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CEOs are having the wrong workplace debate: it's all about the culture

You can’t mandate motivation. Driving productivity and achievement is about shared culture, community and experience

​CHICAGO, Mar. 7, 2013 – As the chief environment officers responsible for company culture, CEOs are actively seeking to drive shareholder value by making radical shifts in workplace strategies. Yet some CEOs may be missing the point. 

“The real workplace debate is all about driving culture as a key driver of business performance,” asserts Susan Lim, a member of the Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) global workplace strategy board with responsibility for the Asia Pacific region. “To drive the global economy, you’ve got to create a shared culture aligned with CEO vision. You can’t mandate motivation. We should be debating how companies create and sustain culture, community and experience.” 

Three Guiding Principles for Transforming Workplace Culture 

Lim and the JLL global workplace strategy board recommend that organisations transform their workplaces through three guiding principles: (1) Corporate success begins with shared culture aligned with CEO vision; (2) Shared communities drive productivity; and (3) Improve employee engagement by creating destinations of choice. 

One: Corporate success begins with shared culture aligned with CEO vision
CEOs must drive shareholder value and business strategy, and essential to that is defining and shaping a shared culture, values and community spirit. In a healthy organisation, the CEO defines the vision and shapes the cultural values. Only then do execution and policy emerge from a shared set of values and goals. When CEOs focus on culture, shareholders listen. 

According to the Great Places to Work global research firm, “Financial performance of publicly-traded companies on our 100 Best Company List consistently outperform major stock indices by 300% and have half the voluntary turnover rates of their competitors.” 

“A shared mission creates a resilient, high performance organization – not specific policies,” observes Claudia Hamm-Bastow, the JLL global workplace strategy board member heading the EMEA region. 

“When culture is a strong reflection of the CEO’s vision, it creates an underlying bond that encourages managers to translate shared values within local workplace environments, fostering a sense of identity and belonging.” 

Two: Shared communities drive productivity 

“Productivity drivers naturally flow from shared values, and can create both revenue and achieve savings,” notes Bernice Boucher, also a member of the global workplace strategy board with responsibility for the Americas. “Technology has allowed us to navigate traditional space and time-zone boundaries, but shared culture shapes how that technology and freedom are leveraged.” 

Building a sense of community motivates employees and pays dividends in workforce retention, employee productivity and innovation. Creating a collaborative community of like-minded workers who want to interact together to solve corporate challenges is effective. 

These communities drive revenue generation as they increase the speed of decision-making, spark innovation and drive process improvements through better relationships. According to Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question 2.0, and creator of the Net Promoter methodology, “You can’t be the best place to buy if you’re not the best place to work.” 

Culture and sense of community can be shared worldwide, but the path to shared values will be executed in different ways depending on geography and function. Community will be built in different ways around the globe. Capturing cultural nuances helps build broader communities, as noted in the JLL infographic Pocketbook of Cultural Change​

Karen Stephenson, professor at Harvard’s graduate school of design and originator of the Quantum Theory of Trust, also stresses the importance of building a trusted community, “Trust is the utility through which (organizational) knowledge flows.” In an article about the Quantum Theory of Trust, professor Art Kleiner of New York University concurs, “Because networks of trust release so much cognitive capability, they can (and often do) have far more influence over the fortunes and failures of companies from day to day and year to year than the official hierarchy.” This trust must be reciprocal between the organization and its employees. 

Three: Improve employee engagement by creating destinations of choice 

“If workplaces are dull, monotonous and uninspiring, people won’t want to come to the office, and consequently may balk at policies that require face time,” observes Boucher. “It’s tough to have constructive conflict through virtual means only. An investment in shaping culture through workplaces that are truly destinations can protect one of the most valuable assets of any organization: its cultural identity and sense of community.” 

“Many major corporations have been focusing their workplace policies and investment on enticing people to ‘come back’ to the office,” observes Boucher. “But there should not be a black and white choice between the office and telecommuting. Flexibility is here to stay.”

The JLL workplace strategy global leadership team is available for media commentary. Reporters, editors and bloggers are encouraged to speak with New York-based Boucher, Hamm-Bastow (EMEA), and Lim (Asia-Pacific). Other JLL top strategists are available for commentary to address regional and specialty topics as well. 

Coming soon: Keep JLL on your radar as the firm will release its proprietary Global Corporate Real Estate Survey 2013 this April. This research continues the debate with additional perspectives for the C-suite including a look at the internal pressures executives face to get the workplace solution right. JLL’s research shows 73 percent of corporate real estate executives face high expectations from their organization specifically around the improvement of workplace productivity; and 62 percent face high expectations in the improvement of people productivity. 

A leader in the real estate outsourcing field, JLL’s workplace strategy team is a key component of its Corporate Solutions business. By creating outsourcing partnerships to manage and execute a range of corporate real estate services, JLL professionals help corporations improve productivity in the cost, efficiency and performance of their national, regional or global real estate portfolios. This service delivery capability helps corporations improve business performance, particularly as companies turn to the outsourcing of their real estate activity as a way to manage expenses and enhance profitability.