Focus on Denmark

A manager in Denmark is more a leader, a coach, a guide compared to the more directive managers of the U.S.

Denmark is a small country, the southernmost in Scandinavia, with a population of a mere 5-plus million. While it is said that the Norwegians historically have tended to look west to the North Atlantic (a fishing and oil country), and the Swedes to the east toward Finland, the Danes tend to orient themselves to the south to Germany and the EU. Denmark carries a weight in international politics that is greater than its size.

Denmark has few large companies but myriad smaller ones. Think of LEGO (toys), Oticon (hearing aids), Grundfos (pumps), and Carlsberg (beer) among others. Probably the reason—aside from the small size of the total population—is that Danes prefer to be different and to take initiative for starting something new rather than be a little cog in a big wheel. Smaller companies spin off from larger organizations. A highly educated population, advanced technologies, and the priority given to design lead to many niche products.

Another characteristic of Danes and Denmark, which sets them apart from other countries, is the low power distance or flat hierarchy. This means that managers are—and expect to be— challenged by their subordinates. Subordinates expect to have their opinions heard. They expect to take part in decision-making. A manager in Denmark is more a leader, a coach, a guide compared to the more directive managers of the U.S. Women are just as respected leaders as men. Indeed, Denmark’s prime minister is a woman.


  • Quality rather than numbers. American training companies and consultants tend to advertise themselves as “having trained thousands of managers and professionals in leading Fortune 500 companies.” To Danes, that might signal “off-the-shelf” training concepts. Danish companies expect programs conceived to meet their needs.
  • What counts is trainer competence and expertise in the field that is requested. The trainer profile, which would be circulated to participants before they decide to attend an event, would emphasize the trainer’s credentials derived from hard-earned, hands-on experience. It helps, too, to have academic ballast. University degree(s) and teaching experience provide a stamp of approval.
  • By law, companies must devote a certain budget to every employee’s competence development each year. Thus, there is a market for good training programs. However, a trainer must convey to the company and program participants the goals and expected benefits. Performance will be measured. If a company invests 1 Danish krone in a training program for a participant, it expects returns of 2 to 3 kroner.
  • Trainer style is expected to be interactive, even with large groups. Participants expect to take part in discussions, regardless of their level in the company. They have opinions about the trainer’s input, as well as about the contributions of their co-participants, and they have experience to share.
  • A great deal of competence development takes place in “experience-exchange” groups rather than in formal training programs. Managers of a certain level or function meet three to four times a year with managers of the same level or function in other companies, even competitors. An outsider often facilitates these meetings. Such network groups can be a potential market for trainers who want to address a particular issue, but they also are a platform that competes with training programs.

Susan Vonsild is a senior associate with Global Dynamics Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. For more information, visit www., call 305.682.7883, or e-mail ngoodman@