A dose of Swedishness

Polish co-workers visit the heart of IKEA

By Craig Pratt

Watercolour showing Swedish pastures, forests and a moose.

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One of the things you can’t help noticing when you meet an IKEA co-worker is their sense of pride.

Not a chest-thumping, chin-in-the-air type of pride, but a quiet, comfortable one. And it seems to go beyond just being part of a group committed to “creating a better everyday life at home” by offering smart, affordable home furnishing. Rather, it’s being part of a culture with a shared sense of values. A clear sense of the right way to do things – usually referred to as “the IKEA way”.

Culture is key

IKEA considers their values and culture a “forever part” – one of the constants that inspires everything they do. So far, the IKEA culture and values have served them well, acting as a compass that has allowed them to charter new markets without losing their way.

IKEA Store of the Year Award winners from Wroclaw Poland all standing on a giant IKEA store trolley in Älmhult Sweden

Co-workers from the IKEA store in Wroclaw, Poland – winners of the 2016 IKEA Store of the Year Award.

Creating ambassadors

But in an ever-changing world, how will IKEA manage to maintain their “forever parts” whilst adapting to different customer behaviours and expectations? By making sure co-workers truly understand the key values and can apply them in their daily work. That’s how!

One way of ensuring this is by giving co-workers the chance to immerse themselves in Swedish culture and the IKEA values. And the best place to do this is Älmhult, Sweden: “the heart of IKEA”.

As Swedish (and IKEA) as it gets

Älmhult is the town closest to the farm where IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad grew up. A modest town of 15 000 inhabitants, it lies in the farming and forestry county of Småland, famous for its poor, rocky soil and its hardy, resourceful people. It’s also the site of the very first IKEA store. Here you’ll find a long list of IKEA companies, including IKEA of Sweden – the company that develops the IKEA range – and IKEA Communications, the home of the iconic IKEA catalogue.

IKEA co-workers Jakub Perczyński, Natalia Hartman and Marta Klepacka leaving IKEA Industry in Älmhult, Sweden.

From left to right - Wroclaw store co-workers: Jakub Perczyński, Natalia Hartman and Marta Klepacka.

Polish performers

Poland - winners of the 2016 IKEA Store of the Year Award – were invited to Älmhult. Here, they would get to experience Swedish culture and deepen their understanding of the IKEA values, returning home fully-fledged IKEA ambassadors.

In experienced hands

Once in Älmhult, they were met by Mike O’Rourke, the leader of the IKEA Store Award programme, and local boy and resident IKEA storyteller Anders Malmqvist. Under the watchful eye of these two IKEA veterans, they visited lots of IKEA companies as well as the IKEA Museum. They were also welcomed into ordinary Swedish homes, including none other than Ingvar Kamprad’s, which much to their surprise, turned out to be… an ordinary Swedish home. “We were expecting a palace!” said Lucasz Dec, IKEA Food Restaurant Manager.

The IKEA Store of the Year Award winners put themselves on the cover of the IKEA Catalogue at the IKEA Museum.

The co-workers from the Wroclaw store at the IKEA Museum.

IKEA co-workers canoeing on Lake Möckeln outside Älmhult in Sweden.

Co-workers canoeing – reinforcing the importance of doing things together.

Learning by experiencing

The visitors also got to do lots of fun activities: canoeing on the local lake, making meatballs and building a stone wall. Not only were these things enjoyable, they also illustrated the IKEA key values, like giving and taking responsibility, leading by example and, above all, the importance of doing things together – “tillsammans” as they say in Swedish. A word you’ll hear a lot in IKEA circles.

A very Swedish company

The importance of the brand’s Swedish roots was also stressed. As Anders explained, three main factors, all of them peculiar to Sweden, led to the emergence of IKEA. The first was the massive social transformation that took place in the 20th century, taking the country from a poor farming society to a modern progressive one. Then there was the resourceful, gritty character of the Smålanders. To these, add the vision, drive and hard work of one Smålander in particular - Ingvar Kamprad - and there you have it: the very Swedish recipe that spawned IKEA.

IKEA co-workers form Wroclaw building a stone wall.
IKEA co-worker Slawomir Wotak from Wroclaw, Poland admires the meatball he has just hand rolled.

So…what did they take home?

“People were very kind and welcoming” says Logistics co-worker Kamil Skotarek. “And very passionate about their interests” chimes in Slawomir Wotak, IKEA Food co-worker.

They also came to an appreciation of just how deep Swedishness runs in IKEA. But perhaps most of all, they took with them a deeper understanding of the IKEA key values, and how they are always relevant.

As Logistics co-worker Matiusz Pioszyk summed it up,” The values are like the paddle when you’re canoeing. Use them and you’re bound to get where you’re going.”

Doing things the IKEA way

Shared values and a strong sense of culture make IKEA unique, both as a brand and as a place to work. The essence of the IKEA culture is captured in eight key values.

  • Togetherness
  • Caring for people and planet
  • Cost-consciousness
  • Simplicity
  • Renew and improve
  • Different with a meaning
  • Give and take responsibility
  • Lead by example

IKEA Store of the Year Award

The IKEA Store Award recognizes one top performing store every year that has continuously worked to strengthen the IKEA Brand through exceptional retail strategies.


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