Examples of Brand Purpose in Action: When It’s Needed Most

Stakeholders are calling brands out on hypocrisy, mixed messages and failed efforts. Not all will survive.

Sixty-two percent of global consumers say their country will not make it through the current crises if companies don’t step up. Customers and employees are looking to their favorite brands to help solve problems, creating an enormous opportunity for companies that are purpose-driven.

But while purpose is essential for any brand today, just having one is not enough: Brands are on trial. Stakeholders are calling brands out on hypocrisy, mixed messages and failed initiatives. Even companies that thought they had a clear purpose need to prove they are investing in substantial change and not just “woke washing.”

Defining and living your organization’s purpose is hard. It’s messy. And it’s never-ending. But the most successful companies in these trying times will derive their purpose from shared human values, stay true to what they do and be relevant to what their stakeholders need. And they’ll act on it every day.

“Make sure your purpose is grounded in shared human values–including employees–and take responsibility when things go wrong.”

These four companies are using purpose in powerful ways, and working hard to live it in challenging times:

Citi: Inspiring growth and progress

Citi’s purpose–to provide financial services that “enable growth and progress”–took on electrifying new meaning as the economic impact of the pandemic shook its employees, customers and neighborhoods. Citi went beyond what most banks did – loan forgiveness and mortgage relief– to not just delay devastation but truly deliver on that purpose. “Citi’s mission and purpose have long been rooted in enabling growth and progress. As the world continues to search for solutions to address the global pandemic, racism, and more, at Citi we know that our role is to identify issues to stand for and influence in order to enable relevant and meaningful progress for our clients, colleagues and communities,” said Mary Ann Villanueva, Director of Citi’s Brand Culture and Engagement.

Efforts included committing $100 million in support aimed directly at that promise of progress, launching Restarting Together to encourage startups supporting society through the crisis, helping customers secure PPP loans, and helping those most impacted by the pandemic including the World Central Kitchen and National Disability Institute and many more. Citi has also expanded beyond financial progress to support racial equality through recent campaigns and commitments to the Black Lives Matter movement, including investing in Community Development Financial Institutions, which play a vital role in low-income communities and communities of color.

Airbnb: Deepening authenticity

When a company’s purpose ties directly to what it does, brands feel more authentic. This becomes even more important during times of change. Airbnb exists to “create a world where you can belong anywhere.” With sweeping travel restrictions and lockdowns, the company had to pivot quickly to find new ways to express hospitality. Open Homes for COVID-19 frontline workers gave hosts an immediate way to help. And it began creating online experiences that allow guests to learn new activities and meet people from around the world. By enabling people to connect, even while stuck at home, Airbnb is finding new ways to stay relevant.

Glossier: Listening builds a shared community

Shared purposes are not just relevant to one audience, they are felt deeply by each–employees, customers and communities. That calls for genuine listening to make sure that actions, products and services align with the values and beliefs of those stakeholders. Glossier’s purpose is “to give voice through beauty” by “leveraging the power of the personal narrative.” Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Glossier’s most frequent request was for a product to help with increased irritated skin from repeated handwashing. Inspired by stories and comments, Glossier quickly developed a hand cream, donating thousands of units to first responders.

The company is also recognizing that obsession with that external community has a downside, leading it to prioritize the needs of customers over that of its own workers, especially people of color. When shoppers engage in racist behavior, for example, the company’s “the customer is always right” stance gets toxic. Glossier isn’t running away from that dissonance but trying to learn. The lesson? Make sure your purpose is grounded in shared human values–including employees–and take responsibility when things go wrong.

Walmart: So actionable, it’s indispensable

The final dimension emerges when companies demonstrate that purpose is not just an empty promise. If companies can’t deliver, it doesn’t matter how inspiring or authentic they are. People pay attention to what brands do, not what they say. Walmart has long struggled with negative perceptions. But it continues to make progress through finding new ways to act on “saving people money so they can live better.”

Because of its vast size, it pays great attention to subtleties and the importance of multiple actions. Among the steady drumbeats that help all people “live better”? In addition to cash bonuses for employees, it’s closing all locations this Thanksgiving to show gratitude. It introduced Express delivery so customers can avoid crowds. It turned parking lots into drive-in theaters, showing movies for free. And in requiring all employees and shoppers to wear masks and supporting expanded testing efforts, it’s helping everyone.

Just as people look to friends, family, and government during hard times, they are holding a magnifying glass up to businesses. Customers expect companies to treat people well, engage the community and evolve to meet a changing world. Workers are questioning employee value propositions. They want businesses to put people over profit. Words and actions matter.

Does your purpose…

  • Make the world better? Even companies with a pragmatic purpose can inspire others.
  • Create believers? When businesses connect purpose to the way they earn money, it’s authentic and makes perfect sense.
  • Apply to all audiences? The right purpose resonates with employees, customers, communities and investors.
  • Translate into action? If an organization can’t deliver on promises, everything else is pointless. Enabled by leaders, companies constantly need to bring their purpose to life.


Business leaders need to ask hard questions about their company’s purpose and revisit their answers often.

At Prophet, we help brands unlock growth– beginning with the “DNA” and purpose of their businesses. Let’s connect to learn more about how we can strengthen yours.


