The IKEA effect and change management


IKEA’s success of selling furniture (e.g., beds, chairs, desks, bookshelves) with “some assembly required” by the buyer inspired what’s known in psychology as the IKEA Effect, which is a cognitive bias where labor enhances affection for its results, resulting in an excessive admiration of a particular item you put together on your own.

For example, after I had the (let’s just say) joy of assembling an IKEA bookshelf, my sense of pride at my workmanship (truth be told, I am not the most handy man) made me ignore the fact that it was a little wobbly and leaned to the left. After all, as long as you keep the heavier books on the right-hand side of the bookshelf, it hardy ever looks like it could topple over at any moment.

Of course, if IKEA tried to sell me a pre-assembled bookshelf with such “features” I would refuse, but I would also now refuse to replace my wobbly bookshelf with even the best bookshelf ever assembled.

The change management efforts of data governance often encounter resistance from loss aversion, the fear of losing the comfort of the familiar, even when the familiar isn’t all that comfortable - such as outdated technology, ineffective data management procedures or inefficient business processes.

Loss aversion can be amplified by the IKEA Effect, especially when externally driven (e.g., by consultants) changes try to replace technology, procedures or processes that were built internally.

Early in an organization’s data governance maturity, many practices require some assembly, and since necessity is the mother of (not only good) invention, not-so-good inventions often get adopted as best practices in part because of the excessive admiration of that self-assembly.

Change agents get flummoxed when proven industry best practices are resisted. The confused looks on their faces seem to say: “Can’t these people see how wobbly their bookshelves are?”

However, the change management efforts of data governance can turn the IKEA Effect into an advantage if you provide well-built policies and guidelines while leaving some assembly required for the procedures and processes that will implement those policies and guidelines.

It’s easier for people to accept change when they feel they played a part in making the change.


About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.


  1. Excellent Post Jim, thanks.

    In my opinion you could make your statement even stronger. I think it is a necessity to have people heavily involved in making the change, not only for their acceptance but also to carry, communicate and advertise the changes.
    I like the book Managing Transitions by William Bridges on this subject very much.

    • Jim Harris

      Thanks for your comment and book recommendation, Frank.

      Great point about how involving people in the making the change makes them change advocates who can communicate the need for change to their peers, especially since peer influence is more effective than management mandates.

      Best Regards,


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