IKEA

Friends and family, you know I’ve spent the last five years working for IKEA in Australia. Who would’ve guessed I would end up in the retail sector and not buried in a library somewhere. Anyway, that aside, where has that five years gone? What have I been doing? Well, just stuff but I feel compelled to write it here. A story. A closure. Something like that.

Shortly after joining IKEA, David and I were lucky to fall pregnant with Kat. I like to think this had a lot to do with the work environment which was small, friendly and committed to the wellbeing of staff. It afforded me some time to slow down, look around and see what was important in life. This was a world away from the political atmosphere of Optus where we fuelled our battles with backlogs of emails and TGIF meant drinks from 11am.

In this tiny office in Gordon I managed the website for the small presence IKEA had in Australia but at the same time became immersed in the larger universe of the global IKEA giant. I travelled interstate and internationally with IKEA and was constantly surrounded by coworkers of different nationalities all working to the same set of values. Yes, these were stuck on the wall but they also were sticky on people’s hands. There was an incredible feeling of belonging. It was one of the work secretaries who drove me in a mad rush to my mother-in-laws house when I had my first serious idea of what labour would be like. Were we the best of friends? No, but the workplace was one where others looked after others without being told to. It was quite unique.

After Kat arrived I started working from home. In Sweden the maternity allowances are quite generous and my obliging caring boss was Swedish. He reasoned that if the duties of my role could be fulfilled at home then it would be a win-win for the company to allow me to work from home with my brand new baby. I will never be able to thank him enough for that faith.

During this time however IKEA moved from Gordon to join the brand new store at Homebush Bay Drive in Rhodes. This added an additional hour onto an already 40min+ trip for me. I thought at this time I would have to say goodbye to IKEA. It wasn’t the case however as my performance and the business saw fit to continue allowing me to work from home. Not that every day was a home day.

In 2006 I travelled to Shanghai and was lucky to take Karla along. I was sick from a 5 day intensive course on the IKEA Concept. I recall one trainer stating that “People either adopt our values or they don’t. We find those that don’t soon leave”. There was no talk of the massive profit, only how any profit is pumped back into the product to reduce prices. There was plenty of talk about the company structure and how complicated it “must” be. There were a lot of flipcharts and hung silences where we were asked “what values do you identify with”.  Fit in or fuck off.

I must’ve passed some test because it wasn’t long before I was off to Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic. That was an amazing yet difficult trip. The people I met, the cultures I played in – on my own and quite a few months pregnant. IKEA has a reputation of being about keeping costs low so this wasn’t even close to a first class tour of the world. But I felt well taken care of and when I saw the harsh cold land from where this retail mammoth sprung, some of the value stuff started to make sense.

I formed a web team. It seemed to make sense at the time. We built stuff. I had big ideas that cost very little. I was proud. So what inevitably comes after that?

Running a toddler, another baby and a web team started to take its toll. So did the value stuff. I began to wonder how on the one hand the company could speak about cost consciousness and on the other hand invest in costly central applications that didn’t work for our local market. My logic chip was failing or was motherhood to blame? Solve the simultaneous equation for me. When my boss and some other long-time allies announced their departure to work for IKEA in other countries, I was neck deep in a new project and could not consider joining their exodus.

To make matters better or worse I was on yet another IKEA course. This one focused on something called “My Conscious Leadership”. The indepth course spread itself out from the dandenongs of VIC to the glitz and trash of schoolies week on the gold coast in QLD to the refined quiet of Rushcutters Bay in Sydney NSW. A few days in each location spread over a couple of months. In this course I worked with a small group of others from within IKEA AsiaPac. We talked through what made us leaders, why we chose to lead and how we lead exactly. Loads of feedback and one on one discussions naturally led to many revelations and close bonds were formed.

It was during this course I first raised the idea that I would leave IKEA. It just took me six more months to achieve it. During this time my new boss was quoted in Marketing Mag as saying that IKEA Australia would never crack the blogging market, right while Dave Phillips was busy setting up a very successful Food Blogger event at the IKEA Restaurant. My boss also was quoted as saying that we would have no redundancies, a mere few weeks before IKEA made a whole stack of people redundant including most of my web team. Am I bitter now? No, but I sure as hell was angry then. Because I believed in the honesty and openess of IKEA. I believed in the values of Simplicity and Being on the Way. And I felt that suddenly we were lying and overcomplicating things. Shadow games and politics all over again.

I like to call a spade a spade and don’t really care if others call it a shovel, basically you use it in the same way and I felt like I had dug myself into a hole. Scary to get out of, holes are. That’s me channelling Yoda.  Holes are particularly hard to get out of if someone above you is shovelling shit. So in my letter of resignation I tried to point out how alienated I felt from the company, from the values, from the support I once felt. But amazingly I couldn’t put it in words then. Even as I walked out of the office for the last time I observed that two of the new “People” coworkers (because we don’t have Human Resources these days we have the People Group), walked by me without so much as a “bye”. A world away from the secretary who didn’t think twice in offering to drive me when I thought I was in labour.

I am thankful for my time at IKEA, saddened by the changes that seem to have destroyed the soul of the place and hopeful that one day it will again have the sticky hands of a culture turning values into actions instead of buttons on a lanyard or statements on a wall.

Sorry for the rant. I’ve been pretty quiet haven’t I?

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People

I used to spend a lot of time wondering what made people behave the way that they do. I wondered why that girl had to be such a cow or why that boy wouldn’t talk to me when I talked to him. I tried to understand how they thought so that I could get around it, through it, over it – somehow. Because I believed that I had to understand in order to communicate properly, I spent far too much time on this. High school, university degree in Pyschology all that jazz.

A career on the wall between Marketing and IT has meant I’ve had to make a lot of conclusions about intentions and do a lot of translations.  It isn’t an exact science.  It is a lot of hard work and your mind can begin to ache reading the words that are written in invisible ink on the clear banks of the river of talk that flows incessantly. Crazy winding river but there ever more.

Now, I actually prefer to observe behaviours and not try to explain them. Let people be, let them play their silly games in their silly heads. Let them craft their master plans in their great minds.  And maybe the Beatles had it right – but that’s another post.  Let the world go on and on and on and take joy in any creation and sadness in destruction. Everyone moves eventually, so right now if they are swirling and twisting right there on the spot. Just watch. Just quietly. It really is nothing more than an eddy in the current.  Gone tomorrow with the shifting channels.