Putting Purpose-Driven Strategies to the Test

Our diagnostic helps companies find a North Star that inspires loyalty and growth.

Businesses have been leaning into purpose-driven strategies for years, but recent events have tested them as never before. Whether responding to the worldwide pandemic, new ways of working, racial protests or political polarization, we’ve seen that companies with a purpose centered on shared human values rather than business goals are the ones more capable of acting swiftly and effectively. Purpose doesn’t just help these businesses decide what to do, it guides them in the best ways to do it.

This purpose is the North Star that steers actions and decision-making on a day-to-day basis. And it guides all elements of the company’s DNA, including its brands, strategy and employee value proposition.

And those without a well-articulated and actionable purpose? They’re struggling. When companies shout out hollow words on social media, customers abandon them, and brands lose their relevance. When we surveyed consumers in April, 58 percent said that in order to earn or keep their trust, it was very-to-extremely important for a brand to offer a relevant set of beliefs and values. By June, this number had jumped to 69 percent.

“When companies shout out hollow words on social media, customers abandon them, and brands lose their relevance.”

Prophet developed a diagnostic to assess how durable your company’s purpose is across four key dimensions (authentic, inspiring, shared, actionable). The custom analysis produces results that let you know where you may have a weak spot and where you might take your purpose next.

Our diagnostic will help you make brand purpose more powerful and tell you what to do if your company’s purpose isn’t…


It’s likely your mission isn’t ambitious enough or has been defined too narrowly. Brands like Disney, NPR and Spotify are endlessly uplifting because their purpose speaks to shared human values; they know how their products and services make a difference in the world and in people’s lives. But even companies with a fairly pragmatic purpose can be more aspirational.

To be more inspiring:

  • Look for cultural symbols and rituals among stakeholder groups
  • Find signature stories that are so compelling they make people question, reflect and want to share them with others


When companies connect their purpose to the way they earn money, it makes perfect sense. Google, for instance, exists to “organize the world’s information,” which clicks with anyone who’s ever used a search engine. But when an oil and gas company misses the mark completely by saying its focus is protecting the environment, or a soft-drink brand claims to be committed to health, there’s an immediate disconnect.

To be more authentic:

  • Realign the business model, or find a purpose that fits
  • Isolate the organization’s unique assets to solve a challenge, not easily copied by a competitor


The right purpose feels true and important with every audience–employees, customers and communities. It must be understood and pervasive, felt by every stakeholder. And it contributes to the overall betterment of society. For Patagonia, nothing matters more than fiercely protecting the environment. At Nike, the commitment to racial injustice, which connects so deeply with its customers and athlete spokespeople, is more believable. If your company’s purpose doesn’t feel urgent to each group you’re targeting, it’s likely the wrong ambition.

To find a genuinely shared purpose:

  • Sharpen listening skills. What are customers and employees really saying?
  • Explore the intersections of our stakeholder groups, finding new ways to ask, “What shared human value is most relevant?”


Of the four traits, this is the last mile. If your organization can’t deliver on its purpose–no matter how inspiring or authentic–everything else is pointless. Purpose needs to be enabled by leaders: Their actions and decisions serves as the role-model to the entire organization.

Recent months have shown what happens when purpose is just an empty promise. Those include companies parroting “We’re in this together” messages, only to be called out for endangering employees, or jumping on “Black Lives Matters” platforms, even while actively discriminating against employees and customers.


To bring purpose-driven strategies to life:

  • Find new ways to measure and improve employee behaviors. Everyone who works for the company should understand the purpose, and how they help it show up in the world
  • Implement and audit performance metrics throughout stakeholder groups
  • Take action in-market that brings the purpose to life

Take our diagnostic today to see how your purpose is and isn’t working for your brand today.

At Prophet, we help brands unlock growth– beginning with the “DNA” and purpose of their businesses. Let’s connect to learn more about how we can strengthen yours.


Why a Transformation Management Office is the Secret to Accelerating Enterprise Transformation

Without a designated team to manage transformation, true change is close to impossible.

“Thanks for the tasty breakfast.”

– Your culture

The recent COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need for companies to transform themselves. But the fundamental challenge remains: it’s hard to become something different than what you are today.

The reason transformation is hard – whether digital transformation or some other kind – is that companies inevitably run into significant cultural barriers where old mindsets, behaviors and a lack of skill eventually bring things to a halt. Hence, the famous adage attributed to Peter Drucker: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So how can today’s organizations address the complex and amorphous barriers to the transformation that we call “culture” while keeping their breakfast? The answer is to establish an effective Transformation Management Office (TMO).

The Missing Piece of Your Transformation Puzzle

At Prophet, we believe the core failure of most approaches to transformation is that they are not holistic enough to ensure either speed or success. We developed our Human-Centered Transformation Model™ to help see the range of efforts and the necessary interconnections across the DNA, Body, Mind and Soul of the organization. For instance, failed transformations frequently overemphasize technological changes (Body) without buy-in from business stakeholders around how new technologies will enable the strategy (DNA). Or they focus on training up new skills (Mind), without considering the mindsets and cultural behaviors (Soul) that match will with skill, ensuring new capabilities are actually applied in the real world.

