Designing the Employee Experience for the New World of Work

Economic turbulence. Ripples of resignations. Worker power on the rise. To keep up with fast-changing expectations, businesses need to make employee experience a central pillar in their people strategies.

Companies are still struggling to find their footing on the constantly shifting sands of hybrid and remote workplaces. And now, the increasingly turbulent economy further unsettles the landscape, challenging existing employee experience strategies.  

Many organizations are reducing headcount and cutting back on engagement efforts. That’s understandable in the short term, but it’s a mistake to take your eye off the ball completely. Longer term, the war for talent will rage stronger than ever, even if we see a relative truce for a while. The pandemic, the Great Resignation and the demand-driven labor market made people realize that they can choose how and where they work. The mold has been broken and you can’t put it back together. Ignoring the experience elements while the economy slows will only worsen the hiring dilemmas of the future and see the confidence decline of those employees that remain. That means every organization will have to grapple with (if they haven’t already) an employee-centric offering if they are to attract, retain and engage the right talent they need to thrive. 

Through our work as people strategists, psychologists, change practitioners and service and product designers, we have helped clients around the world accelerate their employee experience journeys and studied countless experiments and their outcomes. As one might expect, there is no silver bullet. However, our work has shown that experiences that are desirable to employees don’t have to conflict with what is viable and feasible for the business. After all, maximizing desirability, viability and feasibility (DVF) is crucial for creating a long-lasting, sustainable impact on the employee experience. 

The economic situation may remove the feeling of urgency, but talent will always have a choice about who they work for and in harder times organizations need to motivate and enable their people to perform, even more than usual. Organizations are still entirely reliant on their people and those that accept the reality of employee power and the demands that come with it will reap the rewards in the long term.  

Employee Power is on the Rise 

Over the last two years, every type of organization had to quickly test and experiment with countless workplace policy updates to stay afloat. Companies didn’t have time to “wait and see”– they had to create new policies in a few days. In some cases early on, companies saw surprising increases in productivity, in a survey carried out by the University of Chicago, 40% of respondents said they believe they are more productive at home while 15% said the reverse is true. Others reported remarkable gains in employee satisfaction, even reaching record levels. And as many as 64%, according to Pew, found the ability to work from home at least some of the time gave them more work-life balance. 

But just two years in, this picture is now one of burnout, stress and cultural disconnect. Job satisfaction has plunged to a 20-year-low. Women have been especially crushed by this downside, with education and childcare crises forcing millions out of the workplace, likely setting gender pay equity efforts back for more than a generation. And as the Great Resignation, well underway before the pandemic, continues to make hiring harder, the economy is sputtering. 

The point is, it’s harder to be an employee than it used to be. Economic uncertainty will make it harder still. Organizations need employees to perform, and it creates an even greater need to provide a stable and productive working environment.    

“Employee experience” is a common buzzword that is over-used and ill-defined. For decades, conventional wisdom has dictated employee engagement as the ultimate goal of employee experience. Experts believed that engaged employees are more productive, stay around longer and grow into the leaders of tomorrow. One of the problems with employee engagement is that it is inherently employer centric. Firms want their employees to be engaged with work. But employees crave so much more. They want to be well compensated, valued and connected to a purpose. They no longer compartmentalize their careers and work as separate from their personal lives. They pursue well-being across financial, physical, mental, social and intellectual dimensions. 

The New Equation: Flexibility + Connection = Wellbeing 

What people want more than anything is holistic well-being. It’s fast becoming the foundational tenant, with a recent survey finding that 80% of employers believe helping workers achieve this well-being is an important objective. Prophet’s research also finds that flexibility and connection are the main levers for getting there.  

Flexibility means accounting for individual and team preferences, circumstances and strengths. 

Connection, and how people experience it, is complex. It encompasses interpersonal dynamics, relationships and interactions among peers. And it also aligns individuals with the company’s purpose and mission, tapping into their own values. Connection flourishes in inclusive environments when people are psychologically safe and comfortable being themselves at work.  

Companies must constantly balance this equation. Any policy that impacts flexibility or connection must be considered.  

Designing employee experiences around flexibility and connection creates an environment of:

Wellbeing: The New End Goal 

Health is now the ultimate headline. People have had the chance to re-evaluate what’s important and possible in their lives. Fed up with outdated norms like the 9-5 schedule and chronic stress and fatigue, employees are less willing to sacrifice their physical, mental and social health for their job. 

As a result, employers are now in the hot seat, charged with prioritizing and more actively supporting these health goals. While previously, employers’ duty of care lay solely in the realm of physical health and safety, the pandemic elevated emotional and mental well-being to the same level of priority.  

More traditional leaders may raise their eyebrows at the expansive responsibility of providing for employee wellbeing. And some long-tenured executives want to resist this change. But it’s too late. The paradigm has already evolved, and the trends are clear: Employees today have a record level of bargaining power. And even if a slow economy causes a blip, this trend will only get more prevalent, as we enter the era of “employment as a service”. It’s incumbent on employers to develop an experience that is desirable, viable and feasible. 

This power shift has been especially acute in retail and food service. When a leading QSR brand engaged Prophet to understand the evolving restaurant workforce, well-being emerged as the central concern. We learned that employees want more than financial gains and physical safety. To them, well-being also meant personal development, solid communities and psychological safety. They wanted a sense that the company cared about them, of course. But they also wanted ways they could demonstrate their care for co-workers. 

Those insights helped us to reinvigorate the employee value proposition and identify the moments that matter, along the entire employee journey, developing initiatives and experiences that would allow it to retain current workers and attract top talent. Prophet developed “100 Ways to Care,” an expanded set of team support systems. The customizable and flexible collection of benefits includes instant pay, automated shift scheduling, and holistic wellness options, focusing on company-led and funded mental health and employee assistance. By first establishing essential truths about team members of the next five to 10 years and envisioning what their journey will look like, signature experiences can address needs and opportunities with new capabilities.  

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We also developed quantifiable metrics beyond the usual engagement scores to measure the impact of these efforts on the experience. Capturing metrics on a wider range of factors including tenure, attendance, complexity of the role, overall job satisfaction and attention to/interaction with solutions, as well as engagement, enables an ongoing view of “experience” and supports agile refinement and improvement over time. 

Other companies are using this holistic approach to make key decisions and reap returns. BP and Bank of America have built mental well-being support and accountability into their leadership cultures. BP gets real-time mental well-being feedback from regular employee engagement surveys to understand how teams feel and how to support them. Bank of America is creating opportunities for colleagues to talk about their mental well-being, breaking down attached stigmas. 

Other organizations are taking corrective action with core business activities, demonstrating the power of employee experience (EX) to create significant benefits to customer experience (CX). Mojang Studios of Minecraft fame, for example, recognized the toll that the pandemic and related stress was taking on the well-being of its employees, even as it faced an urgent deadline on the Caves & Cliff Update at Minecraft Live. It decided to delay the update to ease the burden on employees, sharing the news via a blog post. Users of the world’s most popular game, although disappointed, respected that decision. And they responded by pushing Minecraft’s monthly active users to record levels. 

That’s not an isolated incident of business benefit, either. One recent study ranked companies by measures of workforce well-being. Those in the highest 10% reported a 27.2% increase in return on equity and a 24.8% gain in profits, substantially higher than their Fortune 500 peers. 

The ante is rising. As businesses adapt to growing demands, a holistic well-being strategy will be even more vital to the employee experience. Caring for the entire person–not just who they are at work–is now a table stake when it comes to talent attraction, recruitment and retention. When businesses take care of their people, those people take care of the business. 

Flexibility: Developing a Targeted, Flexible Workplace Strategy 

Much to the delight of many, hybrid working is here to stay. Even the U.K’s minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency has revealed plans to offload £1.5 billion worth of London office space because of the number of civil servants who continue to work from home. More broadly, just over half– 53%– expect a hybrid model going forward, with 24% expecting the option to work remotely all the time.  

But for the most part, the policies that initially governed remote work came together in a period of intense panic, implemented in an environment of desperation and uncertainty. 

As firms work to create their long-term policies, they have an opportunity to learn from COVID-era flexible working experiments and formalize what started as ad-hoc solutions. As hybrid working becomes the new middle ground, flexibility must become inherent to employee experience. People want to make decisions based on what’s best for them, considering their families, commutes and work-life balance.  

Dropbox’s 3,000 employees now work remotely most of the time and go to the office for more collaborative and team-building work. The company redesigned its facilities to make this shift, removing individual desks.  

Many financial services companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have drawn a line in the sand for return to the office, wanting employees back five days a week. But fueled by a robust job market, their employees are reluctant to give up flexible working conditions. How can institutions that want employees back full-time compete with others who allow hybrid work? 

Prophet worked with one of the U.K.’s leading financial companies to develop a long-term workplace strategy. Early on, it had won rave reviews for its rapid pivot to a work-from-anywhere policy. But as the months ticked by, it realized that culture, morale and engagement began to erode. It needed something beyond a monolithic approach to flexibility. One size, it acknowledged, definitely did not fit all.  

And this approach had unintended consequences, including increased pressure on leaders to navigate managing fully remote teams. It also raises the question: How can companies retain the benefits of in-person collaboration, which are proven and time-honored ways to keep people motivated, while preserving the option to be remote?  

Our work started – as it always does – by looking through the lens of Prophet’s Human-Centered Transformation Model™.  

