Joachim Verplancke

  • Culture & Learning Design Manager

  • Inter IKEA Group


At the upcoming virtual ATD 2020 European Summit, Joachim will be part of our expert speaker line-up, joining a panel discussion “Understanding the Learner: Applying Psychology to Improve Talent Development.” This panel will delve into a) understanding your workforce, as individual learners, to adopt practices to improve talent development b) using psychology to improve creativity, productivity and communication c) Developing collaborative opportunities for learners and leaders to engage through advanced mentorship programmes.

Joachim is an enthusiastic, life-long learner, with a huge appetite for design thinking, behavioural economy and positive psychology.

I’m not shocking anyone by seeing that the shift to online learning has accelerated. There is now a critical mass in digital learning to move on from simply making content accessible, towards creating evidence-based learning experiences that develop skills in the long run and add meaning. Next to this, you can also see how companies are trying to figure out how to bring people together virtually and how they can connect emotionally while being apart. I hope a few clever vendors try and look for that angle in L&D as well. How do we anchor competence development within the social environment when that environment is only digital? I expect a lot of movement in that area.

Positive psychology is so hard coded into IKEA’s DNA that there isn’t a huge difference between before or during COVID. Ingvar Kamprad, our founder, once said that crisis brings out the best in us. What happened during the lockdown was just a logical extension of how we always work: we build on each other’s strengths and have an optimistic outlook. So during the lockdown we easily found new ways to connect and we were focused on finding new and better ways of creating a better everyday life for the many people. This vision has never been more important than it is now.

The impact of leadership on culture is well-known. Rather than talk about that I would like to highlight two underestimated aspects. Many companies underestimate how important the hiring process is to a learning culture. Do you hire people who like to learn? Do you discuss learning at all? It sends an important signal to candidates and to your existing co-workers. Then, there’s the accessibility of learning material and learning opportunities. You can have a brilliant culture, if learning is buried into an obscure LMS, no one will use them. Not designing for the environment of the co-worker is probably the most often repeated mistake within the L&D industry.

I like that you ask about leadership instead of management. Cultural change happens in a network, not in an org chart. The leaders within the network may very well be people without any formal hierarchical role. Organizations focus often only on management to start change. In reality, effecting cultural change is a lot easier if you can also enlist the support of informal network leaders. When the  formal hierarchy and the leadership of the network are aligned, the adaption of a new culture can go fast. Without this alignment, the workforce will just see a bunch of conflicting signals and your culture change will go down in flames.

This a very old-fashioned view of developing a learning culture, as something the almighty leadership would set and then the flock will follow. What I see in reality is that many people are incredibly motivated to learn and that organizations actually get in the way of this natural desire to learn. Leadership should be focused on making it easy to learn so that they can harness this desire. I’m sounding like a broken record now, but stay close to your learners and design for their environment and the learning will happen. A co-created learning culture is a successful learning culture.

First of all, I would hope that leaders are also learners. Frankly, without learning, it’s hard to be a leader at all. That being said, shared experiences are the foundation of a culture. By creating collaborative opportunities, you give participants the chance to have that shared experience and understand each other. As an organization, you’re also signaling how important learning is to you by giving these opportunities.

The two main factors are the fit with the co-worker and whether there is evidence that the format could work for the competence were are trying to develop. In terms of fit, we ask ourselves: is this something that will work in the environment of the learners in our company? If not, how can we test it? Especially in larger companies with many different departments, one size probably doesn’t fit all. Direct evidence can be harder to find, but there are decades of academic research to lean on. Surrounding yourself with professionals who have a grip on this is one way to vet new design formats. Of course, evidence can also be gathered by testing on a small scale before going big.

First, stay close to your end-user, whether that is a customer or a co-worker. Approach them with curiosity, learn about their environment and design for that environment. Your digital products will be picked up much faster.

And remember the words of Flavor Flav: ‘don’t believe the hype’. Many snake oil salesmen will make you believe that there’s a new simple model or technology that will solve everything.  Learning is complex. Do yourself a favor and work with professionals who have a deep understanding of it.

About Joachim Verplancke:

Joachim is a long-term thinking, values-driven leader with extensive international experience. He loves the creative process and focus on outcomes that are good for people, business, and the planet.

Currently, Joachim acts at IKEA as global Culture and Learning Design Manager, working with a team of genuinely magnificent and highly talented learning experts and designers. Earlier in his career, he worked in finance, IT sales and human resources.

Joachim holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History and a Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He’s an enthusiastic, life-long learner, with a huge appetite for design thinking, behavioural economy and positive psychology.