Even with a holistic approach, aligning new behaviors, new skills, and new processes also require new ways of making decisions. And this is – to put it plainly – extremely hard without a team devoted to addressing that challenge head-on. We believe a team must actively manage and align those efforts, otherwise, there will be no change and no true transformation. And in our experience, this team cannot live within the rules of the existing organizational structure.

Where Does That Piece Fit Best?

We believe there are two models for this kind of structure for transformation management – federated or centralized. Many companies have (by default) adopted a form of federated management, which assumes that individual business units or functions can be accountable for managing their own transformation as a subset of the whole (see Figure 1). The challenge with this assumption and the federated approach is that you end up with lots of disconnected local work. Most frequently, these local efforts set themselves achievable goals with lengthy timelines and result in very little transformation. Occasionally, companies also set up Program Management Offices, to coordinate communications and track progress. But adding a PMO frequently adds centralized bureaucracy that is divorced from business value – you might get more done, but with less business impact (see Figure 2). The challenge is that these companies are working backward: the federated model is a destination, but it’s not at all the place where you need to start.

Figure 1: Centralized vs. Federated Approaches to Transformation Management

Figure 2: PMO vs. TMO

Prophet’s experience managing transformations of all stripes leads us to believe that you must start with a centralized model. And our research over the last two years has validated that those companies who set up a TMO with a clear roadmap and rituals around decision-making can overcome cultural roadblocks as they emerge. In fact, in our estimation, too few respondents in our recent Catalysts in Action research have stood up a TMO yet. However, 100 percent of those who have reported that it has had a positive impact on their transformation. And a whopping 83 percent reported its impact as “very positive.”

The DNA, Body, Mind and Soul of an Ideal TMO

To be successful, a TMO needs to address cultural challenges holistically across the DNA, Body, Mind and Soul of the organization. A critical first step is strong DNA:

  1. A clear vision about how the DNA of the organization is changing. Who do you want or need to become?
  2. A specific timeframe for achieving that ambition. When do we want to achieve our goals?
  3. Real metrics to serve as signposts. How will we know we’re making appropriate progress?

A TMO must also have a strong Body – an operating model for its core processes and functions that covers five key domains:

  1. Goals & Investments – Defining the transformation, setting goals, and overseeing ongoing investments.
  2. Portfolio & Governance – Overseeing work intake, classification, prioritization and resourcing.
  3. Education & Mobilization – Supporting in-flight projects by enabling teams to improve how they deliver on their goals and assisting with roadblocks.
  4. Reporting & Forecasting – Reporting and actively providing visibility and accountability for the value being delivered.
  5. Change Management & Communications – Providing an organization-wide point of view and air traffic control for change impacts across portfolios.

An operating model for the TMO outlines clear processes for each of these five areas, as well as interaction models defining how key stakeholder groups work together. Done well, TMO processes are not an added layer of bureaucracy; they help streamline effort across a wide range of leaders, teams, and individuals, giving them the clarity they need to take unambiguous action each and every day.

As part of standing up a new TMO for a major US insurer, our team worked together with key leaders to develop a “TMO Handbook.” The Handbook codified specifically how and where the new TMO would integrate with existing business planning processes, but also helped leaders across the business understand how and where to plug in and contribute to decisions about the company’s transformation.

The skills and competencies – the Mind – of a great TMO core team include strong EQ and communication skills to provide visual, verbal and written demonstrations of empathy to stakeholders struggling with rapid change; strong process facilitation skills to apply an Appreciative Inquiry-driven approach to collective problem solving; and strong analytical skills to be able to manage and measure progress. In building its TMO, a US financial institution was intentional about selecting resources with strong EQ and communication skills to staff it, given the level of executive interaction the small TMO team would need to support its charter.

Finally, in their Soul the TMO team must adopt a product ownership mindset, viewing the enterprise as a whole, demonstrating the behaviors and rituals common with the best product managers, including creativity, design, an agile methodology, and data-driven decision making. In this context, their product is the organization. As one of the first steps in managing its transformation, a leading quick-serve restaurant-trained key leaders of transformational initiatives in Agile ways of working, defining the responsibilities, decision-making and behaviors for portfolio and project leadership roles.

The TMO Lifecycle

Ultimately, a TMO is not something that should last forever. Like the transformations they empower, TMOs have a natural end date. The TMO team should know they have a role to play for a period of time, but that all the new capabilities they create should ultimately migrate into other parts of the business. Over the course of its lifecycle, a TMO should eventually move from a centralized to a federated model so that business leaders can go back to managing their individual parts of the business with a shared enterprise mindset and a new set of global and local capabilities. And as with many things in transformation, “timing is everything.”


Thinking about your own organization, consider where it stands in its own transformation journey – are you just getting started? Have you already made good progress? Or perhaps you’re well down the path to a transformed organization? If your organization is one of the 45 percent of companies who have already established a TMO, try to identify where it might be more effective across its DNA, Mind, Body and Soul. If not, consider where a TMO might be able to help accelerate progress with a more centralized approach.

If you’d like to establish an effective Transformation Management Office to propel your company forward at a new speed and instill a new culture of delivery then contact our expert team today


Where Did the Watercooler Go? Keeping Your Culture Connected

Companies need to create virtual spaces that are casual, comfortable and safe.

Glug glug. The proverbial watercooler.

