The Ikea Effect is a cognitive basis where labor enhances affection for results. The name for this psychological phenomenon is coined after the Swedish furniture company Ikea, whose products required some assembly. It’s also the phenomenon that makes plastic glue-together models so successful (even though the end result may not look so great and definitely not worth the time spent). It is seen as the situation where the “assembler” over-values a project that they completed, even though it’s not worth as much or as good as they believe.
In the context of environmental, health and safety (EHS) programs, unfortunately I see the Ikea Effect all too frequently. For example:
- Months spent creating an EHS training presentation that’s just “right” and customized for the organization, because surely having the corporate logo in the lower right hand corner of every slide will make the content much better and more effective. This is done despite the fact that it’s not a significant risk for the company, that you could go online and buy a presentation template for a fraction of the cost of your time and benefits, and any regulator is not going to be impress with your new found font.
- Trying to justify additional EHS headcount by developing a job description with a list of trivial projects and placing a false high value on those projects. But in reality, what is going on is that the EHS manager is trying to increase their “Headcount Index,” which is a measure of power in cubicle warfare. I once had an EHS manager tell me that “We’re adding a new headcount this year.” When I asked “What are they going to do?” Their response was “Well, every other department is getting one, so should we. I’m sure we can come up with something for them to do.” Guess what, a year later the company fell on bad times and people were laid off.
- Spending an entire year or more learning to program in Access or Excel, and building some crappy database and then thinking it’s revolutionary. Despite the fact, that your DIY system doesn’t scale, loads poorly, the code logic is not documented at all, is full of bugs, and there is no version control. Even though you could get an online EHS software system up and running in less than a week for a fraction of the cost of your time spent on such a system. The same company mentioned in the previous bullet had also earmarked several million dollars to internally build a customized enterprise-wide EHS management system, because the off the shelf systems weren’t “good enough.” Guess what, a lot of money was spent on that project before it was deemed an epic failure and cut from the budget.
Throughout the world, companies and managers fall in love with their own ideas – and reject better ideas from the outside because they were not designed in-house. With the budget planning process for 2014 on the horizon, make sure that you plan smart, that it’s in line with your company’s overall strategy, and that you place the appropriate value on line items. And, when you go to determine the cost of a headcount make sure it’s the fully-loaded value (i.e. salary + benefits). Yes, we all like to learn, to be creative and innovative, but at some point as an EHS manager, you have to figure out the best way to achieve your company’s goals and get the job done with a limited amount of resources. Don’t suffer from the Ikea Effect and plan accordingly.
For a further explanation of the Ikea Effect, go to this Ted video. The Ikea Effect starts at 12:48 on the time.