The leaders of Lend Lease are passionate about performance. They're even more passionate about people. That's why this global outfit, with 4,500 employees, has never had an HR department or an org chart — those obsolete relics of a bygone era. Instead, it has the Lend Lease Foundation. The Foundation, formed in 1983, is a self-sustaining unit that's run with all the rigor of a Lend Lease business — except that it's run for the people of Lend Lease. "It's pretty obvious," says Ann McCallum, who was CEO of the Foundation from 1996 until early this year, "that happy, healthy, challenged employees are better employees. We help people reach their potential."
Every Lend Lease employee gets about $1,000 a year to spend on a dazzling array of options — including gym memberships, fitness activities such as yoga, health-counseling sessions, reimbursement for family travel during business or sabbatical trips, home-office setup and computer training, and time with a life-planning coach. The menu also features a learning branch, called "Prosper," through which employees can sign up for personal and professional education programs — everything from singing lessons to public-speaking courses to MBA instruction.
Since people don't learn in a vacuum, the Foundation also offers a robust set of group programs. It reinvented the suit-on-a-stage model of communication by creating a series of interactive forums. Every year, for example, it holds two regional employee meetings, one called Insight and the other called Global Update. This year, the Insight meeting is being staged as a series of "great debates": Individual regions use the company's intranet to field nominations for "hot topics" and to organize discussions around those topics. For instance, the U.S. real-estate-investment division split its people into 50 teams, each of which will debate one of four topics over a four-hour period; the teams will then bring their best ideas back to their business unit.
Another program, called Springboard, grew out of meetings organized by the Genesis group, which brings together some of Lend Lease's younger employees. These rising stars were eager to build their skills and their networks. Now, thanks to their efforts, employees of all ages can nominate themselves for one of 250 Springboard spots that are available each year. The Springboard group is divided into five teams of 50, each of which meets for a five-day off-site. They are assigned to work on real business problems. More important, they meet people from parts of the organization that they've never worked with before. That's how friends — and careers — are made at Lend Lease. "I can trace all of my career moves back to the people I met through Springboard," says McCallum.
The Foundation also operates as a kind of incubator for new business ideas. For example, it provided seed funding for a conference on best practices in retail-property development, and out of that initiative came Retailing the Globe, a high-profile team that has begun to rethink how Lend Lease develops and manages retail centers.
During the first meeting of Retailing the Globe, Lend Lease Chairman Stuart Hornery laid down a challenge: "I said, 'We're doing $40 million a year in retail. I think we can make this a $150 million business.' Folks went away and formed teams. When they came back at the end of the week, they said, 'We reckon we can do $250 million a year,' " recalls Hornery. (These numbers refer to Australian dollars.) "It was amazing: These were people who work on shopping centers from Australia to Cincinnati. None of them thought that they could contribute to creating a global strategy, but they came together and unlocked enormous potential."
A version of this article appeared in the September 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.