It’s where employees take a pause and engage in small talk. It’s where employees keep up to date on the latest developments. And it’s where many of the most innovative ideas first get floated. When employees can casually congregate at the watercooler, cafeteria or ping pong table, it breaks down formal barriers and encourages employees to bond with co-workers outside of their immediate working team. These personal connections not only build comradery but also enable trust and open communications, which are cornerstones to a healthy culture.

But with so many of us now working remotely, interactions with co-workers have become more transactional and largely only with those on our team or within our department or function. Save the occasional Zoom cocktail hour, serendipitous conversations are becoming virtually non-existent. A recent report found that virtual work now accounts for 62% of the workforce, and for many, work-from-home is here to stay. Although the world has adapted almost overnight to working remotely, organizations are now asking what impact this is having on their culture. Case in point: how can organizations recreate unplanned watercooler moments in a virtual work environment?

Creating the Right Environment

Remote work has forced us to think about new ways to support our people as they try to remain productive while feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Ensuring teams have the right digital tools, technology and access to the information they need to do their jobs are table stakes in virtual work. Preserving informal conversations and informal networking takes a bit more thought, especially without physical spaces like the coffee counter, lunchroom or Vinnie’s Pizzeria around the corner.

In a physical environment, the culture encourages watercooler moments through symbols, rituals and artifacts – naming the snack area, choosing unique furniture styles, and allowing personalization of meeting spaces. In a virtual environment, we have to be more overt about the watercooler moment to encourage organic interactions and fight the tendency to easily disconnect. Before looking at solutions to the problem, let’s define the qualities of a great watercooler moment:

  • It’s a safe space. Trust is pervasive to the experience. Employees need to feel they can ask questions, share ideas and be “wrong” without repercussion. Employees will avoid the company’s intranet for informal communications if it leaves a trail.
  • It’s casual and organic. Informal moments happen in the normal course of the day, on the way between tasks, or in scheduled breaks (i.e. lunch). It shouldn’t feel like another item on the “to-do” list.  Make it fun and easy to slip in and out of.
  • It’s acknowledged. While rarely explicit, unplanned interactions are acknowledged as essential to the culture. Successful leaders model desired behaviors by seeking out casual conversations, and encouraging their teams to do the same.
  • It’s iterative. Watercooler moments are just one step in a consensus-building process, that builds on and carries forward a continuing conversation. They don’t require hard inputs and don’t expect hard outcomes. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

“Personal connections not only build comradery but also enable trust and open communications, which are cornerstones to a healthy culture.”

Simple Ideas to Get Started

In some ways, virtual work has already begun to break down traditional organizational norms. Despite the lack of a corporate campus, decisions are being made and operations are proceeding, in some cases faster than ever before. The pandemic has created a rapid test-and-learn environment for new ways of working, and is a great opportunity to help your employees connect in new, more meaningful and personal ways despite the distance:

Leverage Technology:

  • Consider tools like the Slack app Donut that automate virtual coffee chats by pairing co-workers from different parts of the organization at regular intervals.
  • Encourage employees to stay logged into their virtual meeting apps (i.e. Zoom) during the workday and “drop in” for a quick conversation or brainstorm.
  • Conduct informal polls for favorite summer cocktails, recipes or outings; enable a comment feature to allow for additional interaction about the poll topic.
  • Create an #aboutme hashtag on the intranet where employees can share their hobbies, interests and passions and build affinity groups.

Create Collaboration Moments:

  • Form cross-functional working teams from different geographies, levels and skill sets to address social issues (i.e. community outreach, LGBQT, BLM).
  • Set up group chats on a messaging platform to discuss non-business topics like trending pop culture, parenting, fashion or music.
  • Host virtual brown-bag lunches to cook, share, eat and chat informally.

Have Fun:

  • Host a virtual concert where employees and their families can perform a song, play an instrument or do karaoke.
  • Encourage book or movie clubs where employees can share and discuss their latest Netflix binges.
  • Run a virtual game night where teams play a board game or on-line video game.


While we are all working remotely these days, it doesn’t mean our watercoolers need to run dry. Informal, unplanned interactions are essential to your company’s culture; they just need to be re-configured for this new world. Don’t overthink it.  Ask employees to make suggestions. Encourage perfectly imperfect solutions – they don’t have to be measurable – they just have to quench the thirst for the culture that already makes your organization great.

Are you interested in engaging your employees and transforming the way they work? Reach out to our Organization and Culture experts today and hear how we are helping clients just like you.


The Four Pathways to Cultural Change and Business Transformation in China

Our research illuminates the change mechanisms with the most impact, both within China and beyond.

As organizations build resilience amid world-altering shifts, transformation is increasingly relevant. Yet change is challenging, and leaders are often unsure where to start–or where to go next.

For transformations to succeed, the importance of an organization’s culture is beyond question. That said, cultural transformation is often the most significant challenge to take on. Prophet’s 2020 global research based on nearly 500 global transformation leaders, “Catalysts in Action: Applying the Cultural Levers of Transformation,” identifies four pathways of cultural change intended to help companies focus.

“For transformations to succeed, the importance of an organization’s culture is beyond question.”

In this article, we discuss some of the main differences we see between companies in China and the rest of the world, with observations that can help spark uncommon growth.

In many ways, businesses in China approach transformation differently. Compared to other regions, they are more willing to embrace change, and this by a high margin. The Alibaba Group epitomizes this attitude, making “Change is the only constant” one of its core values.

