You know that often-asked question during interviews about where do you see yourself 10 years from now? What if someone answers: “Not doing the same thing that I am doing today." This is no longer a red-flag answer. Many companies are now encouraging their employees to get out of their comfort zone, learn new skills and take up new roles in the organization, which lets them explore new areas of contribution.

“Everyone who is working with us is the talent we want to grow. We wanted to create the awareness that there are many ways to do this," says Anna-Carin Månsson, country HR manager, IKEA India.

Every IKEA store and office around the globe hosts what is known as the Talent Focus Week (TFW) in the firm—a programme aimed at increasing co-worker engagement. During TFW, IKEA encourages its employees to introspect and tune-in to their potential. Should that mean that their qualities and skills are more in alignment with a different function and they would like to take the leap and explore it, so be it. There are workshops, talks, lectures, etc. during TFW. Employees can discuss how they want to develop in the organization—so they can walk up to their leaders and have a conversation.

Joining in 2005 as a transport manager for South Asia, Saiba Suri spent the next three years with the company in Gurugram and in Shanghai. She moved back to India, and joined a different firm. After a few years, she wanted to return to IKEA and started to look for a suitable position. One would have thought that she would join back in logistics, but she took up the role of executive assistant to former CEO, Juvencio Maeztu, in 2015.

“I wanted to take that role—not knowing at all what it entails. It was about associating myself with a great leader and also having a belief that whatever role I take, I am not going to fail at it. And the organization backed me on this belief," says Suri, 39. This role also gave Suri an overview of the entire business, which came in handy in two years when she decided to move on to a new role—that of country retail logistics manager, early this year.

IKEA follows “a staircase model" where most employees move in three years. The belief is that the first year is taken to learn about the role, the second you are in the midst of the work, and the third year you are contributing at a much higher level and mentoring others. For Suri, the next step came when she started to think what she can do to grow not just professionally, but also potentially.

Learning from experience

Suri’s second coming—as she calls it—gave her a bird’s-eye view of all the functions, helping her to contribute in a more productive way to her particular function. She remembers travelling with the country commercial team—visiting stores across Thailand and Malaysia, in her role as an executive assistant. “I think this made me see what commerciality meant in IKEA, how do we combine different elements such as customer’s perspective, logistics, sales, etc., and how do they tie in for a better customer experience. Now, in my current role, commerciality plays a key part because logistics is not just about getting the product to the customer, but also ensuring that the right product is there at the right time," explains Suri.

Just like Suri, Eva Lorge, 50, has spent a good part of her professional career with IKEA—starting in 1996 as a part- time employee in the cash line. But in six months, Lorge applied to a sales position and moved, spending the next several years in the sales department. Currently, she serves as a country competency and leadership manager. All the different roles have helped Lorge to understand the business. “It has taught me to expect customer reactions or how a co-worker would feel. These are things which help in my daily life too," she adds.

Challenges on the way

Finding the perfect balance to gel with a new team and yet not be written off as an “old hand" in the business is tough. No matter what challenges come it is important to have a good and supportive manager, believes Suri. “When I transitioned the second time around—so much had changed in the company and in the industry. It required some guidance and more time for me to understand the new environment," she says.

Lorge, meanwhile, confesses that she likes to be close to people while working. “I first try to listen to my co-workers, ask questions, and to find out where are we going and work together towards the goals," she says.

Movers and Shakers looks at individuals who have changed their roles within the company and the challenges they have faced

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