Cultural phenomenon Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

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

you make.

“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

the firm.”

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,

block-by-block effort.

“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

the company.

“(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

top-line growth.

“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