Q: Which of the following best characterize the most recent significant transformation project that you have been involved with in the last two years?

More companies in China are embarking on cultural transformation to keep up with changes internally and to maintain a competitive edge externally. Ping An has started an enterprise-wide digital transformation over the last few years by embracing a culture of innovation and by encouraging to fail often and fast. ByteDance has implemented a bottom-up approach to objectives and results that encourages more transparency and an entrepreneurial spirit. Haier has made employee management and culture central to Haier’s strategy, with hundreds of internal micro companies yielding far better and faster innovations and deeper understanding of local consumers needs around the world. So, we want to understand how business leaders can accelerate growth through cultural transformation.

Proven pathways of change indicate where to start–or where to go next–in transformation. Prophet’s research identifies four pathways of cultural change: Defining, Directing, Enabling and Motivating. All paths are relevant at varying points in time. But it is important to determine which is most relevant to your company right now.

1. Defining the transformation: Don’t overlook middle management.

Consider this the “control tower” for all other pathways. It is where the company solidifies its business and brand strategy, purpose and values. The C-suite is seen as most critical to–and most responsible for–driving the transformation. But this cannot be at the expense of empowering managers, who must serve as key change agents.

This is a regional weakness in China, with only 17 percent of business-unit leaders and middle management given adequate responsibility. While companies in China are more willing to communicate the change widely across the entire organization (46 percent of Chinese companies actively engage most employees, versus 19 percent in rest of the world), decision-making is still led by C-level leaders. And managers are less empowered to drive change.

Q: What level of leadership is most responsible for driving transformation in your organization?

One of the few companies in China that realizes the importance of driving transformation from the bottom up is footwear manufacturer Belle International. A key component of its success has been decentralizing data and using digital as a tool to empower retail managers, giving them more freedom to lead their teams. “I’ve always believed that the vitality of the end market comes from the energy of each store manager and staff,” says Liang Li, executive director, in an interview with Harvard Business Review.

How to accelerate transformation: Find ways to involve BU leaders and middle managers more, creating meaningful roles. They are the connective tissue between the overarching transformation objectives, the marketplace and the day-to-day work of employees.

2. Directing the Transformation: Empowered TMOs yield impact.

This pathway requires taking a holistic view of all the governance, processes, roles, systems and tools needed to enable an operating model that makes transformation real. One way companies do this is by creating transformation management offices (TMOs). Those that have done this have a clear advantage. And those that have given these TMOs the most oversight and influence over decisions are the most successful.

This is an area where companies in China are leading in the way, both in setting up these TMOs and in giving them more oversight. With clear results: 76 percent of companies in China that have established empowered TMOs, are reporting very positive impact.

Q: Which of these best describe the impact that your organization’s transformation management office (TMO) has had?

How to accelerate transformation: A first step toward changing this is establishing a TMO. And if one already exists, make sure its scope is more than just project management. TMOs should be allowed to shape strategy, break down functional silos and coordinate vital initiatives on the transformation roadmap.

3. Enabling the Transformation: Build the capabilities and leadership needed.

This pathway is where organizations identify, source and build capabilities required for employees to thrive. And it is essential if organizations want to succeed in the Digital Age. The current talent landscape demands a compelling employee value proposition (EVP), but this is no longer enough. Companies must take a strategic approach, reimagining where and how they will find the talent needed to power their ambitions.

Although 90 percent of companies in China say that they have aligned talent systems in service of the transformation, there are still some gaps. While China does well-developing employees’ technical skills, it lags when it comes to nurturing the leadership expertise required for transformation. Globally, this leadership upskilling is prioritized by 48 percent of companies and just 35 percent of those in China.

Q: What training topics have been of the greatest need to enable your organization’s transformation?

How to accelerate transformation: Continually assess enhanced capabilities and develop ways to both re-skill existing talent across seniority levels, as well as source new hires through a more strategic approach to workforce planning.

4. Motivating the Transformation: The only failure is failure to learn.

To bring organizational change to life, leaders must behave differently. They must embody the transformation, creating trust among employees as they adopt new ways of working. Stories, rituals and symbols help build belief among employees and connect their day-to-day work to the organization’s new direction. Most organizations rightly celebrate success stories, while failures are less likely to be shared and understood. Focus on levers that create safe spaces and mechanisms for employees to talk about what is working and what isn’t.

This is yet another area where companies in China excel. Despite a directive leadership style, China has embraced a “fail fast and learn” approach that promotes experimentation, with 58 percent of Chinese leaders saying their corporate culture tolerates failure, compared to just 32 percent in the rest of the world.

Q: Which of the following best characterizes the way your organization responds to failure during your recent transformation?

And leaders in China are far more likely, at 79 percent, to encourage experimentation in executing alternative initiatives relative to plan compared to the rest of the world, at 44 percent.

“Risk-taking is strongly encouraged, and failure isn’t stigmatized,” says Jessica Tan, deputy CEO of Ping An in an interview with McKinsey. “What I’ve found is that with each new success, you become more confident in your abilities and your instincts to try the next big thing.”

How to accelerate transformation: Bring teams and divisions together by encouraging the “fail fast and learn” mindset to develop a systematic approach to test-and-learn thinking. The more employees can see these efforts, the better they will understand the transformation process.