This model looks at organizations as a macrocosm of an individual– with DNA, Mind, Body and Soul– and provides a framework to map the employee journey and address all of the organizational factors that touch on the experience people enjoy day-to-day. In this instance, we took a closer look at the core employee personas and archetypes. While many people reported improved morale and engagement, there was an increased risk of losing a sense of belonging and investment in the company’s culture.  

We helped our financial services client create an employee experience strategy that balances the needs of all stakeholders. That meant a shift from flexibility based on individual needs to flexibility that works for all. Instead of asking employees to work from anywhere, they’re now being asked to work from where makes sense for them and their teams – encouraging them to make decisions that balance their individual needs with the needs of the team and the needs of the business. They are also encouraged to make decisions “led by the work.” That encompasses more than just the tasks on their to-do list. It includes learning and development, team building, career conversations and leadership, which all make them feel more connected to the company’s broader mission. 

We’ve worked closely with this client to ensure transparent communication around these changes. Employees must understand that this isn’t about the company going backward on its commitment to flexibility. That would damage the employer-employee trust it has nurtured so carefully since the pandemic began. 

Instead, it’s working to ensure hybrid work options that provide “freedom within a frame.” 

Importantly, much of the focus has been on leadership, ensuring they can be effective in hybrid and remote scenarios, including performance conversations, spotting well-being needs and empowering decision-making. It is also paying more attention to the importance of role modeling. Leadership is both the most significant risk to employee experience policies and also the best amplifier. 

We also helped the company expand the different tools and technology used to maintain performance levels and initiate conversations throughout the organization about what good looks like. Today, they can much more easily encourage inclusive practices to ensure equal opportunity for growth across all talent. 

An essential outcome of this type of work is that leaders throughout the organization better understand why this all matters and just how valuable a flexible employee experience strategy is. Being more intentional about how an organization defines “flexibility” goes beyond a happier workforce. It strengthens the organization, expanding the talent pool for employers. That includes geographical range, of course, but potential employees who must work from home, such as caregivers, and those who simply prefer remote work. 

However, this recruiting advantage will continue to wane as more companies clarify their version of flexibility. That means it’s essential that each organization defines flexibility in a way that meshes with its operations, culture, technology and purpose. Done right, it makes a company’s employee value proposition distinctive and relevant. It becomes a competitive talent advantage. 

Representation and Diversity Matter  

Employees increasingly want to (re)build a sense of connection to their co-workers, communities and the broader mission of the employer. We used to have the proverbial watercooler to engage in small talk and get up to date on the latest developments. Often, it’s where we built trust, camaraderie and relationships. But in increasingly hybrid and digital environments, companies are still finding it hard to recreate the spontaneity and organic moments to build those connections.  

Representation, too, factors deeply into the connection. Employers need to be clear about what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to them and how it aligns with the organization’s values. It needs to be active in the cultural norms and hard-wired into processes, developing metrics to track impact. Research suggests that diverse teams outperform individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time. And DEI initiatives matter to job seekers too, with 64% of candidates saying diversity and inclusion are key factors when evaluating a job offer. 

The presence of women in senior management has long been understood to improve financial performance, and new research finds that as firms add more women, they become more open to change and less afraid of risks, increasing psychological safety in the workplace. Specifically, the firms studied shifted towards innovation, investing more in research and development and less in acquisitions.  

As companies scramble to make sure their efforts show tangible results, attracting, retaining and motivating key talent through turbulent times, we’re finding that small acts of inclusion have the most impact. Robust employee resource groups for workers of color and LGBTQ+ are a must. So are networks that encourage women, who continue to leave their jobs at higher rates than men.  

Prophet’s global research, “The Collaborative Advantage”, finds that one of the biggest barriers to effective organizational collaboration is a lack of clarity on the connection of work to the broader business strategy. Organizations often fail to show employees how working together more closely helps achieve personal and corporate goals. Despite 80% of leaders believing that collaboration produces better outcomes, many are still struggling to meet the collaboration challenge and break down siloed work. 

Humans are fundamentally a social species and people want to belong, to be part of a team. And they want those teams to function well, to collaborate in ways that are rewarding to all involved. Our research shows that individuals who work at more collaborative organizations aren’t just more productive and satisfied. They’re keenly aware that it teaches them valuable new skills and expands their networks. 

Connection Starts with Employee Onboarding 

Organizations realize that they must be more intentional at creating connections at work, finding new ways to put all kinds of relationships back into play, from formal work roles and team responsibilities to friendships and side conversations. 

It’s especially critical to get this right and set the tone for the new joiners’ tenure. Within an employee’s journey, the onboarding experience can define how engaged employees are within their roles and for how long. We worked with Reltio, a high-growth data management unicorn, to improve, standardize and scale the onboarding experience.  

As we spoke to employees across functions and levels, we discovered that new hires depended on the relationships formed in that critical period. In its remote-first environment, Reltio already had a culture of virtual connection and helpfulness, which had become crucial in an employee’s ability to connect and learn important information about the organization.  

To better support this informal approach, we articulated “foster relationships”.  This became one of five experience principles that now inform how Reltio supports new hires. Designed to recognize relationships as a fundamental need, this ensures that employees can continue to stay in touch and support each other as they find their way within the company. This principle came to life across experience concepts, including buddy systems, pre-scheduled meetings, access to organizational charts that outline roles and teams and one-to-one coffee chats.  

The Steep Cost of Standing Still 

All this creates an urgent need for companies to sharpen and expand their employee experience. Businesses, even those that were considered highly progressive employers, are losing talent every day. And it doesn’t look like this recent phenomenon is slowing down with a near record-high number of Americans still quitting each month.   

Employees, from the most highly sought-after tech executives to fast-food workers, know they have the upper hand. They know they can–and will–find an employer more willing to support their total well-being and in some cases offer a pay rise as well (with a median raise of 16.1% in the US). Recession or not, employee expectations have changed forever. 

Twenty years ago, marketers had to accept that the age of customer experience had arrived quickly. Now it’s the employee experience’s turn. Organizations don’t have the luxury of treating the employee experience as an afterthought. They need to be more intentional about every interaction–how they recruit and hire and how they encourage connection. They must acknowledge that individual needs don’t always align with a team or organizational goals. 

They can’t–and shouldn’t–revamp their employer brand overnight. But by focusing on the simple equation–Flexibility+ Connection = Wellbeing–they can shape their vision, building a roadmap to working towards over time.  

By taking advantage of these turbulent times to reimagine the experience employees enjoy, companies can prepare for the growth journey ahead. 

Start with these four general guidelines: 

  1. Of every new experience shift, ask: Is this desirable? Viable? Feasible?  
  1. Tailor the experience strategy and design to clearly symbolize company values and elements of the employee value proposition, aligning them with the corporate purpose and strategy. 
  1. Focus on moments that matter. Employees travel many journeys, and the thing that makes a company great for an entry-level employee may be very different than what matters to a seasoned leader. Understand different employee personas and archetypes.  
  1. Make a balanced, healthy and diverse workforce the new end goal, using flexibility and connection to drive well-being and grow stronger every day. 


Employee experience design is a rapidly growing discipline. It’s how organizations can maximize their advantage in the war for talent and take advantage of seismic shifts in working patterns. When employee experience becomes a central pillar in a company’s people strategy, it makes it easier to align with brands, business strategy and customer experience. 


Rebalancing Your People Portfolio 

Six actionable steps you should take when developing a winning workforce strategy. 

With layoffs and hiring freezes dominating headlines, it would be easy to think the war for talent is over. And if one were to judge talent acquisition trends by past economic downturns, many organizations would shift their hiring strategy. 

But this economic environment is different. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve projects the current downturn might cause the unemployment rate to rise from 3.8% to a still-low 4.4% in 2023 and 2024. And in the U.K., unemployment hovers at the lowest level in 50 years.  

Despite these challenges, there is still a war for great talent and acquiring the right people with the right skill set to do the job. And it is vital to your firm’s success. According to Forrester’s recent Budget Pulse Survey, most leaders reported they would not decrease spending on talent, with 60% of leaders expecting to increase spending on personnel and 62% expecting to improve external services.   

Strategic workforce planning is by no means a new concept. As far back as the 1960s, management thinkers prescribed methods to balance the talent supply and demand equation. And in financial downturns, the topic usually finds renewed interest among the c-suite.  

Here are six fundamentals you should consider when building your talent strategy.  

1. Strategic Workforce and Talent Planning Should Be an Activity of the Entire C-suite  

As of 2020, 80% of all assets in the S&P 500 are intangible. And one of the most important intangible assets of any organization is its people, which is why it is essential that the entire leadership team participates and has a responsibility in the firm’s talent acquisition and workforce planning process- not just human resources.   

The leadership team should start with a clear vision of the company’s business strategy over multiple horizons- say six, 12, and 24 months. While no one has a crystal ball for the future, even a directional view of the organization’s immediate, mid and long-term needs will provide a solid foundation for strategic investments in talent.   

2. Identify Critical Talent Segments to Deliver on Your Business Strategy  

Once companies are clear on where they want to go, strategic priorities come into focus. To identify your critical talent segment, you should assess three key areas:

  1. Internal labor market: Identify the emerging trends within your workforce and how these trends will impact your business priorities.
  2. External labor market: Analyze the external labor market to determine who you should hire and what skill sets you will need to match your business priorities.
  3. Assess talent needs and prioritize critical roles at the enterprise level: Uncover each business unit’s capability needs to sharpen your recruitment efforts.  

