Why Ikea's HR decided to reinforce its "Swedishness"

When Ikea underwent an HR refresh in 2016, the idea was to align every part of the organisation with its humble beginnings.

For a company whose logo contains the same colours as the Swedish flag, it is not unsurprising that two years ago, the world's largest furniture retailer updated its corporate values to reflect and align with its history.

Core to Ikea's identity is its Swedish heritage, or “Swedishness”, which Lydia Song, Ikea Southeast Asia’s HR Director, says informed much of the new values which emphasise on diversity and inclusion, teamwork, uniqueness, and a culture of openness.

The refresh also happened as part of the company's promise to create a great place to work for its 194,000 people globally.

Asked whether there is too much fixation on the Nordic ideals, Song says: “We’re all about the Ikea culture first, then Singapore or Malaysia or Thailand second.”

So pivotal are those goals that Ikea also strengthened its recruitment process in 2016 to ensure it hired only people who shared those new values.

As part of a growing effort to educating employees about the renewed values and culture, the company launched the Value Ambassador Programme in 2017.

The programme, which sees co-workers vote for the individuals who they feel embody company values the most, has gained a lot of traction in just a short time.

Last year, 18 staff from Southeast Asia, alongside others from various parts of the world, were sent to Småland in Sweden. There, they had the chance to learn more and experience first-hand the Swedish culture, and even visit the factories where Ikea products and the iconic catalogs are made.

As Song says, this is all made possible because of the company's emphasis on a "casual and open" workplace culture. 

“We’re looking for people who want to be part of the Ikea family, want to fix problems, and not seek permission to do that,” says Song.

Learn more about Ikea Southeast Asia's workplace culture in our full interview with its HR Director Lydia Song, and Head of Rewards Gloria Ngooi, out now. 

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