Many businesses in China have already made a good start on cultural transformation and recognize its importance in driving growth. Companies in China should continue to pursue those initiatives while shoring up their efforts to teach invaluable leadership skills. But they can’t neglect to take a holistic view to make sure they are setting all aspects of the enterprise up for future success. That means making sure they know how to….

  1. Define transformation: Set a powerful ambition and align with leadership, at all levels, on their role in achieving it
  2. Direct transformation: Establish and empower transformation management offices to optimize operating models
  3. Enable transformation: Match talent strategy to transformation goals, and elevate employees through future-state capability planning
  4. Motivate transformation: Develop culture programs and training to reinforce employee behaviors


  1. Ngai, Joe. Building a tech-enabled ecosystem: An interview with Ping An’s Jessica Tan. McKinsey Quarterly, December 2018
  2. Yuhao, Liu. 别跟字节跳动讲管理 [Don’t Talk Management with ByteDance]. March 13, 2020
  3. Zhen, Wang. 海尔裂变:2000亿公司创业的样本 [Haier’s Fission: A Case Study of How a 200 Billion Company Creates Startups]. May 14, 2017
  4. 百丽国际:让数字化赋能离客户最近的人 [Belle International: Let Digital Empower Those Who Are Closest to the Customers]. Harvard Business Review, January 25, 2019


The Cultural Levers of Pharma’s Transformation

Cultural transformation requires a human-centered approach, in order to bring along their broader workforce.

Our latest research with pharma executives from around the globe offers an actionable playbook for driving cultural change, helping organizations to focus their efforts and ensure culture is fully aligned to support transformation.

From where to start, to where to go next, The Cultural Levers of Pharma’s Transformation helps business leaders understand where to focus their efforts based on their greatest needs for cultural change and how to bring their broader workforce along on this important transformation journey.

In this report you will learn:

  • Why culture – and taking a human-centered approach – remains a key element in any successful transformation
  • How to determine key cultural levers on which to focus, based on your organization’s greatest needs for cultural change
  • The critical characteristics for leaders to embody in bringing their organizations along on the transformation journey
  • Best practices and examples of how other pharma companies are moving forward

Download the full report below.

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5 Questions on Culture Transformation

Key insights on developing and maintaining the best roadmaps for cultural transformation.

Recent world-altering shifts have led to a spotlight being put on organizational culture. As many look to build the cultural resilience needed to help accelerate transformation efforts, Bernhard Schaar, Associate Partner, talks to Helen Rosethorn, Partner and Co-Lead of Prophet’s Organization & Culture practice to understand how organizations might best focus their efforts supported by insights from the practice’s latest global research.

1. What is the model or methodology you use when approaching cultural transformation work with clients?

No matter how digitally-driven an organization may be, it is still human. And for sustained and impactful transformation to happen people must change what they do in a sustained and impactful way. Two years ago, we designed the Human-Centered Transformation Model™ to reflect this core belief.

Just like a human, all organizations have  DNA – the coding that guides it, be that purpose, values, brand or strategy. It also has a Soul – these are the rituals, symbols and behaviors that reflect the beliefs of the organization. It has a Mind – which are the capabilities required to enable it to operate – such as talent and learning to ensure the organization has the skills and expertise to deliver on its goals. And it has a Body – and by this, we mean the operating model and organization design that directs its operations – translating into processes, systems and aspects of governance.

This thinking has helped a lot of our clients grasp that culture needs to be understood as a holistic ecosystem and successful transformation today requires leaders to think about every aspect of this ecosystem.

2. Transformation can be daunting. Where should organizations start when it comes to cultural transformation and driving this change?

In our research last year, (Catalysts: The Cultural Levers of Growth in the Digital Age’) we spoke to business leaders to understand WHAT aspects of culture are critical to successful transformation in the digital age. This year, our actionable global report outlines the HOW –how and where to focus efforts in order to power transformation from the inside out.

“No matter how digitally-driven an organization may be, it is still human. And for sustained and impactful transformation to happen people must change what they do in a sustained and impactful way.”

We have identified four pathways of change, which are designed to help leaders understand their “starting point” in the Human-Centered Transformation Model™ based on their perceived immediate need for transformation. We were being asked this key question over and over again: where should I start? So, the pathways are there to provide a perspective for executives to identify exactly where. There are two things to flag though. Firstly, organizations often focus on where it is “comfortable” to start within their cultural context to activate change – that might not mean it is the right place to start. For example, there are organizations where a “comms” focus seems the natural way to kick off change because it feels logical to have everyone “in the know” but very little of substance happens beyond that and change efforts run out of steam, nothing is “landed”. Secondly, even if you start for example with enabling the transformation through a focus on talent systems because you identify that this is what may be holding you back, you still need to consider the whole of the Human-Centered Transformation Model™ to build sustained and real change.

3. Is there any area of the Human Centered Transformation Model™ that should be prioritized over others?

If there is one that is more critical than another it is DNA – if you do not define the change and align on what that means, then you have a “hole below the waterline” from the get-go.  Even if it is a small hole it will come back to haunt you.  What is particularly interesting in relation to this is the emergence of the Transformation Management Office (TMO) in service of both the ambition and the roadmap to get there. The report sets out compelling data about the organizations that achieve greater transformational success through setting up a dedicated TMO.