3. Invest in Your Workforce Like You Would a Financial Portfolio   

As your leadership team makes strategic investments in immediate needs, it’s easy to lose sight of your future vision – and the talent you’ll need to succeed. 

To help you avoid this common pitfall, we recommend approaching your workforce planning as you would with your investment portfolio. Consider a 70/20/10 investment framework to ensure you have the talent you need today to drive critical business outcomes and the workforce you need in the future:

  • Dedicate 70% of your talent investment to core business needs  
  • Reserve 20% of talent investment for emerging business opportunities
  • Devote 10% of talent investment for future growth opportunities  

4. Build a People Analytics Team   

A robust people analytics team can help translate the refreshed strategy to the future workforce, even as the hiring picture changes. Consider building a people analytics team (with access to workforce planning tools) who know how to leverage your data to answer critical questions like:

  • How many people are needed to execute current plans?   
  • What skills will our future people need?
  • What roles and responsibilities can we outsource?   
  • What work, if any, should be outsourced or automated?   
  • What structural changes are required for future initiatives?   

5. Invest in a Compelling Employee Value Proposition and Company Culture   

There’s no secret to this. People want to work for companies that value them. New graduates stampede toward firms like Alphabet and Apple because they are good employers. That creates a flywheel: They attract and keep the best people, and these gifted workers help them grow faster. And because they grow faster, they can better invest in people, enabling their growth and success.  

In addition, a compelling employee value proposition and company culture help you build trust, engagement and performance within your workforce, which is critical when implementing significant change within your organization.   

6. Develop Flexible Ways to Deploy Your Talent   

New strategies–and new markets–create opportunities for employees to diversify their skill sets. Make it easy for them to do so with formal and informal ways, such as project-based agile squads, partnering models and centers of excellence.   

These flexible ways of working will empower your employees to mesh their interests with the needs of the business.  

Individual employees will immediately see the benefits, recognizing new avenues of career development. And the organization benefits from a more flexible, multi-talented workforce.  


If your organization isn’t yet taking a strategic approach to workforce planning, consider starting with a solid foundation around these six principles. You’ll find that reimagining your workforce strategy with the same passion and innovation as customer-facing aspects of business doesn’t just prepare your organization for your future vision; it will also help ensure you have the right talent to weather current storms.  

Learn more about our organizational transformation strategy and capabilities.  


Heightening Collaboration For ESG Success

Learn how your organization can work better together in service of the greater good.

Major challenges to life and the planet are mounting. Many of them, like extreme weather events, are only a precursor to far greater threats to life as we know it. Sustainability is the solution to these challenges, but time is not on our side. Progress towards the UN Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) set in 2015 – “to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity” – has been disappointingly slow – not least because the scale of collaboration it requires across government, business, the non-profit sector and the public is immense.   

Against this background, we want to know what should be done, what can be done and what action we can take now, not simply as consumers, employees and investors but as people. As we increasingly choose brands for their commitments to make a difference, business leaders are sharply focused on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) activities to build sustainability. Shareholder returns are no longer an accurate measure of success. Now organizations must create value through their ESG efforts for all their stakeholders. 

There has been a varied landscape of responses to these challenges. Organizations in some sectors have, by their very nature, long been conscious of their mandate to operate, such as those in mining. Some organizations like Unilever have been progressive, acknowledged consumer demands and adopted the UN SDGs early, while others were built for ESG – from The Body Shop to Patagonia. However, many more are still searching for the appropriate growth journey that embraces and integrates ESG in the post-pandemic world.    

Reconciling Sustainability and Growth  

Sustainable growth is now a widely accepted mantra. However, it is far more complex to achieve, as organizations must balance the demands of diverse stakeholders with those of the environment. And automation, digital and data are accelerating the scale and pace of business transformation.  

These challenges aside, we firmly believe ESG will become an increasingly important driver of growth and transformation. How an organization defines and activates its ESG strategy within its overarching growth ambition should influence every facet of its operations. Strategy and vision are one thing. But ethics and behavior prove the intent. Culture and organizational ways of working are “the rubber” where ESG strategy “hits the road”.    

It’s a mistake to dismiss the alignment of sustainability and growth as an “internal” challenge. Given the complexity of partnerships and stakeholder engagement that ESG commitments bring, the need for organizations to build effective internal and external working relationships has never been so great. It’s a phenomenon and fundamental need we describe as “heightened collaboration.” 

“We can’t make people want to save the world – we don’t define the rules. But we can show people what we can achieve, when we work together.”

Larissa Alghisi
Chief Communications Officer, Julius Baer

In this report, we explore heightened collaboration in-depth, outlining its character and composition and how it is achieved. We will also see that without this collaboration and the action it drives, ESG strategies can flounder and fail and are easily dismissed and discredited as greenwashing.   

Prophet’s Position 

Prophet is a global consulting firm that believes in unleashing the power of people, businesses and brands to move society forward and unlock uncommon growth. Within our Organization & Culture practice, we believe that uncommon growth begins by unlocking the full potential of human-centered organizations.  

For the past four years, Prophet has conducted a major study, “Catalysts,” across the globe to examine culture and transformation – identifying the key levers within an organization’s culture system that achieve effective and sustained change. 

Unpacking the Power of Collaboration 

In “Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage,” we looked closely at what it means to collaborate effectively. Collaboration in the workplace is a long-standing challenge. However, it is more relevant than ever, as organizations need to solve increasingly complex challenges and develop more holistic customer solutions faster.   

Our findings revealed that despite optimism amongst senior leaders, half of all organizations still struggle with effective business-wide collaboration, even in face-to-face environments. With remote and hybrid working well-established, there’s a clear need to add muscle to this organizational skill. 

“ESG will do a lot of good for a lot of businesses. But it is going to result in significant changes in how organization operate in terms of governance and processes, all of which will require a great deal of collaboration across teams”

Shari Hofer
Chief Marketing Officer and EVP, Wiley 

Heightened Collaboration and ESG  

More positively, our research underscores collaboration’s power to unlock the potential of more human-centered organizations. Working together effectively brings clarity and purpose to both the organization and its individuals. And collaboration’s power to accelerate transformation is captured in the report’s key takeaway: our Collaboration Flywheel.   

Against this backdrop and our hypothesis that heightened collaboration is essential to deliver ESG strategies and the multi-stakeholder engagement they require, we reached out to business leaders globally. We spoke with 15 senior leaders to examine the links between the Catalysts report findings and their increased relevance to the ESG agenda. They were drawn from various industries and geographies with backgrounds in sustainability, strategy, supply chain, marketing, HR and front-line operations.    

This research validated our hypotheses, uncovering some key lessons on enhancing collaboration in service of ESG. 

Emerging Research Themes  

Four key themes emerged from our exploration. All of these build on the original levers identified in our Collaboration Flywheel, but they have particular relevance to achieving heightened collaboration in service of ESG. 

Before we begin, a note on language. “Collaboration” was often used in the research to describe ways of working that are only part way, in our view, along the Collaboration Flywheel. These are more accurately “coordination” and “cooperation” rather than fully-fledged and effective collaboration. Most organizations involved are well-versed in coordination but acknowledge that bureaucracy and silos continue to challenge their ability to “give ground” for a bigger ESG cause. 

Theme One: Persuasive Passion  

Effective collaboration is often founded on a strong and inspirational leadership style. Leaders with purpose, who work towards a focused agenda and model a consistent organizational mindset, set a clear and accessible example to follow. Naturally, leading by example is only part of the equation, but commitment and energy spark true collaboration. We often respond to passion and chemistry before the process. A leader who displays pace and conviction can have a magnetic effect on their colleagues, catalyzing collaboration pervasively.   

As well as inspiring others, these leaders must persuade colleagues to get behind shared goals and develop mutually beneficial ways of working. ESG goals are cross-stakeholder and sometimes require difficult conversations to balance conflicting needs. We shouldn’t underestimate how big an issue ESG is for organizations. It’s either embedded in what they do and what they stand for– so leaders are naturally at the forefront–or it’s about a change journey with leaders stepping up to set ESG priorities, align the organization around specific goals and find shared approaches that reconcile different agendas. Either way, priorities, goals and approaches can be identified with coordination and promoted with cooperation, but they can only ever be achieved with the momentum of collaboration– the momentum that so often begins with the energy and focus of a persuasive leader.   

Client Spotlight: Polestar 

As a leader in electric vehicles, ESG has always been part of Polestar’s DNA. Sustainability is omnipresent in the organization. Polestar is truly a global company with a global R&D function that includes teams in Sweden, China and the UK. And it is this global outlook that helps it drive collaboration in very different cultural markets.  

Its CEO embodies the business’ passionate style of leadership. Polestar hires driven people with strong team skills, which the CEO channels by role modeling a very clear ‘one organization’ mindset with ESG at its heart. So, what does this style of leadership look like in practice?   

“He is so clear on the purpose of Polestar: it has to be a cohesive experience all over the world. So, he is extremely clear our brand also has to be consistent wherever we are. One Polestar Experience, One Polestar Brand. He’s constantly driving the organization to think as one brand.”

Monika Franke
Head of HR, Polestar 

From the Polestar example, we learned that when leaders visibly champion, reinforce and celebrate steps on their ESG journeys, they create a pull toward more effective collaboration.    

