Case Story: Dreams & Details at ‘Det Nationale Sorgcenter’
“Grief should not ruin life” – that is the admirable maxim of ‘Det Nationale Sorgcenter’ (DNS), the Danish National Center for Grief. DNS has four offices around Denmark where they provide support and specialized psychological therapy for children, teenagers, young adults, and adults of +65 who either live with a seriously ill family member or have lost a loved one.
We started our work with DNS in 2021, providing a strategic mapping with our ‘Strategy & Focus’ consulting service. Later the same year, their management was enrolled in an internal ‘Unleashing Human Potential’ leadership program ensuring strategic leadership in alignment with the new direction.
We recently sat down with DNS’s CEO, Preben Engelbrekt, and Deputy Director Karina Madsen to talk about how they’ve been experiencing the process with us. This is what Preben had to say:
But let’s dive a bit deeper into the case.
Continuous Change and the Transformations of DNS
‘Det Nationale Sorgcenter’ (Eng.: ‘The National Center for Grief’) went through several different stages before becoming what it is today. The transition between those stages is what we call ‘Change of Season’: That term describes the transformation from the organization’s current state (the current season) towards the new possible market and opportunities of your future business environment (the new season).
Here’s a condensed outline of the overarching seasons of DNS (the first two were without the involvement of Idonea):
- Season 1: The organization’s first season was predominantly about the creation and expansion of a contact point for young people suffering grief over the loss or serious illness of close relatives. The cornerstone of this was the founding of ‘Ungekontakten’ (Engl.: ‘The Youths Contact’) in Copenhagen in 2000 and has since continued by creating two more departments (in Aarhus & Odense). Part of this season was also the addition of a board.
- Season 2: On the one hand, the second season was about broadening the target group to also include children. On the other hand, it was dedicated to evaluating and documenting their therapeutic efforts, as well as intensifying research in the field. As a result of this direction, DNS created an internal ‘Knowledge Center’ and started an ‘Evidence Project’.
- Season 3: This season – which is also the current season – marks the next major leap on the journey consisting of three overarching ambitions:
1. Increasing nationwide availability (geographically and web-based)
2. Becoming a platform for all ages and actors
3. Digitalization (e.g., hybrid therapy forms).
In the course of this season, the organization has officially become ‘Det Nationale Sorgcenter’, it started experimenting with digital therapy in addition to their physical presence and plans to open up another office (in Vejle).
Approaching Change Systematically and with Strategic Intent
Preben had by default followed an approach to leadership and reinvention similar to that of Dreams & Details. In the interview with us, Preben specified how he’s always focused on thinking ahead and actively scouting for changes in the organization’s environment while optimizing the current.
When he first heard Idonea’s CEO and co-author of “Dreams & Details” Mikael Trolle, on a CBS executive education in 2019, the D&D model provided a systematic approach to the kind of leadership that Preben was already practicing. This was further confirmed when Deputy Director Karina Madsen took the same executive education one year later. They saw an opportunity in using the approach for making their seasonal changes more systematic, building an optimally suited strategy, and ingraining it within the whole organization.
- Strategy & Focus (Consulting): Our ‘Strategy & Focus’ consulting services help organizations to delineate the future changes, challenges, and opportunities they’re facing and to develop a ready-to-execute Dreams & Details strategy map on that basis. This map ensures your focus on the future direction and the crucial details of your reinvention while providing a roadmap for the organization’s strategic transformation.
- Unleashing Human Potential (Education): Our ‘Unleashing Human Potential’ program gives leaders a structured approach to leave micromanagement behind and enter micro leadership in alignment with organizational strategy. On a personal level, it helps leaders identify their roles and development. It’s designed to make sure leaders and their organizations succeed with the Dreams & Details approach by fulfilling their roles to perfection. DNS decided to take the course internally for their whole leadership team.
Difficulties of a Change of Season
However, seasonal changes don’t come without challenges, which Preben can tell a thing or two about.
However, seasonal changes don’t come without challenges, which Preben can tell a thing or two about.
One of the immense advantages of a pro-active approach to seasonal change can also pose a considerable challenge. Preben specifies: “When you make a seasonal change, you’re basically ahead of everyone else. But we are, of course, extremely dependent on external resources to do so. So, when you’re dependent on external funds, it can be incredibly difficult to convince them that the change is actually necessary.”
Convincing (outside) stakeholders that a new direction not only makes sense but is necessary for staying relevant can be quite challenging, as they may not see the need yet. After all, they haven’t delved into your changing business environment as much as you. Therefore, the transformation towards a new season can meet initial skepticism.
Change can trigger a sense of discomfort in employees – since it entails something new and unknown for people. It is in human nature to be more comfortable with what we know and more critical of changes and the unpredictability coming along with them. Organizational change is no exception. It tends to meet disagreement and discomfort amongst those who’d prefer to continue the ‘old ways’.
That is an aspect that Preben had to cope with throughout DNS’s transformations. In the first season, there was internal disagreement in the senior leadership regarding the strategic expansion to cover more of Denmark rather than just building on the success in the capital region.