4. What are your three key takeaways from this year’s report?

  • There is no silver bullet – I can’t reiterate this enough. To achieve effective transformation, you need to align the whole Human Centered Transformation Model™
  • Select the right starting point – as the pathway focus reveals, selecting the right starting point drives real progress.
  • Harness the many different voices – if you need to elevate one leadership behavior that will serve you well to add value to your transformation then it is the ability to harness the “employee voice” of your organization. By this we mean enabling the ideas, opinions and feedback of everyone at every level of the organization. Deep cross-functional collaboration and engagement are required to make transformation work.

5. What impact has COVID-19 had on cultural transformation and on the findings of the Catalysts in Action research report?

COVID-19 is accelerating existing transformation ambitions for many organizations or forcing a reinvention for others, and every shade in between. It also obviously adds complexity because right now nothing is certain, there is a two-speed transformation going on – or maybe better expressed as a transition and a transformation happening at the same time.  One would be hard enough for any organization to manage but two speeds of change is particularly challenging. However, in the current context, change cannot be considered in an isolated way.


We are in a place where transformation is not a “private thing”. It is playing out right now across the stakeholder ecosystem of every organization – and that brings with it a whole new level of responsibilities starting with employees and the way transformation in particular plays out for them. Fielding our research in the midst of COVID-19 in certain markets and on the brink in others actually reinforced the validity of the levers we outlined in our 2019 report and we, therefore, believe the results would have been the same even if the circumstances were different.

Interested in learning more?

Download Prophet’s 2020 global research report: “Catalysts in Action: Applying the Cultural Levers of Transformation”.

Watch the replay of the webinar, in which the study authors discuss the key results of the report.

If you would like to learn more about how you might shape your culture to thrive on change and accelerate transformation then contact us today.


Culture as a Catalyst: Power Your Organization’s Transformation

Cultural resilience is a learned skill. We’ll show you which levers to pull to effect meaningful change.

59 min

Watch the webinar replay for advice on where and how you might focus your efforts to build the cultural resilience needed to drive your company’s transformation forward. Slides from the webinar are available here.

The research report – “Catalysts in Action: Applying the Cultural Levers of Transformation” – that informed this webinar session can be downloaded here.

If have any questions or would like to learn how our Organization & Culture practice helps clients identify a clearer path to a cultural transformation that thrives on change and powers growth, contact us today.

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COVID-19 Silver Linings: Awakening a Culture of Humanity

Finding meaning in pandemic paradoxes is awakening empathy and authenticity.

I am generally the type of person who naturally seeks to find a silver lining in times of stress and change. When the pandemic disrupted our personal routines and business norms, I very much enjoyed the initial creative flurry of activity as everyone designed a new version of themselves for the world of remote work: where they were going to sit at home, what they would wear, and what background they were going to use (real or virtual).

Any bursts of optimism, however, were clouded by the ever-present anxiety about a future to be defined by what we were losing: the ability to see each other in 3D, shake hands, or embrace. What has surprised me most is how the enforced use of technology in our world of isolation has coaxed out more of our humanity at work.

1. Our whole selves on display. All day.

A decade ago, the poet David Whyte wrote of the sad state of arriving at work, parking our cars and cracking our windows as we headed inside. The real reason we left our car windows cracked, he observed, was so that we didn’t suffocate our souls left behind in our vehicles as we assumed the shadow versions of ourselves which we show at work.

In a world where video conferencing quickly became de rigueur, we were forced to confront others as they truly are and to share a fuller view of ourselves in return. While most have now learned it’s healthy to go camera off from time to time, our insights from our collective period of voyeurism remain.

2. More empathy. More authenticity.

Not all opportunities to connect are truly embraced in our workday world. When COVID lockdown began, the standard obligation to inquire about each other’s well-being was still mostly habitual, not genuine. However, living through tough times together can nurture mutual respect in the understanding that it is ok to admit we are not always at our best. Sharing our raw emotions broke our routines and deepened our abilities to care for each other authentically.

3. More distance. More trust.

As is true in crisis, we bond against a common threat. This rallying together against the common enemy of the coronavirus has forced us to let go of some of our preferences, especially those ways that help us feel in control. With leaders being stretched with so many more critical decisions than before, they are learning they must trust in the decision-making of others. As one of our Prophet leaders observed about the process of letting go, “Perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough.’ And good enough might not include my favorite idea or personal stamp.”

4. Deeper relationships. Enriched collaboration.

The traditional centering of collaboration around functional expertise inadvertently narrows diversity of thought by pre-determining who is in the room. A broader understanding of our colleagues reveals valuable passions and skills that may not be indicated by a job title. As we learn more about each other through these new windows into each other’s lives, we let go of pointless preconceptions and improve our work together.

“Living through tough times together can nurture mutual respect in the understanding that it is ok to admit we are not always at our best.”


Relieved of our former fixed routines, we have no choice but to embrace a willingness to learn and adapt. Whether learning a new role, a new aspect of our current role, accommodating radical shifts in our business models, we are invited (read forced) to learn at a new scale and speed. As I look for the silver lining in the face of disruption that I never wanted, it seems entirely possible that a growth mindset will be the legacy of this pandemic. And I relish the idea that COVID-19 might serve as a catalyst for increasingly authentic, human-centered cultures in business.