Leaders like this build a movement, but that’s not all. They also create safe spaces to explore and challenge ambitions that can seem daunting to many—environments where individuals feel able to explore the connections with their own belief systems. 

Theme Two: Personal Purpose 

ESG collaboration starts with and requires true commitment from each individual. ESG-related initiatives tend to resonate with people’s values and identities, even more so than other work. Whether it’s improving the environment or creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, ESG topics intrinsically motivate people, and they often feel deeply personal about them.   

As a result, organizational cultural change around ESG is fueled by the personal belief systems of individuals. The challenge for leaders is to channel these personal beliefs to drive collaboration by ensuring individuals can see their values reflected in the ESG strategy.   

What we consider the DNA of an organization – its purpose, values, EVP and strategy—is growing in importance for employees. It influences their motivations to join, perform and stay with companies. Now organizations have the opportunity to develop ESG-focused strategies that attract like-minded talent whose personal beliefs align with their ambitions.   

  • 86% of employees prefer to support or work for companies that care about the same issues they do.
  • 38% of employees would look for a new role if they thought their organization was not doing enough on ESG Issues. 
  • 93% of employees who said their company was making a strong positive impact on the world were planning to stay in their jobs. For employees who did not agree with that statement, only 43% were planning to stay with their employer. 

Developing and implementing a comprehensive ESG strategy and embedding it in organizational DNA can be challenging, particularly for those organizations in which sustainability is not inherently linked to the value chain. However, for organizations with a resolute focus on ESG, the long-term potential for accelerated change, enhanced engagement and talent acquisition are substantial. Aligning employees’ personal values with a clear organizational commitment to ESG will build satisfaction by creating a sense of belonging to a wider collective with a shared set of values.    

Client Spotlight: Liquid I.V. 

Sustainability has been a guiding principle for Liquid I.V. from the very beginning. As an international wellness brand redefining rehydration, it has used sustainability to shape its relationship with the brand’s own talent as well as its partners. Liquid I.V. has a refreshing, non-corporate approach that emphasizes energy, transparency and personal impact with a stated aim to grow, profit and inspire positive change. The prospect of becoming independent changemakers attracts new talent, and employees are given the opportunity to leave a legacy.   

Signature employee experiences include:   

  • Placing sustainability at the center of their work so that each day starts with a focus on purpose. This allows Liquid I.V. to create a powerful ripple effect through its efforts and successes in transparency, sustainability and giving back.   
  • An ambition to convince others that the impossible is possible and that there is an urgency in this work   
  • Monthly Net Positive conversations to confirm the “why” and explore the ‘how” together as a collective  
  • A focus on ‘making it work’ – to prove that a company can inspire positive change and demonstrate that sustainability is ‘the new way” 

“[Sustainability/ESG] is the one area that I believe you do not pull back and hide information. It must be shared because it is a responsibility of every brand and every person.”

Sean Lavin
Vice President, Impact – Innovation, Global Sustainability and Giveback,  Liquid I.V.

A focus on sustainability results in a collective of inspired individuals collaborating towards shared ESG goals to become a culture of changemakers. Liquid I.V.’s example shows that purpose-driven organizations with clear ESG goals can create inherently collaborative environments by channeling each individual’s commitment to sustainability. Its strong ESG stance and shared drive enable it to attract and retain talent. And not just any talent, but individuals who tend to be ESG-minded and are naturally collaborative. 

Theme Three: Shared Success   

As we’ve seen, leadership behaviors and the connection with the individual belief system are critical to effective collaboration in service of ESG. However, while these catalyze effective collaboration, scaling and sustaining to achieve heightened collaboration requires more.   

With any collaborative effort, individuals are occasionally required to “give away their LEGOs”: sacrificing their own ambitions to serve a greater good. Interestingly, this becomes more pronounced with ESG. Sustainability activities don’t always have easy-to-quantify commercial returns, but teams and individuals must make room for ESG efforts in their own agendas to advance the organization. In particular, ESG-related metrics must be embedded into incentive structures for ESG initiatives to succeed.  

The strength of these goals and incentives varies between organizations according to their ESG credentials. Some companies, like Liquid I.V., have embedded ESG efforts into their business models. However, in other mature businesses, a passion for ESG may be present organically or within pockets of the organization, but it is not integrated into the culture. This prevents truly collaborative efforts. Such organizations must provide stronger incentives—a rewarding collaboration between teams and within them – to realize all the potential of these initiatives. 

Client Spotlight: DSM  

Successive CEOs have helped ensure that purpose has long been established at DSM. A global leader in health and nutrition, the business has a history of projects that support its ambition to “create brighter lives for all.” For example, since 2007, DSM has partnered with the World Food Programme to use micronutrients to enhance nutrition for pregnant mothers and their children. The program, which has a proven impact on the long-term healthy development of both mother and child, is so deeply embedded in the culture of DSM that it – and others like it – is often why employees join and stay with the organization.   

To ensure its commitment to ESG has real meaning for its 20,000+ employee organization, DSM has embedded ESG and sustainability metrics within its incentive program for the pasts 10 years. Even at the highest levels of the organization, these metrics shape 50% of employee remuneration. And the organization continues to look for ways it can do even more. In 2021, it completed a full review of its remuneration policy to maximize its impact and prioritize sustainability within DSM. 

“We make sure [sustainability] is embedded in the way that we reward people, to continue to bring the organization forward and contribute to more than just making money. It helps us attract and retain really good talent – people come to us because of who we are and what we’re trying to do.”  

Cristina Monteiro
Chief Human Resources Officer, DSM

Transparency and openness are key to effective cross-organization collaboration in the service of ESG. Employees who do not have direct influence over shaping the ESG agenda may feel that sustainability is a large, vague and insurmountable challenge. Without clarity and openness, they may be less motivated to do their part, as they are unsure of what that looks like for them.  

The first step in effective ESG collaboration is to dedicate time and effort to educating employees on the organization’s ESG-related goals, how they will get together and their role in that journey. Employees will be empowered to work more closely together with a clearer sense of the “why” and a greater understanding of their individual contributions to the overall goal. At the same time, clear ESG-related incentives will encourage the creation of new priorities, enabling heightened collaboration for sustainability across the organization. 

Theme Four: Expansive Collaboration 

In previous sections, we have seen how pivotal the presence of strong leadership, committed individuals and aligned incentives are to unlocking effective collaboration for ESG. Another catalyzing force is the ability to collaborate across ESG’s expansive stakeholder ecosystem, particularly its external stakeholders. In our research, we found that breaking down silos is especially important because the success of ESG’s goals and initiatives hinges on the engagement of external parties and partners, including the supply chain, partners and even competitors.   

“[ESG] strategy cannot be a standalone effort within a business, because if it is, it will always be a siloed function. You have to truly integrate it in the business. For instance, together with our Chief Finance Officer, we share ESG targets that are tied to our overall compensation, and we are continuously looking for ways in which we can incorporate sustainability metrics into our investment decisions.” 

Ezgi Barcenas
Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev

Change Fitness and Collaboration  

Working within this ecosystem to meet ESG goals demands innovation and a high degree of what Prophet calls maturity in “change fitness”. We describe the more mature levels of change fitness as a state of “flow” or even “play.” This is when leaders recognize and are comfortable with the idea that they don’t have all the answers seeking out and embracing other contributors, including competitors. Organizations and teams exhibiting Change Fitness will embrace more experimental working styles to support continuous and disruptive innovation. Meanwhile, individuals will be better equipped to move fluidly between roles and teams to improve personal and business outcomes.  

It’s worth noting that achieving change fitness isn’t always comfortable for leaders. It’s a “human-first” approach focusing on diverse contributions and devolved decision-making. This often conflicts with how leaders have been recognized for achievement in their working lives to date. 

One example of a company that has a high maturity in change fitness is AB InBev, the world’s leading brewer. It pinpoints collaboration as the foundation of its respective ESG success, especially as it relates to its supply chain. 

“External partnerships are a part of sustainability and have to sit at the heart of what you’re doing. You’re not tackling the problem for yourself; you’re tackling shared challenges and creating shared value.”

Ezgi Barcenas
Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev 

AB InBev also recognizes the unique opportunity to work with others in the private sector, because advancing work in ESG is better for the business as well as the world. This list of partnerships includes NGOs, the UN, peers, the broader food and beverage industry, local authorities and governments and suppliers. 

“These [sustainability] initiatives will help you solve a business challenge, but also help you tackle a societal problem as well…. Collaboration is required, and external partnerships are required, even if the project is internally focused.”

Ezgi Barcenas
Chief Sustainability Officer, AB InBev

Increased collaboration not only makes it possible to achieve your ESG goals but also fuels innovation and improves internal efficiency.   


The increased focus on ESG in recent years has helped drive massive shifts in organizational priorities and mindsets. Businesses have started to move from catering to shareholders to caring for stakeholders; from risk mitigation to sustainable growth realization; and perhaps most importantly of all, from “me” to “we.”

“You are always looking for the spark to ignite and you particularly need it when collaborating on behalf of the planet.”

Rahul Malhotra
Head of Group Brand Strategy & Stewardship, Shell 

Perhaps unlike any other type of work, ESG creates win/win possibilities for the business, its employees, its customers,and the planet. But to realize these possibilities for all demands the collaboration of all. 


