To hear Peter C. Roberts tell it, there is nothing more fun than
aligning the culture of a company that operates in more than 700
cities in 60 countries.
Tireless in his interest in the topic, Roberts has been anything but
patient in pushing the culture since coming on board at Jones Lang
LaSalle Inc. in 2003. And it’s a good thing, too, because Roberts,
CEO for the Americas, came on just when the company was taking a good, long look in the mirror.
The early part of the 21st century had been a nearly static time
for the professional services firm that specializes in real estate, but
as it began to right the ship in 2003, the senior leaders got together and realized culture was the engine that could drive the company’s growth.
“Culture, to us, is absolutely critical to our success,” he says. “In
a people-based business, culture is critical to success. Why?
Because people are your assets; they are the fundamental value
creators. If your primary value creator is your people, then who
your people are, what they believe in, how successful they are, will
directly impact how successful you are as an organization, and culture is what unites people.
“I would tell you a strong culture is not created overnight. Nor is
it created by accident. We spent almost an entire day talking about
our culture, and we started with what is our culture. And we came
away with a very firm conclusion, and that is our culture, and I
think anyone’s culture, is the sum or the product of the values that
the organization holds near and dear.”
When you break down what your company actually does every
day, you can begin to understand what you can do to infuse your
values into a functional culture. In a people-based business like
Jones Lang LaSalle, Roberts and the team realized the company’s
hard values but understood from a simple motivational standpoint that if you want people to drive things like professionalism
and superior performance, you need to get people fully invested
in the company. So the leaders focused on integrity, inclusion,
fostering a connection between colleagues and tying that connection back to a career in the firm.
By drawing clear lines around what the company wants to be
and what the cultural responsibilities for leadership are to create
that atmosphere, you create a filtering system for every decision
“That work basically makes explicit for the organization, here’s
who we are, here’s what we believe in and here are explicit filters
through which we feed every decision, pursuit, our strategy, our
clients,” Roberts says.
Set the table
Once you have the idea of the culture you want, you have to get
the word out and create the tone.
“If it’s just 10 people sitting around a table, it’s not going to be
very effective in aligning the rest of the organization,” Roberts says. “The key is around communication, so we are very explicit
about how we communicate with the organization, and we are
very aggressive about doing that, because one of those fundamental values was driving a connection between every employee and
From the moment the leadership team returned from that strategy session, they spent 2004 saturating every communication with
those values. They also made them the focus of quarterly town-hall
meetings where most of the time was allotted to taking open questions from people about the company’s direction.
Beyond putting out the communication, Roberts says you have
to do something that really shows how the company is living its
culture. Because Jones Lang LaSalle wanted to open up, Roberts
and other senior leaders were dropped in the middle of workstations.
“I sit in a cube,” he says. “Most everybody else does, too, and
what that does is it fosters what I like to call atom smashing in the
hallway; it fosters communication on a real-time, ad hoc basis.
“It doesn’t matter if you run a business unit, it doesn’t matter if
you work in the mail room, you’ve got the chance to interact with
leadership or your peers or colleagues and that helps foster communication and gets the message out, as well. It goes back to
authenticity; if we’re preaching openness, if we’re preaching
communication, if we’re preaching connectedness, if the leader
is sitting in the office and is shut off from the rest of the organization, that’s not a very authentic message.”
Drive the implementation
It’s nice to want a culture meant to motivate people in their
careers, but the tripping point often comes when you try to instill
that with thousands of people spread across the world. As Roberts
tried to truly infuse the new culture in 2004-05, he learned that you
have to refuse to make it second fiddle.
“You can’t accept the status quo, you can’t accept the naysayers,
you can’t accept patience,” he says. “You have to constantly work
at getting people to see the vision, you have to constantly work at
getting people to buy in to where you’re going, to buy in to what
you are doing, and sometimes, it’s almost a person-by-person,
“It’s really two sides of the same coin for patience. One is you
can’t be patient, you have to constantly work at it; the other side is
you have to understand that it won’t work overnight.”
