employee engagementInternal communications

IKEA internal communications aren’t flat

IKEA gave my friend a PlayStation once. Not for no good reason – he used to work there. It was a Christmas gift, a staff perk, and a bloody good one at that for a 17-year-old on an after-school job.

Over the years I’ve heard about IKEA giving out Christmas presents ranging from binoculars, to portable DVD players (back when people wanted them) and flat screen TVs to its hundreds of thousands of staff worldwide. Incidentally, I heard that some IKEA employees ended up selling their brand (and branded) new bikes on eBay a couple of years ago, but hey, that’s a recession for you. Whatever, it was all a damn sight more than I ever got as a scrawny teenager doing my part-time tour of duty in retail (John Lewis, lighting department circa 1998, halogen bulbs were big back then, uniform got really hot).

Point is, in my experience, IKEA has had a long tradition of treating its staff well. And a quick check on Glassdoor sees company culture frequently cited as a big pro by current and ex-employees, so someone must be doing something right in the IKEA internal communications department.

Great internal communications are exactly that – great internal communications– not lacklustre messages or orders from on high

I’m a Swede myself and this attitude resonates well with my people, who are, traditionally, people people. If Sweden were a corporation it would have one of those ‘Investors in People’ rosettes on its flag, proudly beaming out staff testimonials about how they’re all one big happy family that enjoys a good work-life balance, excellent coffee and cinnamon buns as standard, and everybody gets a boat. Sweden wants its people, and by proxy, all people, to be free to enjoy living.

That’s certainly the message pervading IKEA’s TV ads, where good storage isn’t so much a lifestyle hack as it is a way of life.

IKEA has had a long tradition of treating its staff well

Why are employees so engaged?

Great company culture and employee engagement of course require more work than the promise of a shiny new bike for Christmas with a high re-sale value. It needs to have a core goal based on the Employee Value Proposition, the EVP, and that’s not an easy thing to muster when internal communications reach a hundred-thousand-odd-strong audience dispersed across the world.

Which is where IKEA Inside – the global intranet that’s locally focused – comes in. IKEA Inside is an intranet on a staggering scale, commanding such jaw-dropping vitals as reaching 41 countries, averaging 70,000 visitors a month, and all content being sourced from some 3,500 publishers. But it’s geo-targeted – merged from over a hundred local intranets, designed and re-designed again according to user needs, such that the resultant design is a pillar of user experience. Indeed, a 2012 survey revealed that nearly 70% of employees were satisfied with being kept updated with company news and developments.

The trick is providing content that is universally applicable. As IKEA’s chief of internal communications Anders Lundblad recently put it:

“Our internal communications can benefit from the perspective that we all have one thing in common: we work for the same company. And we share the same interest, which is furthering this company’s growth. When I write an article, I always ask: will it be interesting for someone driving a truck in China, or the cashier in the US?”

IKEA’s digital strategy successfully promotes sustainability innovation to co-workers

Staff social media

This ‘global-local’ approach extends to staff social media, too, which uses the Yammer platform to great effect from any device. But rather than geo-targeting the network, the Yammer platform encourages a collaborative approach, that shares ideas and innovations across departments and borders. Much like we reported for Unilever’s digital strategy the other day, IKEA’s successfully promotes sustainability innovation to co-workers, purporting the kind of global, transformational change that isn’t just necessary, but thrilling if presented well. Being sustainable doesn’t mean you have to be boring.

Speaking to the Yammer blog when IKEA piloted the platform a few years ago, Linda Tinnert, IKEA’s intranet and group corporate communications manager, explained that Yammer creates a central hub for information. So for instance, where IKEA workers were asking and answering the same customer questions, the solution is now universally searchable.

It serves to bring IKEA down to size for new starters. A several-hundred-thousand-strong workforce is undeniably intimidating; an informal network like Yammer helps engage and include from the ground up, and in bite-size pockets.

Yammer also works for product innovation, via the “My IKEA Product Idea” group where co-workers can submit new product ideas and link directly to the development team in Sweden. So any co-worker with a good idea has a direct line to the people that can make it happen. This is powerful and as such, says Anders Lundblad, this group alone has attracted countless new users to the Yammer IKEA app.

A several-hundred-thousand-strong workforce is undeniably intimidating; an informal network like Yammer helps engage and include from the ground up

Loaded magazine

Staff magazine ReadMe is another success story, in an old-school, broadcaster kind of a way. Its purpose is to report, in the classical sense, to raise awareness. And because staff can be confident that the two-way conversations that matter to them – where their voice should be heard – are happening on the intranet, stylistically speaking, the magazine is given the freedom to be, well, a magazine. It allows for broader, more engaging internal storytelling because there’s no need for it to cover the company minutiae.

So, the take-home message? Simple: listening to your staff, addressing their specific needs, and providing a solution that actually works, actually works.

Great internal communications are exactly that – great internal communications. Not lacklustre messages or orders from on high, but two-way conversations that result in staff being supplied the varied, quality content that matters and speaks most to them personally, to their specific locale or location, to their team, and to their most common pain points.

It’s all a lesson in employee engagement, leading to super-efficiency, innovative ideas, and, ultimately, profitability, plus the prospect of even more engagement. And a free PlayStation.

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