There is no doubt that achieving true collaboration in any type of work, let alone a burgeoning frontier like ESG, has its challenges—especially in today’s hybrid working world. But through our research, we discovered that organizations can achieve heightened collaboration in service of ESG when they: 

  • Direct efforts through clear and passionate leadership
  • Connect deeply to the belief systems of individuals  
  • Align shared goals and incentives across the organization 
  • Push the boundaries of collaboration beyond teams, business units and, critically, the company itself 


Enabling Transformational Growth in Asia Through Effective Collaboration

Learn how companies in Asia can drive innovation and accelerate outcomes through better collaboration.

52 min


In Asia, effective collaboration is paramount to unite a diverse set of countries and strive towards a common goal.  

Our latest global research report, “Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage,” unveiled that companies in Asia value collaboration more than other regions, but lag in execution. How can the region work to close the gap? 

In this webinar replay, leaders from Prophet’s Organization and Culture practice and the APAC team share insights from our latest global study, introducing clear pathways for leaders to prioritize and accelerate the efforts to build their collaborative muscle. 

Learn how effective cross-organizational collaboration can help your business unlock transformational growth through a holistic, human-centered approach.  

Key Takeaways

  • How Prophet’s Collaboration Flywheel helps deliver better, more impactful outcomes faster over time through a 3-phase approach.
  • Characteristics unique to the APAC region, and why effective collaboration is paramount to unite a diverse set of countries and strive towards a common goal. 
  • Actionable tactics and case studies to unlock collaboration in today’s ever-evolving organizations with remote, hybrid and face-to-face workplaces and the future opportunities for improvement.   
Download the presentation PDF.


Transformational Change is the Name of the Game

How to create a change-ready organization through a culture of play.

The past few years have felt like anything but a game – unless that game is Monopoly and you’re losing to your older sibling after landing on Park Place for the eighth time. In this case, the taunting sibling has more teeth: global pandemics, social reckonings and war. 

All of these factors have shaken people’s sense of safety, identity and trust. And these challenges have required companies in every industry to accelerate transformation—something that’s difficult in an environment where people are exhausted, frustrated and, at times, scared.  

Fortunately, many companies are heeding the call to take care of their people with 90% of employers reporting an increase in investment in mental health programs (come on, the other 10%!) according to Wellable Labs’ “2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report.” 

And while holistic well-being is incredibly important, work itself still lacks the humanity (the human beings in “well-being”) needed to sustain change. But that’s where play comes in. Forgive the pun, but it plays a part in the transformation.  

What is Play and How Does it Tie Into Transformation? 

Prophet’s Change Fitness Model reflects the different starting points for how companies see and address change, ranging from the transactional belief that “change is an obstacle to overcome” to the transformational state of play where transformation can be a sport to be enjoyed. 

You can think of play as “batteries not included.” Because, given the constant nature of change, those who have achieved play can spend less energy overcoming each effort and more time being fueled by it.  

So how do you get to the state of play? Exactly—you play!  

Scientists Meredith Van Vleet and Brooke Feeney define play as: A behavior or activity carried out with the goal of amusement and fun that involves an enthusiastic and in-the-moment attitude or approach, and is highly interactive among play partners or with the activity itself.  

Applying this lens to work clarifies the opportunity–making work that people enjoy, that brings out enthusiasm and deepens connections.  

The skeptic will say, “We don’t have time for play – we have work to do!” But those ahead of the curve see the intrinsic need to link the two. Better play means better work. In fact, in a 2019 study by Brigham Young University, teams that played video games together were 20% more productive than others.  

That’s because play unlocks creativity, helping people tap into new sources of inspiration and ways of thinking—which creates better solutions.  

And, especially at a time when the universe is playing chess with humanity, play creates sustainability and safety, encouraging people to enjoy what they’re doing, so they’ll want to do it more. And it deepens skill building, encouraging trial and growth in new ways. Checkmate. 

Of course, play is easier said than done and toxic environments will reject it. People can’t experiment if they believe their job or reputation is at risk. They won’t be themselves if they don’t like the people they’re working with. And they won’t prioritize play if they’re getting mixed or conflicting signals from leadership.  

Play shouldn’t be isolated to an innovation team, a single brainstorm, an occasional company outing nor the funniest person in the room. Play needs to take place across all levels and contexts – across a company’s culture, teams and individuals. Each reinforces the other with a company’s culture making it easier for teams to be able to play, and individuals bringing their whole selves to both innovation and the everyday.    

How to Create a Culture of Play Within Your Organization  

So how might you best implement a culture of play? We couldn’t not use the SMILE acronym, could we?  


No one wants to play “the floor is lava” with actual lava. People need to feel safe in their environment. That means feeling confident that they can make mistakes and learn from them, not be punished by them.  

According to Peter Temes, founder and president of the Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO), “that hasn’t changed since we began this work 15 years ago, and probably hasn’t changed from decades prior to that—this idea of lowering the cost of failure.”  

Leaders can create safety by modeling and being transparent about failures and growth opportunities. Most importantly, leaders’ actions must speak louder than words – when individuals fail, they need to celebrate those learnings, not focus on the implications. 

Leaders can also help create a sense of safety through joy and levity in the workplace. Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, authors of “Humor, Seriously,” have shown that companies that embedded humor in their culture had employees who were 16% more likely to stay at their jobs feel engaged and experience satisfaction.  


By nature, games have stakes and meaning – it’s what makes them exciting and, as defined above, creates the enthusiasm that creates play. Giving meaning to play can take many forms.  

One way is through reinforcing an organization’s purpose, helping people see why their work matters. Some companies create meaning through competition – whether individual incentives, team challenges or by focusing on external competition.  

One company created an internal fantasy league, resulting in an 18% increase in outbound calls and an increase in morale. Making play meaningful like this can be a great cause for celebration and recognition as well—reminding people about why they need to be invested in what they’re doing. Of course, “meaningful” must be rooted in safety – if people fear the stakes are too high, that fear can hold them back.  


Everyone’s favorite radio station is WiiFM – “What’s in it for me.” Ask someone about a project they’re working on, and they might smile. But ask them what they did this weekend, and they’ll light up—even more so if they get to talk about personal hobbies or passions.  

Create more ways for people to light up, and you’ll create more ways to unlock that joy and translate it into their work and relationships. At a systemic level, consider how you’re fostering individuals’ passions and making them feel heard and represented. And at a team and day-to-day level, find ways to share them.  


On the other side of the “individual” see-saw is the need to bring people together. Often, people have more fun working with other people, and collaboration creates those all-important feelings of togetherness and belonging. Prophet’s 2022 Catalysts research: The Collaborative Advantage finds that employees achieve better outcomes personally and professionally when they collaborate – 65% of respondents cited higher levels of productivity as a result.  

In hybrid environments, it becomes more challenging, where it may seem like people are working together on endless transactional Zoom calls. In reality, there is a shrinking emphasis on true connections which require smaller group interactions and a mix of both work-related and non-work-related focuses.  


People need new inputs to get to new outputs. Trying a new dish can be more fun and exciting than eating the same meal for the fifth time this week. Consider how to fuel people’s joy and creativity by putting them in new situations, hearing from new voices or thinking about things in new ways. Then, use that space to give people a chance to get their hands dirty, safely.  

Build in the flexibility for exploration. A global airline used the power of play to teach the organization its seating pricing strategy. Leaders used a game of “The Flight is Right,” taking the principles of “The Price is Right” and applying it to the complex principles that airlines face. By approaching the learning in a new way, and allowing people to play and participate, the message stuck.  

LEGO’s serious play methodology is another great example of encouraging exploration to envision challenges in new ways while tapping into the joy of being a child.  

The creativity expert, Edward De Bono, describes “Rivers of Thinking” – the building nature of experiences that help us to unlock new solutions. When we fill our rivers with the same water, it becomes difficult to explore new ones.  


Play isn’t a moment in time or something you do outside of work. Organizations can use the power of play to create a sense of safety in the workplace, give employees a purpose, and build trust– all factors needed to accelerate transformational change in an organization. 


The Future of Your Organization is Human

People aren’t robots. In a changing environment, companies shouldn’t be robotic, either.

It’s a truth older than Darwin: The ability to adapt grows more valuable whenever uncertainty in the environment increases. With the world’s markets tiptoeing toward recession, companies have the opportunity to make their next evolutionary leap–the chance to become more human.  

We know –”more human” doesn’t exactly sound like how we’ve traditionally been taught to think about organizations. Businesses have spent the last two decades pursuing digital transformation and embracing artificial intelligence and advanced robotics–technologies that generally assume tasks previously reserved for humans. Additionally, business leaders have spent the last two centuries absorbing the Industrial Age organization theory, painting organizations as machines. 

However, enterprises are not machines and people can no longer pretend that they are. Organizations are living organisms with behaviors and abilities like the humans who staff them. 

The last few years have made that clear. Profits, while essential, aren’t all that matter. The market’s definition of success has shifted, and while people still expect organizations to make money, they increasingly value environmental sustainability, social equity and inclusion as well as efficiency. They expect human behavior–that means ethical, compassionate and transparent–from the companies they do business with.  

Organizations can’t behave like single-minded robots to thrive in this new era, marching mindlessly toward the next quarter’s financial results. They need to evolve and become more complex, adaptive and creative organisms.

Three Ways You Can Build an Adaptable Operating Model  

Adaptability is an acquired skill, and enterprises can take inspiration from our own human biology. We see three critical ways companies can evolve their operating model to become more adaptable and flexible, using the human body as a starting point.  

