holds challenges for SJ. While there will certainly be a need to constantly optimise processes and products, SJ is now better prepared.

“There will always be difficulties. Who said it would be easy? I tell my children that a task can be difficult, but then you just have to spend some time figuring out how to solve it. Or, at some point, change direction”

Claes Broström, Senior Vice President and leader of the Fleet division