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People & Culture 21 January 2022

Leadership and learning for all at Ingka Group

The way companies attract, develop and maintain talent has changed dramatically, creating huge competition for the right people. How does IKEA approach a landscape in which ways of working are being fundamentally revisited, with a need for more flexibility and agile teams, where digital and traditional environments go hand in hand?

We recently sat down with Alejandra Piñol, who is responsible for Talent at Ingka Group, to discuss how the company is working to address these challenges at IKEA. The largest IKEA retailer has over 170,000 co-workers – most of them working in stores, meeting the customer every day.

Alejandra’s portfolio covers the talent pipeline, recruitment and employer branding, leadership, competence and change management. The main philosophy that drives her agenda is that, at IKEA, everyone is a talent, everyone is a learner, and everyone can lead.

Companies are facing competition for talent like never before. What impact is this having on Ingka Group?
We have seen increased talent competition in the market, especially since the pandemic. People are considering more than ever what they really want to do, what connects strongly to their purpose of life, and then many are making a move when they lose connection with their jobs. Skills are also changing fast, so there is an intense talent shift taking place globally.

Naturally, this affects us since we are a global company. But we are moving at high speed to remain relevant in the market and to secure that Ingka Group is a great place to work for everyone. We have our strong culture and values, which guide us in everything we do. This has always been part of our uniqueness and our strength, and especially in these times it is even more important.

Can you give us some examples on how you are reacting to these developments?
First, we are reviewing our entire talent agenda, based on the idea that everyone is a learner, everyone is a talent, and everyone can lead. One of the recent outcomes of this work is a series of leadership initiatives we’ve just launched, with the aim of creating a movement that we are calling leadership by all, in which we are all empowered to lead the business together.

Another important thing we’ve done is to launch a new succession approach which encourages all co-workers to verbalise their career dream and dare to take charge of their own development. We are inviting our people to follow their passion. Then we connect these dreams with the needs of our business, and this is where magic happens!

We would love to see our co-workers saying to their managers, “I want to become a team leader, or I want to become a market manager, what do I need to do in order to achieve that?”

We see that 87 percent of our managers were internally recruited last year, so we believe we’re on the right track, always with room to improve.

You talk about leadership by all, what’s that?
We are working on a new leadership idea, where we are inclusive and base our leadership on our core values. We believe that everyone can lead. Not only managers, but everyone.

A small group of managers taking decisions in a centralised way no longer works. We want to encourage each of us to lead, to feel trusted and take decisions, so that, in turn, we better serve our customers.

In parallel, we are preparing our managers for a different role in the future, in which they will emphasise their role as facilitators, coaches, and mentors, so that they support and empower everyone to lead.

Giving everyone the opportunity to lead allows for real entrepreneurship – which is in the DNA of IKEA. With this is mind, I’m really excited about this new concept of leadership by all we’re launching, that focusses on seven expectations for each individual co-worker: I create results, I collaborate and co-create, I develop myself and others, I communicate with impact, I navigate the unknown, I lead by example, and I develop the business. These expectations include key behaviors that will be encouraged and developed for everyone.

Inclusion also plays an important role for leadership. We continuously strengthen our leadership to create a trusted work environment where each of us feel valued, respected, and supported. We know that inclusion is much more than gender balance, but as an example, we are proud to say that 50 percent of our managers are women, and we have gender balance on the Ingka Group management team. This helps us to create an IKEA for the future.

How does learning play into all of this?
We are working on a new learning strategy based on lifelong learning, believing that everyone can learn, every day, everywhere, as a continuous process. People have limited time to learn, so we need to find alternatives that reach them in different ways. We believe very much in everyday learning, which is much more than just formal training: it happens when we work together, when we try new assignments, share experiences, and meet our customers, in a holistic way. We encourage everyone to be curious and open to embrace these initiatives for growth and development.

We want to modernise our learning portfolio firstly to secure the skills for current jobs, but also to develop for the future so our co-workers have great career paths internally or even when they move on externally. 

What’s important for me is that we all continue to develop, to challenge ourselves on what we can do better, and focus on how we can make a difference for ourselves, for the business and for society.

What overall impact do you think the Ingka Group approach to talent and learning will have?
I strongly believe that everyone is a talent, and everyone has potential to lead and grow. I also believe that everyone can learn and build new capabilities for their future. This is not new at IKEA, we are just building on our history of entrepreneurship and togetherness and bringing this to the next level.

We have a strong talent agenda to drive growth. And to drive growth, we need to help each of us to be the best version of ourselves. When we are at our best, we feel happier and we spread this positive influence around us, which also helps to increase our performance. It is a win-win-win: we win as individuals, our business wins, and we have an impact on society.

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