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    4 Business Takeaways From My Trip to IKEA
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    4 Business Takeaways From My Trip to IKEA

    April 2017

    We’ve been talking about getting a bookshelf for quite some time.  We have a pretty good collection of books and a spot in the living room that could accommodate it.  So, over the weekend, we went to IKEA.

    I suspect that final statement either prompted a positive nod from you or a dreadful groan. People tend to have pretty strong reactions about the IKEA experience.  It’s either terribly fun or straight up terrible for you.  I get that. It’s crowded, it’s enormous, and you have to wind through the entire place just to find that one thing you actually came for.  Then you have to go home and toil over a project. On the other hand, throw pillows! Swedish fish! And it’s all so cheap!

    Regardless how you feel, IKEA is here to stay.  At the end of the day Saturday, I reflected on our shopping and building experience, and I couldn’t help but think of how it all could apply to you and how you lead your company. Here are my 4 quick business takeaways:

    1. Our mission was clear.

    When we decided to go to IKEA this weekend, it’s because we needed a bookshelf, plain and simple.  We weren’t looking to just pass the time on some random Saturday.  And, with the exception of a few unscheduled pauses (I’m a sucker for throw pillows), we followed the yellow arrows, wrote down the location of our item in the warehouse, and left.  Mission accomplished.

    Your organization needs to have a similar focus on its mission.  You need to start from a clear set of needs (the bookshelf) so that your employees have a clear sense of what they are doing (heading to the warehouse).  With a clear goal in mind, you can engage the group and begin to work toward your goals.  Organizations need everyone on board working collaboratively to succeed, so don’t neglect the most critical step of clearly defining your mission.

    1. We worked together.

    If you’ve ever assembled IKEA furniture, you know the drill goes something like this: Wrestle flat yet impossibly heavy box into your trunk, go home, empty box, discover 200 pieces of pressboard, 5 wooden dowels (weren’t there supposed to be 6?), 10 mystery nuts seen only in ready-to-assemble furniture, and a 3” allen wrench.  Enter: despair.

    Through it all though, we never gave up.  Yes, that one dowel was missing, but my husband came up with a workable solution.  I ran to Lowe’s and bought a real set of allen wrenches. We worked in 40 minute increments followed by 10 minute breaks.  We tried really hard not to yell at each other.  At the end of the day, we had a pretty nice looking bookshelf in the living room.

    When the going gets tough, it’s important for organizations to tap into everyone’s problem-solving skills, to work hard but smart, and to be kind to one another through the process. The best work is accomplished when everyone works as a team.  

    1. Clear instructions would have been really nice.

    Instructions for assembling IKEA furniture are nothing more than a series of impenetrable pictograms that test your patience.  At several points throughout assembly, we wondered if we were even on the right track.  Several times more, we had to undo what we had already done, because the remaining pieces just didn’t fit.  There was a lot of backtracking and needless irritation.  

    Clear instructions are vital to preventing frustration and for getting the job done rapidly and error-free.  When assigning tasks to your team, make sure your expectations are clear so that your project can be done on time and correctly.  Too often, I think, business leaders shy away from providing a lot of instruction for fear of being, well, too “bossy”. But clear directions save time and money and prevent employee burnout.  So be clear.  Clarity is your friend.

    1. We really like that wobbly bookshelf.

    Okay, so it’s not perfect.  Maybe that missing dowel really was necessary.  Maybe we didn’t tighten one of those crazy nuts enough.  Or maybe our floor is just slanted.  (I’m sticking to that last one).  The point is this: We made it and we like it.  It’s front and center in our living room and we’re eager to tell the story of how it came to be.

    Back in 2011, researchers at Harvard Business School identified the “IKEA Effect”, the tendency for people to like and place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. Basically, we just really like things we built.  Just consider IKEA’s loyal following despite the headaches involved in putting together its products.

    Aim for your business to have a similar following.  Allow your employees to take meaningful roles in your company, and make sure their contributions are shared, noticed, and celebrated.  Similarly, allow your customers to take part in building your business.  Give them input to allow for customization of your product(s). Got a new idea?  Consider a crowdfunding campaign for your next project to give your customers a sense of ownership in your company.  When customers are “all in”, they’re far more likely to remain loyal in the years to come.  Begin thinking of ways to create your own IKEA Effect.

    No matter what you’re doing in your off time, there are lessons to apply to your business. Keep your eyes and heart open, no matter the occasion.  


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