Similarly, the change from season one to two met internal scepticism, which ultimately resulted in around half of the psychologists leaving the organization over a period of around one year. This was highly challenging for DNS and presented them with a major leadership dilemma: Either they’d take the high costs of losing many highly-qualified specialists – who it takes years to train – or they’d risk becoming irrelevant in the future. Ultimately, Preben perceived it as necessary to change seasons and transition into the future, but he made sure to help the psychologists as much as possible in the process of changing jobs.
When an organization is going through a transformation, it’s critical to be honest, upfront, and very clear about the ensuing process to set clear expectations and spark enthusiasm about the journey in as many employees as possible. However, there’s always a possibility that some organizational members don’t feel like the new direction is right for them. In that case, it can be necessary to part ways.
How Dreams & Details Is Helping DNS
How has employing Dreams & Details for strategy development and the internal leadership education worked out for DNS? Here’s a recap of the impact it has had:
1. Clarity Concerning Direction
Working with the Dreams & Details leadership model through our Strategy & Focus consulting service has allowed the organization to approach the company’s future more systematically with strategic intent.
The most fundamental changes of the organization’s environment have been pinpointed to set up the organization’s strategic direction and development activities optimally. This is to ensure that the organization will stay ahead of the curve and capitalize on the opportunities ahead of them.
2. A Ready-to-Execute Strategy
Based on the projected changes, the Dreams & Details framework has enabled DNS to devise a one-pager containing the most crucial aspects of their strategy plotted into the Dreams & Details matrix. This affords DNS clarity in their strategic goals and the most crucial areas (the details) they have to develop. Furthermore, it provides a reminder of the mindset and framework enabling more autonomy and empowerment for teams.
An essential part of this is defining the dream for DNS, which functions as an inspiring and ambitious guiding light for the entire organization. A carefully crafted dream engages and motivates every member of the company. For DNS, that inspiring dream is: “Together, we take the responsibility of ensuring that grief doesn’t ruin life.”
3. Empowered Employees and Decentralized Decision-Making
Having defined and communicated mindset and framework, as well as clarity on the strategic direction, allows for more empowerment and decentralized decision-making of everyone at DNS. As Karina puts it: “I think what’s actually really resonating is the aspect of setting employees free and letting them make decisions. But you must, of course, make sure that they make the right decisions, and that is something that Dreams & Details is definitely doing for us.”
Inspired and guided by the ambitious dream while being able to move safely within the clearly set boundaries of the framework and equipped with a decision-guiding mindset, everyone in the organization is empowered. The employees become more engaged, motivated, and autonomous with clarity of the tasks at hand.
4. Organizational Alignment and Collaboration
The much-communicated mindset, framework, and dream also cater for more alignment and collaboration within and across the different departments of DNS. Previously, the individual departments have worked considerably more on their own, much in contrast to now, where the mutual dependency for succeeding has become more apparent and is lived. As it is also anchored in DNS’s dream, it’s about ‘taking responsibility together’ to ensure ‘that grief does not ruin life.’
Additionally, DNS’s inner alignment and empowerment enable more organization members to interact assuredly with external partners. This has fostered raised awareness and cooperation amongst external stakeholders.
5. Improved Leadership Roles and Skills
Sending their leadership team on our “Unleashing Human Potential” program has resulted in a better understanding of the leadership roles and continuous work on their optimization. The education, including in-depth conversations with Idonea’s CEO Mikael Trolle and Senior Consultant Lars Korby, have led to a change in the leadership conduct by DNS’s chief consultants: They’re unfolding their potential as ‘Expert leaders with a strategic eye’. This entails that they thrive on all three levels, namely their professional expertise (which was already a given) as well as the strategic level and the interpersonal leadership competencies.
Finally, the course provides the executive leadership of DNS with a clear-cut leadership framework to fall back on in situations where they may have been tempted to revert to micro-management, and it has equipped them with more clarity for the hiring process, with respect to which profiles still need to be acquired to complement the current team optimally.
An Additional Piece Advice: Involve Your Board
The board of today should not only be concerned with past performance and compliance but – to a higher degree – help the executive level figure out the future direction of the organization. They do so by asking critical questions, providing their perspective of the organization’s future environment, and contributing their own experiences (possibly from other industries). A great board will thereby be able to qualify your strategy.
That is a firm conviction of ours at IDONEA and also precisely what Preben has reported back to us. Before having the board involved in the process, Preben experienced far longer processes of discussing and revising the strategy.
However, once Preben decided also to have board members enrolled in our Strategy & Focus process, this changed substantially. With the board having the opportunity to pose critical questions and contribute their own experiences already throughout, the overall process was characterized by far better collaboration and unification. On top of that, it led to much excitement, enthusiasm, and dedication regarding the future strategy. And it provided the board with a deeper understanding of the Dreams & Details approach and its necessity to lead the organization into the future.
What the Future Holds for DNS
Besides their plans of executing their current strategy, Preben added in true Dreams & Details manner: “Our plans don’t reach much further into the future right now. Because it always depends what kind of changes we’re seeing around us concerning the next change of season. And only time will tell what is changing, e.g., politically and where there may be new opportunities for us.”
And as the last three years have shown – with everything from the impact of Covid has had on the society to the highly unpredictable and unstable geopolitical situation right now – DNS may need to be able to adapt their strategy quickly, to account for new situations and needs.
This much is certain: DNS will continue to stay nimble by reinventing itself. And we are very excited to follow them on their dream; helping those in need cope with grief.