Interview with Davide Urani, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Ingka.
IKEA is famous for its flat boxes. It should also be famous for its flat organisation.
When IKEA talks about their values, they begin by saying: “We believe that every individual has something valuable to offer and we strive to have the same values in the way we work.” Then they list the 8 values that drive the company. The first value is “togetherness”.
According to Davide Urani, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Ingka (One of 12 franchisees, operating IKEA stores under franchise agreements with Inter IKEA Systems B.V., the worldwide IKEA franchisor.), the fact that “togetherness” is the very first value mentioned is on purpose.
“IKEA has a participatory strategy. We strongly believe that innovation should be co-created by all of our 170 000+ co-workers and our CEO talks about IKEA having 170 000 entrepreneurs working in the organisation. We want to democratise innovation. We want to release the creativity of the many.”
One proof of how they do it is a recent idea competition IKEA did.
Many companies have some kind of “idea collection system” where employees can put in their ideas for how the company they work for can become better, but few companies have managed to get it to work as well as IKEA. Normally when companies ask for ideas a few people send in ideas. When IKEA did it 23 000 (!) employees logged into the idea system over a 30 day period, and more than 5 500 (!) ideas were submitted. Not only did the community submit ideas but they also voted on which ideas were the best. A total of 1 000 ideas were selected to be implemented, based on their ability to save money for IKEA or its customers and on the ideas ability to scale across the globe.
Two of the awarded ideas were:
METAL HOOKS INSTEAD OF WIRES
Management thought it would be cheaper to use wires to hang all in-store posters, but Sales co-workers realised that they spent hours every week just trying to get every new poster to hang straight. Instead they came up with the idea to use long hooks that always had the same length. A more sustainable solution that saves hundreds of hours every week in stores around the world.
HAPPY HOUR TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE!
A co-worker came up with the idea to offer “happy hour” with 50% discount on food during the last hour before closing time. She noticed that every evening after closing the restaurant, there is a lot of leftover food that has to be thrown away. There is also much fewer customers in restaurant, so organising a 50% discount for food that anyway would have been thrown away is a great way to both be more sustainable and reduce food waste, as well as to draw visitation to the restaurant in the last off peak hour.
Two innovative ideas. And impressive numbers when it comes to co-worker engagement.
How did they get such engagement and what can we learn about inspiring innovation from IKEA?
Davide shared a few reasons for the success:
1) They spent a lot of time making sure the process of submitting an idea was fun and playful.
2) They made sure they had support from the top management.
3) They made sure they invested a lot of time and resources to educate the community of co-workers in design thinking and creativity.
As Davide told me: “We invested tremendously…”
But more than anything else the reason for the high engagement from people all throughout the organisation is IKEA’s focus on their value of “togetherness”.
“When I came to IKEA”, Davide said to me, “I was surprised how democratic it was. There is this huge feeling of ‘Let’s to it together’. Togetherness is at the heart of the IKEA culture. We are strong when we trust each other, pull in the same direction and have fun together. If we want to release the wisdom of the many – there is only one way to do it: Together.”
In IKEA that means, for example, that no-one, not even the CEO is supposed to fly business class. They all fly economy together. Things like that show the value that IKEA puts on its values.
In IKEA they constantly talk about “kraftsamla” – a Swedish word best translated as “muster” – as in “Muster all the resources”. To “kraftsamla” is when all join forces and do what needs to be done.”
A good example of “kraftsamla” was how the whole IKEA organisation came together during the Corona virus outbreak in China when they decided to close (!) all their stores in China. That was not an economical decision, it was taken with the health and wellbeing of their Chinese co-workers in mind. Closing 30 stores in China was a huge decision but, as Davide said: “We concentrated on one thing and one thing only, and that was China.”
I asked Davide how other organisations can learn about this mindset of “kraftsamla” and “togetherness” in order to inspire innovation from everywhere.
Davide: “You need to invite people to participate, and that is a simple thing. You just need to change your mindset. I haven’t spent my whole career in IKEA and I came from the management consultancy world, which is very, very different. Here (in IKEA) we are expected to reach out for help, to be humble, to ask for advice. It is very powerful when you do that. I truly do not think there is any better recipe for innovation than building this culture of togetherness.”
Perhaps the fact that IKEA comes from Sweden has played a role. In Sweden there is a strong consensus around believing in consensus. The word “consensus” means “a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people.” But the etymology of the word “consensus” is even deeper. It comes from “con” meaning “together” and “sensus” meaning “to feel”. So “consensus” means “to feel together”. When everyone feel that they involved in an innovation process (or any leadership decision) they feel that they were part in that decision and that creates a bond.. Everyone feels together.
So do not copy the flat furniture boxes from IKEA. Copy the flat organisational boxes from IKEA where they focus more on “togetherness” than “hierarchies”. Their democratic belief in the creative potential in people has created one of the most innovative companies in the world. What would a similar mindset create in your organisation?
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