1. Distributed Intelligence 

People’s bodies can react quickly without involving the brain. Think about knee-jerk reflexes or yanking a hand away from a hot fire. 

Organizations do the same thing when they empower people to take action throughout the company instead of having all decisions centrally controlled by a handful of leaders.  

In a pharmaceutical company, for instance, engineers and planners can be embedded into production teams so they can deal with any issues locally, continually improving performance. The production quality gets improved locally and immediately, without involving the company’s central leadership. 

This pivot to decentralization is evident in flexible manufacturing. For the pharmaceutical industry, for example, this concept is increasingly important when using cell and gene therapies to make advanced biologics. Often, these drugs are aimed at small patient populations, especially in oncology. Manufacturing cells need to reconfigure quickly to respond to market needs and be first to market. 

It shouldn’t be local intelligence and action versus global intelligence and action. It’s about both. The human body has neurons in muscles, gut and extremities as well as the brain–and so do organizations.  

2. Learning Through Data 

Our brains learn through external stimuli, and people’s knowledge and capabilities represent everything they’ve individually learned or experienced. In other words, they are built by the data available to them through the senses. That’s why neural networks, modeled on the structures of human brains, can only be as smart as the training data available to the model. 

For organizations to be more nimble, they need better and more frequent access to data of all types. They need to develop robust “sensory organs”–mechanisms to ensure they intimately understand customers’ needs, wants and desires. And they need to feed that data (as real-time as possible) into organizational decision-making.  

That’s especially true for design functions, so that customer and employee experiences adapt to the needs of 21st-century consumers. Many companies believe they already do this, of course. But in adaptive enterprises, it is as natural as the human eye adapting to bright sunlight. 

Samsung has built regional design studios around the world, which leverage design thinking and market knowledge to rapidly innovate. With its main hub in San Francisco, its multidisciplinary designers help it tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. That enables it to reign as Apple’s most formidable competitor.

3. Embrace the Ecosystem 

Humans are exquisitely social animals. Most of us cannot exist independently from one another. Societies are complex ecosystems, with people mutually dependent upon one another for survival. And as environments have changed, new civilizations have grown up in response to new human needs. 

In organizations, this spurs ever-expanding ideas about partnering and collaborating with other organizations. Technology incubation centers have spawned new developments–enabled by these networks and connections in ways that didn’t exist even a decade ago. It’s driven by sharing platforms– companies like Uber and Airbnb–and the subscription economy, led by companies like Salesforce and Apple. 

Thriving in a VUCA World 

There’s no escaping the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world we live in today. Organizations are still scrambling to embrace the changes wrought by the pandemic, including shifting customer values and hybrid workforces. And while the recession is by no means certain, rising inflation, energy costs and interest rates are pressuring consumer and B2B customers.  

But organizations are by no means helpless. These sweeping changes offer opportunities for evolution and adaptation. For some, it may even be the right time for organizational transformation, including a new approach to human-centric operating model design. And no matter what, this uncertainty requires an entirely new approach to collaboration, a holistic view of the organization that takes in a company’s eyes, ears, heart and soul–as well as its brain.  


Companies that want to thrive in a changing environment can do so by being less like the robots they used to be and more like the humans they serve.  

Want to understand how to put your organization on a path to become more human-centered? Get in touch with one of our experts. 


How Collaboration Can Unlock Business Resilience 

Learn about the power of collaboration and how it can fuel resilience across your organization.  

55 min


Collaborative initiatives are becoming even more critical. Mounting evidence shows organizations that demonstrate effective collaboration across their business also benefit from having a greater resilience – particularly essential in these challenging times. Mastering it allows businesses to act nimbly, anticipate, adapt and respond to incremental and sudden changes – benefiting customers, employees and the bottom line. The trouble is executing it effectively.   

As hybrid and remote working proliferate and disruption becomes the norm, it’s never been more important to ask: Are we collaborating effectively?  

In this webinar replay, leaders from Prophet’s Organization and Culture practice discuss the results of their latest global research report, “Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage.” 

 Learn how to unlock the power of collaboration across all working environments through a holistic, human-centered approach and how to structure collaboration to ensure resilience is achieved.  

Key Takeaways

  • Why collaboration is a muscle that can unlock the potential of a more human-centered and resilient organization.
  • Actionable tactics to unlock collaboration in today’s ever-evolving organizations with remote, hybrid and face-to-face workplaces and the future opportunities for improvement.   
  • The enhanced business outcomes and benefits of effective cross-organizational collaboration.

Contact us to learn how Prophet can help you unlock resilience with the power of collaboration.  


Enabling Effective Collaboration in SEA: The Way Forward 

Our research shows companies in SEA value collaboration but lag in execution. Learn how to close the gap. 

More than ever, collaboration is top of mind as companies ease out of the pandemic and build towards a new normal. The past few years showed us the challenges of collaborating amid changing COVID-19 restrictions and hybrid setups. However, they have also shown us the transformative potential that can be unlocked via technology, agility and a human-centered approach.  

In Southeast Asia in particular, effective collaboration is paramount to unite a diverse set of countries and strive towards a common goal. But this is not without its challenges. The region continues to struggle with heightened competition for talent, fluctuating COVID-19 policies and different development stages of hybrid work in an ever-competitive market landscape. Moreover, collaboration in SEA can be particularly challenging due to a number of characteristics unique to the region: varying cultural and language backgrounds of employees, different levels of economic development across the region, nascent stages of digital transformation and – for international corporations – a wider cultural difference between HQ and regional offices.  

Despite, or perhaps because of these challenges, our 2022 global research report, “Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage”, shows that SEA companies value collaboration more than other regions (52% versus 44% globally).  

Diagram 1: Value of Cross-Organizational Collaboration 

However, only 28% of SEA respondents feel they are very effective at collaboration across their organization.  

Diagram 2: Effectiveness of Cross-Organizational Collaboration 

How can the region work to close the gap and reap the benefits of strong, cross-organization collaboration?  

The Collaboration Flywheel 

A key output of this year’s “Catalysts” report, Prophet’s annual global culture research study, is the Collaboration Flywheel, a model that reveals a path for leaders and organizations to prioritize and accelerate the efforts to build their collaborative muscle.  

The metaphor of a flywheel helps capture the inherent complexity of the adaptive system that is organizational culture. A flywheel works by reinforcing positive behaviors and outcomes while minimizing negative feedback loops, thus building and maintaining momentum over time. Most importantly, each specific action we’ve identified in the Collaboration Flywheel model helps deliver better, more impactful outcomes more quickly. 

Using this framework, we can understand how SEA can leverage its strengths and unique regional characteristics to drive greater organizational effectiveness.  

Diagram 3: The Collaboration Flywheel 

1. Coordination 

The first phase in the Collaboration Flywheel is Coordination. This is where many organizations begin their development journey by empowering groups to work horizontally rather than just in their vertical silos. Coordination centers on connecting an employee’s effort to the larger picture – the organization’s purpose – and modeling “what good looks like.”  

In our research, when compared to respondents in other regions, SEA respondents were more likely to emphasize the importance of connecting individual work to the organization’s purpose. In SEA, 75% of respondents believe it is important to be able to connect their work to the company’s business strategy, however, only 36% think they are able to effectively contribute to the organization’s purpose.  

Diagram 4: Value versus effectiveness When Connecting Employee Work to Business Strategy 

While many factors can inhibit an individual’s ability to contribute to the organization’s purpose, we see the three biggest factors in the region as top-down management styles, lack of understanding of “what good looks like” and early stages of digitalization. To overcome these hurdles, companies can enable cross-organization coordination by empowering decision-making at lower levels of the organization, showcasing best practices and pushing the digital transformation agenda forward.  

In 2017, MB Bank, one of the largest financial services groups in Vietnam, set up a new digital bank as an independent business unit, separate from its legacy bank. This radical approach to digital transformation helped MB Bank’s speed to market, but it also made coordination between the two BUs challenging. Employees knew the bank’s digital transformation goal, but those in the legacy bank couldn’t always contribute to it.  

MB Bank recognized this disconnect and saw the impact it had on employee coordination and how that translated into the customer experience. By leveraging digital transformation to instill agility and a more nimble way of working across the organization, MB Bank was able to transform its legacy bank, driving the efficiency of its operating model and increasing cross-organization coordination. To further create a culture of collaboration, the company focused on shifting the mindset of its people, encouraging an entrepreneurial and agile approach that embraces risks and a fail-fast new culture. This has propelled MB Bank today to become the fastest growing and most digital bank in Vietnam.  

2. Cooperation 

The next phase is Cooperation, which builds on coordination by adding trust and shared ways of working. It is characterized by clarity of objectives, capability building and incentive alignment. 

Relative to other regions, SEA respondents place more emphasis on aligned incentives as necessary means for collaboration. In our research, 78% believe incentive alignment is important to collaboration effectiveness, and a quarter believe incentive misalignment is also one of the biggest barriers to achieving this goal. 

Diagram 5: Value versus. Effectiveness When Aligning Incentives That Encourage Cross-Organizational Collaboration 

Keeping in mind SEA’s highly diverse workforce, the definition of a good incentive can vary widely.  

