Article: Delivering the business of tomorrow, today - IKEA's Divya Kumar


Delivering the business of tomorrow, today - IKEA's Divya Kumar

Change is the only constant, and mistakes are inevitable, but there are ways to do our best and hold onto a strong identity. IKEA Retail's digital CFO, Divya Kumar, shares some pointers at People Matters TechHR 2023.
Delivering the business of tomorrow, today - IKEA's Divya Kumar

The business has changed. The world has changed. What has not changed is the vision - and it's the vision that makes a company what it is, consistently over the long term, with integrity and a strong basis no matter what changes come.

This was the central message during the keynote by Divya Kumar, Digital CFO of IKEA Retail at People Matters TechHR 2023.

"We have decided to deliver the IKEA of tomorrow, today," she said. "That means, we are always deciding what we want to be the future and how we are going to create it today."

Some of the key pieces of this approach involve understanding customers through data, putting people first, and always keeping organisational values in view so that they can create "fair, inclusive, and transparent digital solutions to spark a positive change in society".

Because when it comes to technology, Divya said, what's important is not so much the technology as the human-centric nature of the technology. Whatever is implemented must make people better, not necessarily just at their work but also at simply being people; for example, in the context of IKEA Retail, it must empower people to help customers better.

A very particular form of transformation

Often, technology is associated with transformation. But the problem with how transformation is viewed today, said Divya, is that people think of it as a one-off, short term project. "Transformation is not about doing something new every five years. It is about making the business flexible, adaptive, so strong at the base that no matter what changes come, it can adapt."

It is also about holding very firmly to the business values, she added. IKEA's own identity, for example, is that of a highly ethical, highly value driven company, and to maintain that identity it is crucial to never compromise on values. The usage of technology is dependent on satisfying the key criteria of the company's values.

Importantly, Divya added, there is no end to transformation. But there are key learnings that can be taken away. She shared three: firstly, knowledge, which is not about learning skills but about making sure that everybody in the enterprise has enough knowledge to be happy doing what they are doing, and is comfortable constantly learning.

"The biggest threat in an organisation is insecurity. You can remove insecurity by building knowledge," she remarked.

The second learning is an evolution mindset. "The world we are sitting in today will not exist years later," she said. "So we can't hold onto ideas. We can't hold on to where we are."

The third is execution at speed - and all big organisations struggle with this, because size and scale slow down all change. The challenge then becomes how to speed up while keeping processes strong and embedded in the company.

"Technology, processes, and people must go hand in hand and execute seamlessly. One is useless without the other," Divya said.

Some essentials for innovation and transformation

Divya shared a checklist of key elements which must be present for a business to successfully transform while remaining true to its roots.

Business at the centre. Technology moves constantly, it comes and goes, and if it does not serve the business purpose in the long term, it's completely fine to miss out on it. The important question to ask is, what are you using the next new thing for?

Have the right processes for innovation. You need to have the right structure to scale fast and fail fast if necessary - and you need the strength of mind to kill innovation when you need to, when it is clearly not benefiting the business.

Resilience. What comes tomorrow is less important than what needs to remain in the future. This does not mean you do not maximise the short term; but if it does not suit the long term, you need to reconsider it.

Build competence in the organisation. This can take the form of simple and small things, such as minor skills, small-scale processes, small adjustments.

Leadership by all. This means that everybody has to take ownership: they have to understand what they need to know to do their job. They have to be able to do their own innovation, and be able to step into the future without fear.

Bring simplicity into complex processes. Any organisation will be complex, and grow more so with size and time - but it is entirely possible, and in fact necessary to achieve complexity without being complicated. "The minute you make things complex, you lose people," Divya advised.

Finally, do not shy away from change, because the rest of the world will not. In the words of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, "Only those who are asleep make no mistakes." Some new things will fail, said Divya; but we should embrace the mistakes and move forward.

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Topics: Technology, Strategic HR, #TechHRIN, #DigitalTransformation

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