Culture, Communication, and IKEA

Every company has its ups and downs, however, what makes a company sustainable is how it lives its downside.  And this is when you specially need a Leader who is open-minded, an accurate thinker, and a good communicator among others.

Last month, IKEA, the global home products company apologized for deleting images of women from the version of its catalogue circulating in Saudi Arabia.

IKEA catalogue comparison: Swedish (L), Saudi Arabian (R)

The differences between the Swedish and Saudi versions could be seen at the Metro.

Ok, since things already happened, the question would be – were the Saudis offended by the catalogue?  Not really?  Well, it’s expected, good for IKEA.  Because say, if women were not removed, the question would be – did the catalogue violate Arabian women’s appropriateness?  And say, how much “skin” could actually be seen?  See, respect is your building block.

This now brings us to the real issue – Communication.

As a Leader, you should really be aware of your audience.  When you operate outside your base, you should know the other fence’s laws, regulations, idiosyncrasies, and culture.  Yet, in all those information, the Leader should also not forget who he represents and what their objective is.  Thus, when going on a campaign, the Leader should be able to make cultures blend… make minds meet.

Many times, you can’t just conclude by simply “knowing” a society – you got to understand the culture.  It’s not just a question of what but why, when, where, and how as well.

In IKEA’s case, this catalogue issue is not simply about Sweden’s image or culture, or IKEA’s group values but of the Saudi Arabian culture specially… after all, Saudi is their market.  Culture is better grasped when there’s clear, sincere, and open communication which is something IKEA should fine tune.

Look, do Saudi Arabians not value family?  Of course they do.  I can’t imagine any race, no matter how chaotic it may be, not to value family.

Thus, the Saudi catalogue is just a matter of presentation, of how it is communicated to its people.  This is when IKEA should have simply talked with the Saudis on a better way to project “family” without removing women, a vital member of family, from the catalogue.  As it is, the catalogue actually became more of a confusion to IKEA than to its market.

Good communication would save people a lot of trouble, bring a company a lot more profits, and bequeath the world a lot more stability.

What’s your take?


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