For example, companies in more developed countries such as Singapore, tend to consider soft incentives (benefits, training, recognition, etc.). However, companies in developing countries such as Vietnam, often prioritize hard monetary incentives. Beyond cultural differences, unrelated parts of the organization are often incentivized by siloed outcomes and metrics of success, making cooperation difficult. To solve this, companies can enable cross-organization cooperation by aligning incentives with relevant business outcomes that build towards a common goal, while taking cultural nuances into account. 

In 2020, HSBC merged its retail banking, wealth management and global private banking into a new global wealth and personal banking unit. This change in the organizational structure allowed for greater operational efficiency, reducing redundancies and combining related capabilities, talent and infrastructure resources. By breaking down silos and creating a shared mindset around collectively achieving goals, HSBC was able to reduce cooperation barriers to drive more effective client outcomes. 

3. Collaboration 

As cooperation builds interdependence and synergy between formerly independent groups, it creates the opportunity to pilot and embed new ways of working. In the Collaboration stage, leaders reward progress – not just outcomes – and there is a culture of evaluating both process and priorities within the context of the organization’s purpose. 

When compared to other regions, SEA is better at both recognizing and rewarding cross-organization progress. Almost half (41%) of SEA respondents believe their organization is good at recognizing and rewarding progress. However, to enable effective cross-organizational collaboration, organizations need to both recognize progress and be open to constructively challenging the ways things are done.  

Diagram 6: Value versus. Effectiveness When Recognizing and Rewarding Cross-Organizational Progress, Not Just Outcomes 

Many of the companies in the region tend to be more traditional in their approach to workplace organization and culture, emphasizing their top and bottom line over individual wellbeing. This is especially true for small and medium enterprises, which make up 97% of all businesses in the region. This conventional mindset often inhibits individuals from innovating new, more effective ways of working.  

To open the door for innovation, employers can empower employees to think critically about how they can better contribute to the organization’s purpose and be innovative in their ways of working. By allowing a more bottoms-up approach to organizational culture, employers will not only see more effective outcomes in the market but will also make their workplace more attractive to employees. This can be achieved through test-and-learn environments where employees can propose new ways of working and implement integrated planning processes where functions can share wins, risks and priorities. And if the organization is in the midst of a transformation, this is where setting up a Transformation Management Office (TMO) to connect different parts of the organization around a unified set of goals can take place.  

Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) has adopted a flat, tech-like organizational structure that gives semi-autonomy to its sub-groups. This enables the agency to have not only speed to market, but also high levels of collaboration across the groups. In addition, when recruiting, GovTech specifically looks for a sense of learning agility in candidates, ensuring its employees are eager to adapt, pivot and stay ahead of the trends. This internal culture of collaboration helps GovTech stay competitive with other tech startups and incumbents that prospective employees might be considering. The results are astoundingly impactful: In 2021, 99% of citizens surveyed expressed satisfaction with the overall quality of Singapore’s government digital services.  

At Prophet, we believe that people are at the core of any organization. And people working together collaboratively is what drives change, delivers results and sets organizations apart. SEA faces unique challenges: from its uneven regional economic development to its early stages of digital transformation to the diversity in its workforce. However, these present an even more pressing need for organizations in the region to build towards a culture of collaboration. By using Prophet’s Collaboration Flywheel, organizations can work towards:  

  • Coordination: Illustrate the linkage between an employee’s individual effort and the organization’s purpose. Guide individuals by showcasing “what good looks like” and giving decision-making authority to lower levels, while leveraging digital transformation as an enabler.
  • Cooperation: Align incentives across the organization, balancing differing definitions of what a “good” incentive is. Take these cultural differences into account to create incentives as well as a shared mindset that collectively achieves unified goals.
  • Collaboration: Focus on the process, not just outcomes to make room for more agile thinking which allows synergies and interdependences to form. Empower employees through a bottoms-up, test-and-learn approach that encourages them to challenge the status quo and implement new, fresh ways of thinking. 


Prophet’s 2022 global research report, “Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage,” aims to help companies better understand how effective collaboration works and identify opportunities for growth. To learn more about how insights from the report can apply to your organization and your region, contact our team today. 


Building Relentless Resiliency in Times of Uncertainty 

Five imperatives for thriving during a period of economic turbulence.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste” may be old advice, but it feels timelier than ever. While businesses are still struggling to distill the ongoing lessons of the pandemic, they now see inflation, interest rate hikes and an ongoing war pushing the economy closer to recession. If that wasn’t enough, supply chain issues continue to disrupt and consumer confidence is fading. 

Companies are also challenged as they try to figure out if we are in the great resignation or the great retirement, and what that all might mean for the great hybrid experiment.  

A new norm has emerged: The only true business constant is continuous business disruption. 

Predictably, many businesses are already fearful, cutting budgets, freezing new hires and even laying off staff.  We are seeing this in our clients. Governments are getting involved in companies’ marketing spend. And chief sustainability officers wonder how best to pay for the commitments they’ve made over the past two years. 

All these issues are real and complex, and in some ways, it’s good to be on high alert. But businesses have a choice in how they respond, as they did in the economic crises of 2001, 2008 or 2020.   

Each downturn has produced new economies that did not exist before, from e-commerce to the sharing economy to the experience economy to the world of subscriptions and crypto. There’s a long list of companies that have been created by these downturns including Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, AbbVie, Spotify, Instagram, Bitcoin and Ethereum. Others, such as Samsung, GM, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Bank of America have been reimagined in ways that would be hard “to imagine” before these downturns. 

So, instead of talking about crises, cutbacks and retrenching, we are choosing to use words like resiliency, durability, agility and radical innovation, as we guide clients through this latest challenge. We know growth can’t happen amidst panicky cost-cutting or short-sighted pivots. 

No one enjoys downturns. But we can see how our clients in the past have channeled anxiety into strength and resiliency. They evolve. They make intelligent choices and emerge stronger than the competition. This is a moment to leapfrog and discover ways to accelerate, creating an opportunity to differentiate companies from competitors and create net-new businesses and categories, customer experiences and offerings. 

To this end, here are five ways we are advising clients as they strive to build their own versions of relentless resiliency. 

Accelerate Purposeful Leadership 

In the last two years, purpose-driven companies have become the norm. COVID-19 triggered an unprecedented number of companies to go out, find their North Star and align to a higher-order purpose. These past few years have shown leaders that doing good in the world, doing right by employees and customers and making money can all work in concert. Now is not the time to throw all of that goodwill and equity away.    

Purpose-driven companies are forcing leaders to become more agile, transparent and even a little vulnerable. The radical communications door that opened during COVID-19 needs to stay that way. The entrepreneurial spirit that allowed companies to reinvent how they did business has to continue to thrive. The agile strategies that respond to a changing environment must become the norm.  And, importantly, with a strong purpose in place, they can make hard decisions through a values-based filter. Steps to take now: 

  1. Invest in purpose-driven growth moves. Remind teams that downturns always open white space opportunities for those that are looking “between the cracks.” Encourage teams to continuously search for the next big thing. What will be the crypto or sharing economy of 2023? How might it align with your purpose? How will it move you forward? And, importantly, how does it pay off your purpose? Assume your competition is doing the exact opposite. 
  2. Be ruthlessly transparent. Agility is important, but moving too fast can cause whiplash, confusing employees rather than inspiring them. A change in direction and purpose alignment can’t just be clear to leadership–it must be evident to all teams and employees, as well as customers, shareholders and other stakeholders.  Be vigilant, strong and consistent in your communication approach. 
  3. Accelerate brand, demand and innovation efforts. Discretionary spending is generally first to go, yet, we have seen in the last three recessions that companies that kept their foot on all of these pedals have come out stronger on the other side. On the innovation side, widen the acquisition aperture. Start-ups and small companies might currently be more open to acquisition discussion, and can immediately fill in offering and experience gaps at a lower price point. On the brand and demand side, it’s easy to fall into the false dichotomy that companies must tradeoff between brand or demand marketing. However, you need both. And there must be a real partnership between the two disciplines often most at odds—sales and marketing–to figure out the right mix today and tomorrow. 

Leverage Employees as Your Greatest Competitive Advantage  

There are many reasons the employee base is so fragile right now. The great resignation, the great retirement and many of the experiments coming out of COVID-19 are still in motion. Many companies will use recession nerves to back off employee engagement efforts. If they haven’t yet focused on their employee value proposition (EVP), they may think they can let it slide.  

This is a big mistake. Like many other companies, Prophet just went through a talent war like few others we have seen. There is no reason to think that will change on the other side of this downturn. 

The current economy is making employees increasingly uncertain about the company-employee contract, despite all the employee engagement skills businesses have built through COVID-19. The EVPs just re-launched at many companies will be thrown into disarray. Pragmatically, if personnel cuts need to be made, it must be done through a strategic lens, tying back to the company purpose. Steps to take now: 

  1. Choose programmatic and initiative cuts over personnel reduction. We are still in the early days. And just as the pandemic sparked supply chain issues and are still causing mayhem (just peek in a Target or Walmart warehouse), so too will the labor shortages many are experiencing on a daily basis. 
  2. Encourage cross-functional teams. New research from Prophet finds that 63% of companies with higher cross-functional collaboration skills say it increases employee satisfaction scores, and 54% say it boosts retention. People want to work with one another. 
  3. Poke at pain points. Hybrid workforces are in their infancy, and there is much to be done to make the experience more fulfilling. Is commuting grinding people down? Are they stressed by after-hours e-mail? Do they have Slack or Zoom fatigue, and are there other tech solutions that might help? 