That also means you have to keep driving the elements you
believe in when you run into people who are resistant to the new
“You have to work with them to agree to say maybe this isn’t the
right bus for you to be on, and you can’t shy away from those,”
Roberts says. “You have to confront them, but you have to confront them with the commitment and the passion, recognizing
the direction you’re on is the right direction.”
For those open to the new direction, managers have to take the
time to ask them very simply what they want from the culture of
“(Employees) have to be the steward of their own careers, but
we want to be sure the organization is providing them coaching,
mentoring and every tool available to maximize those career
plans,” Roberts says. “Those conversations create an environment
where people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender backgrounds feel like, ‘Hey, I
can succeed here just like everybody else.’”
You have to create a system that ties achievable objectives to
your cultural goals so employees see that you’re authentic.
For example, Roberts points to how Jones Lang LaSalle has
pushed for more diversity through enrichment opportunities that
are the responsibility of each level of manager. The company had
to reshape its outlets for hiring, recruiting, partnerships and promotion — and it ties a portion of each manager’s bonus to working those into his or her plans.
“I’ve got a diversity action plan,” Roberts says. “My direct reports
have a diversity action plan, their direct reports have a diversity
action plan. So it’s making people accountable for them that goes in
their annual goals and objectives, and their bonus is impacted by
how well they do that.
“We tie accountability and metrics to having those conversations. We’re able to track, through technology and our HR team,
those career development plans, so our key managers need to
have career development plans established for their top talent
diverse employee base. And that’s not just for diversity, by the
way, that’s all the action plans. They know what needs to happen,
they know who’s on the radar screen, they know who wants to
move to this geography or this business unit, so that’s how we’re
able to reinforce it.”
Reap the rewards
It’s been nearly five years since that original day spent focusing
on how to improve culture, and Roberts is still pushing the efforts
nonstop. And though he’s not one to slow down his cause to smell
the roses, he says the impact is undeniable.
“You can absolutely measure kind of the impacts of the results of
some of the work we did driving that culture,” Roberts says.
It has earned accolades the world over, ranging from Forbes
Platinum 400 Best Big Companies to China Daily China’s Top
Employers, Shanghai Region. The efforts have also boosted the
bottom line. Jones Lang LaSalle posted net income of $257 million
from nearly $2.7 billion in revenue in 2007, up from net income of
$103 million from revenue of $1.4 billion in 2005.
Though changing your company culture can be slow, Roberts
says the short-term bumps are more than outweighed by the long-term benefits. With a pile of industry rewards on its mantle, Jones
Lang LaSalle has people selecting the company based on the values it espouses and the clients coming in based on the company’s
Beyond that, the effort to work with employees on career satisfaction also has helped create a feeling of loyalty to the company. Roberts often points to one story of an analyst in the U.S.
who raised his hand and said he’d like to work overseas. Since
his managers noted his desire, he ended up spending a year in
Singapore, and he enjoyed it so much he raised his hand again for
a new challenge and bounced around the world until he ended up
in Dubai in one of the company’s fast-growing segments.
“That’s an example of that connection and inclusion and allowing people to make the most of what they have, that’s critical for
retention,” he says. “So the cultural aspects of it are absolutely critical to retaining people because it adds up to an environment that
values each individual for who and what they are and encourages them to be the most they can be.”
In turn, those employees you take care of will fuel your growth.
Roberts makes it very clear that it is that original effort to push the
company culture at Jones Lang LaSalle that has led to the company’s growth.
“Since the middle of 2005, our organization has evolved dramatically,” he says. “And starting in 2006 and 2007, our organic revenue
growth rate — if you scrub out any effects of acquisitions, you can
grow by acquisitions, but that doesn’t mean you’re growing organically — has started to dramatically separate from that of our competitors. So for example, in 2007, our organic revenue growth rate
was between three and four times that of our competitors, that’s
“It’s fair to say that our brand is very differentiated, known and
respected, and it is absolutely associated with that quality of being
the best,” Roberts says. “I don’t think we would be as clearly differentiated and have as powerful and respected a brand if we hadn’t done the work we’ve done.”
HOW TO REACH: Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., (312) 228-2430 or www.joneslanglasalle.com