Can we put that together

Primary Care Training Ikea NHS

We’ve all done it; for ourselves, a partner, neighbour… our kids.  Sat on the floor, surrounded by screws, hex-keys, planks of wood and a picture of a book case.

The Ikea experience! 

It is an amazing company.  

You may not like their book cases; ‘There’s a bit missing!’  

You may turn up your nose at their wardrobes; ‘The instructions are wrong!’  

You may be too posh to put stuff together; but you can only stand back in amazement at the way they’ve built their company. 

The numbers are mind blowing.  They print and distribute more catalogues than the copies of the Bible!  They employ 150,000 ‘co-workers’… not staff, in 389 stores, globally. 

��… and wait for it; an estimated one in 5 children in Britain have been conceived on an Ikea bed!

Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that believed in: 

  •  leadership by example; 
  •  a constant desire for renewal; 
  •  togetherness and enthusiasm.  
  •  is cost conscious;
  •  striving to see reality; 
  •  humble but had huge willpower; 
  •  dared to be different and; 
  •  delegated and accepted responsibility.

Those are Ikea’s values.  Their ethos.

Values… easy to talk about but much harder to deliver.

A ‘values-based’ organisation is different from a ‘value based’ organisation… not just economic value, it’s about behaviours it values, conduct it values.  

Ikea makes furniture but it doesn’t see itself as ‘just a furniture maker‘, it sees itself contributing solutions to real-life problems.  

Sustainability, community, service.  To provide a better experience for its customers, suppliers and staff.  Combining a profit-making motive and a social vision.

To deliver values, you need three components; vision, culture and image.

Let’s overlay them on our NHS.

Vision… I have no idea about the ‘NHS vision’.  If I visit 157 Trusts, 8,500 GP practices and goodness knows how may community and other organisations… and rootle about, I might find something about vision on a notice board, maybe a website.  They’ll all be different.

Culture... we have a culture, it’s the antithesis of what’s required.  The basis of culture is trust… there’s little of that.  Instead a surfeit of regulation, penalties, hunting for failure and turfing out managers.

Image… ambulances stacked up outside A&E.  ‘Don’t bother us, we’re very busy’, messages.

Not exactly Ikea…

Agency staff have no idea about an organisation’s values.  Junior doctors; focussed on the patient in front of them, the next rotation. Understandably, they don’t feel part of the community.  

Admin staff; bundled into VAT fiddling companies of convenience… shipped out.  

Suppliers… hammered on price, left waiting for payments.

The NHS can’t decide if it’s a social franchise with independent components or one organisation.  We pay a price for that indecision in confusion, safety and performance.  

We still don’t have wifi across the NHS.  Do you think Ikea would have left it to locals to sort out with no identifiable budget?  

We’ve no universal, IT system to send records, safely, from one end of town to the other, never mind to one end of England to the other.  Everywhere I go I see different systems creating dangerous interfaces.  

Ikea’s system is global.

Accidents happen because procedures and protocols are not universal and waste because we still struggle to agree on specifications for simple stuff.

Ikea have standard operating procedures and stick to them.

Our health services… commissioned here but not there, with no rationale beyond rationing.  

Over 80% of Ikea’s lines are available globally.

We are missing four things.  

A mission.

To deliver healthcare?  No!  To deliver as much healthcare as possible in a budget… but the budget has to be realistic, agreed and shared with everyone.  Staff as co-workers, not cost centres. 

An ethos.

An appetite for creativity, openness and involvement.  We have to trust our leaders, not regulate away their independence.  Function, quality and cost will stimulate innovation and improvement but it takes time.  An organisation with patience.  

Creative inclusiveness.

Ikea customers put the furniture together themselves.  They become co-workers in the knowledge that their involvement is convenient and reduces prices.  We must redefine self-care.  Include patients in the system as co-producers of care.  Not just involved… included.

A resonance.

 What resonates about the NHS?  We are a health service but we must look beyond that.  No matter if you work for the NHS, are cared for by it, do business with it… one phrase resonates…  peace of mind.

Can we put that together?


I have written about Ikea because I have been fascinated by the BBC2 series, co-produced by the Open University; Inside Ikea.  If you are interested in management, it’s a Penderyn watch.  

You can catch up here.


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Reproduced at by kind permission of Roy Lilley.