Make Budget Decisions Through the Experience Lens, not Just Organizational Constructions and Functions 

As mentioned, it’s natural for companies to consider cuts across the organization– in each function and business unit. In tough times, this often feels “fair”. Instead, decisions should be made using the experience point of view: What allows for the best customer and employee experience? 

Companies should take this opportunity to understand what is required across the functions to create differentiated experiences for customers and employees. This may require more granular cuts. And in every company, there are pockets within the budget that will always be spent, often in procedural and programmatic ways. That money may well be redirected to experience investments. Paused programs can always be restarted. Steps to take now: 

  1. Create agility through experience pods. Many companies have already put smaller pods into place to boost agility. Put these newer teams to work differently, across functions and in ways that build customer or employee experiences. Create assignments that build connective tissue. 
  2. Enhance collaboration. Break down silos and optimize spending by developing a more collaborative working model. Our recent research shows that while 80% of leaders believe collaboration leads to better outcomes, only 28% of hybrid workplaces effectively support it. And only 50% of respondents believe their teams collaborate effectively, even when they’re all in the same room. What are new ways to rewire traditional methods of working including budgeting, resourcing and product development? 

Harness the Investments Made in Technology  

Digital thinking continues to be the lifeblood of business. It drives everything from manufacturing to delivery to remote work. And technology accounts for trillions in business spending, including ongoing investments that can’t be reduced. The problem is that in most companies, this tech exists in ponds and lakes, with little ability to pull it all together.  

And in many, that single view of a customer–the dashboard we’ve all dreamed of–still doesn’t exist.  

If possible, it’s a good time to pause or slow new tech investments, reevaluating digital priorities. Any spending that improves customer experience should move to the top of the list. Steps to take now: 

  1. Clarify customer journeys. Use the point of view of each customer segment to ensure existing technology adds value, eliminates friction and provides the right data for future decision-making. This includes mapping the tech to each existing critical process. Encourage teams to find greater optimization. 
  2. Reconsider the employee experience. The right digital tools increase employee productivity and satisfaction, enabling the kind of collaboration that drives growth. 

Knowledge of Customers, Competitors and the Market Is the Only Superpower 

Stop guessing. When no one knows what lies ahead (and no one does), it’s critical to understand how customers think, behave and buy in real-time. And it’s just as essential to know exactly what the competition is doing. Amid so many economic changes, the rules of many categories are being rewritten as people and businesses alter their spending patterns. 

What’s required is a set of processes and mechanisms to gather as many insights as possible. This needs to be combined with a mindset that accepts the insights readily, with the willingness to adapt accordingly. No one knows exactly what is going to happen six months from now, but we need the skillset to collect and discern as much about the changing environment as possible. Steps to take now: 

  1. Pulse the market. Invest in pulsing capabilities, then embed findings into practices and processes. This constantly feeds into new products, services, experiences and go-to-market approaches. 
  2. Use insights to prioritize new investments. These insights may tell you that you do not have what it takes to be successful in an ever-changing world. Don’t be afraid to test and learn as a result, shifting investments as needed. 
  3. Challenge team behavior. The hardest part of integrating insights into your business may be changing the behavior of team members to act on the insights. This kind of cultural shift isn’t easy, especially when people are frightened. While you may be cost-cutting, invest in the change required in your culture to drive agility in the organization. 


Amid economic turmoil and uncertainty, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Downturns may be unsettling, but they provide abundant opportunities too. Companies that can use these times to find new ways of working–collaborating, integrating and even reconstituting–will be well-positioned to prosper as they enter the next growth cycle.


Catalysts: The New Collaborative

Watch this short video to learn how you can unlock the power of collaboration across your organization and its working environments.  

1 min


Collaboration is the future of work, benefiting customers, employees and your bottom line. The trouble is executing it effectively. In fact, according to our latest global research report, Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage, only 50% of leaders believe their organization collaborates effectively. 

Download the report here.


Is Ineffective Collaboration Hindering Your Organization’s Transformation?

Remote work makes cross-organizational change harder. But our Collaboration Flywheel model shows that the right interventions can create a virtuous cycle of cooperation.

As businesses work toward transformation, many find themselves trapped in a structural paradox. The Collaborative Advantage, the latest global research report from Prophet’s Organization & Culture practice, finds 80% of business leaders recognize that collaboration throughout the enterprise is essential. Yet, 50% are struggling to achieve it. And hybrid working compounds this challenge further with only 28% saying they believe their organization effectively supports collaboration in this environment.  

The most successful transformers? They have worked to break down silos and build collaborative muscles by progressing through three essential phases, which we have encapsulated in a new model: Collaboration Flywheel. It’s a virtuous cycle of interdepartmental breakthroughs that reveals a path for leaders to more impactful outcomes and faster growth.  

Prophet’s Collaboration Flywheel

The Flywheel provides a perfect metaphor for organizational culture. Taking a holistic, human-centered approach, it works by reinforcing positive behaviors and outcomes and minimizing negative feedback loops. It builds momentum over time. Each time the wheel turns, it generates more power and benefits for both the business and individuals.  

Phase One: Coordination

This is where many organizations begin and end their development journey. Different groups, traditionally siloed, recognize the need to align horizontally rather than vertically. When leaders promote a broader strategic goal, teams understand that working together is beneficial. And they also understand when it makes more sense to continue with traditional, business-as-usual approaches. To create clarity, organizations need to define the goal and role model the desired collaborative work.  

An example of this in practice might be helping employees to invest time in understanding how different parts of the organization work and identify connection points (e.g., shadow a colleague in another function) or creating a shared vocabulary – even just a few key terms – to use consistently in cross-organizational efforts.  

Phase Two: Cooperation

As each group gains experience in coordination, they get a clearer understanding of how their work fits into the bigger picture. Trust, shared ways of working and incentives become more explicit, making it easier for groups to proactively call on collective capabilities. They move into the who and how of the collaborative effort. They start to define roles and decision-making responsibilities. 

They see the value of shared effort more quickly. They’re informed by a common ambition, a central fact base and well-articulated ways of working. They will also have the right tools to navigate the complexity of their growing interdependence. All of this means cooperation is far more likely to have a greater collective impact than straightforward coordination might produce and depend less on the day-to-day involvement of leadership.  

Phase Three: Collaboration

As this proactive cooperation builds a shared context across independent groups, interdependence and synergy increase. At this point, the organization can celebrate the visible progress of piloting and embedding new ways of working. Cross-organizational teams see an increase in quality, with a healthy mix of synchronous and asynchronous work. Synchronously working teammates often generate new ideas together. Asynchronously working colleagues bring objectivity and clarity.  

Working together becomes the norm, not the exception. And so, the Flywheel spins. When combined with our human-centered approach to transformation, this new organizational muscle of collaboration taps into the enterprise’s DNA, Body, Mind and Soul.  

With collaboration now a default behavior, it becomes sustainable. Innovation and disruption replace old and ineffective ways of working, which in turn leads to accelerated transformation and results for the enterprise.  

Better Outcomes – For the Business and Individuals

The research shows that higher levels of teamwork enrich individuals, building new skills that increase engagement and job satisfaction – a critical lever in today’s dynamic talent landscape. Of the 1,000+ people we spoke to across the U.S., Europe and Asia, 77% say the organizational emphasis on collaboration enables higher productivity. 

As evidence of its ROI increases, it’s clear that collaboration has moved from a buzzword to a core business strategy. Organizations no longer need to be sold on the benefits and importance of collaboration. Leaders and managers worldwide understand that practical cross-organizational efforts lead to greater success.  

This is especially true as companies step up their efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion, and environmental, social and governance issues. By definition, this work needs to permeate every part of the company and be understood by each employee. Often, it even requires reaching out beyond the organization’s borders and interacting with external stakeholders that may include government, NGOs and communities.  


Collaboration is the future of work. Securing the next competitive advantage depends on agility, finding the most effective and innovative ways to bring the best out of every part of the enterprise. And it calls for incorporating that fluidity into the organizational DNA. Working together, companies are learning, is what sets them apart.  

Want to learn more about how to unleash the transformative power of collaboration? Download The Collaborative Advantage report now.


Catalysts: The Collaborative Advantage

Accelerate transformation by unlocking the power of collaboration across the organization and working environments.

Collaboration is the future of work, benefiting customers, employees and your bottom line. The trouble is executing it effectively. As hybrid and remote working proliferate, it’s never been more important to ask: Are we collaborating effectively?

For business leaders, it’s imperative to find the right way forward. Siloed work, detached from organizational goals, is still common.

The latest global research from our Organization & Culture practice offers actionable tactics to unlock the power of collaboration across all working environments through a holistic, human-centered approach.

A focus on cross-organizational collaboration is another means to accelerate transformation. This report outlines the three phases organizations need to progress through in order to evolve their understanding of effective collaboration and drive better results.

Key Takeaways:

  • A deep dive into collaboration today and the opportunities in remote, hybrid and face-to-face workplaces
  • A new model: Prophet’s Collaboration Flywheel, helps leaders and organizations move toward a collaborative environment that is sustainable and delivers more impactful outcomes faster over time
  • Understanding collaboration as a muscle and its power to unlock the potential of a more human-centered organization and accelerate transformation
  • The enhanced outcomes and benefits for the business and individuals – beyond financial gains

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Catalysts | The Collaborative Advantage

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