If you have any questions or would like to learn how our Organization & Culture practice helps clients to build resilient cultures that thrive on change and accelerate transformation then contact us today.


Brand Behaviors: Critical for Leaders, Managers & Employees

Empower employees to interact with customers differently, adjusting policies to reflect new hardships.

Think about the last time you ordered a cup of coffee. Did the barista who took your order smile and welcome you? Or was it clear she was ready for his shift to be over? How about the last time you needed to speak to a customer service manager? Was the manager reading robotically from a script, or did she take the time to ask questions and empathize with your situation?

How your business leaders, managers and employees show up has always been a critical input for how customers feel about your brand. And when you have customers interacting with your brand weekly, daily, or even hourly – consistently positive interactions can drive trust, loyalty and repeat business, while even just a few negative interactions can cause customers to jump ship and head to a competitor.

This is nothing new – experiences have been built, and brands have grown through the way employees treat customers. What’s new is how important these brand behaviors will be as the world adjusts to its new normal. We are being thrown, without warning, into new ways of interacting with customers. Brands that lead with care and purpose will build trust. Brands that are careless in their actions run the risk of losing out.

A New Normal for Brand Behaviors

Brands with well-defined brand behaviors or service styles have a competitive advantage over their peers. There’s a reason why Team Members at Chick-fil-A always respond with a “my pleasure” and a genuine smile when you say, “thank you.” It’s core to who they are and how they serve, and it’s ingrained in every employee from day 1.

“Consistently positive interactions can drive trust, loyalty and repeat business, while even just a few negative interactions can cause customers to jump ship and head to a competitor.”

Something as simple as greeting a guest with a smile, or taking a few seconds to ask how their day is going will always be strong examples of Brand Behaviors that build loyalty. But think for a minute about the new behaviors that might drive trust in a post-COVID-19 world:

  • An employee wiping down a touchscreen after every customer
  • A cashier being empowered to give a nurse a free cup of coffee
  • A manager knowing how to empathize with a customer who can’t make a monthly payment because he’s been furloughed

Now, the stakes are higher – the presence of positive, on-brand behaviors will build trust and loyalty, while the absence of these behaviors will force customers to go elsewhere. As a leader, it’s a great time to revisit the standards for how your employees interact with customers and how your brand is experienced.

Building Brand Behaviors

Implementing a set of on-brand brand behaviors is an intuitive, yet careful process with many critical milestones.

1. Clarify the Ambition

Well before jumping right to “what do I want my employees to say or do”, it’s important to start with an ambition. At the end of the day, Brand Behaviors must be thought of strategically in the context of what your brand stands for and link back to the priorities of the business.

  • What is core to our brand purpose and which aspects of our brand do we want employees to bring to life?
  • How do we want our customers to feel?
  • Why is this important to the overall growth of our business?

2. Define the Behaviors

With the ambition in place, you can translate the strategy to behaviors for customer-facing employees; behaviors that will be recognized and appreciated by your customers, and easy to learn and display without disrupting the roles and responsibilities of frontline employees.

  • Where are the moments that matter most in the customer’s journey and experience with our brand?
  • How can our employees bring our brand to life in these moments in simple, memorable ways?
  • Are there exemplary on-brand behaviors happening already that we can share more broadly? And which new behaviors will our employees be excited to display?

3. Codify and Share the Behaviors

Even they go nowhere without thoughtful planning to share and create buy-in with those expected to display them. Here it’s all about simplifying the ask and telling a compelling story that gets employees excited to play a role.

  • Why are we asking our employees to display these behaviors?
  • What will get our team excited and incentivized to display these behaviors?
  • How will these behaviors empower our team to serve our customers better, while being authentic to themselves and to our brand?

Getting Started

Defining and implementing Brand Behaviors is a journey, but it’s a journey that can get started with a few simple steps:

  1. Reflect on how you want your brand to show up, especially in this uncertain world
  2. Think of the simple but memorable behaviors that will bring your brand to life and stand-out from the competition
  3. Connect your team to the bigger why and make it easy for them to exhibit new behaviors


Now more than ever the experience your customers have with your brand is paramount. And the brands that come out ahead at the end of this crisis are the ones that will have started by leading with care and purpose.

For more on equipping your teams to display brand behaviors through learning and development, read this article titled “10 Things to Say to Your Team Right Now” or contact us today.


Organizing for Digital Marketing Excellence in Life Sciences

We offer a practical guide to help life sciences execs evaluate how well their digital marketing is working.

Over the past few years, the life sciences industry has experienced shifts in how sales teams interact with customers. And with onset of COVID-19, many of those demands accelerated rapidly. Companies must find ways to adapt and enhance digital capabilities to avoid disruption and drive strong business outcomes.

In this report, co-authored by Prophet and Altimeter, we offer a practical guide to help life sciences executives evaluate how their digital marketing organizations are working today and how to organize for the future. Finding the best digital marketing operating model can be complex – and may require rethinking operational hierarchies and legacy structures – but organizations must prioritize the changing demands of customers and find a model that meets their needs.

Read this report to learn:

  • Three organizational models that will help identify your best organizational fit.
  • The key questions to ask when evaluating the success of your digital marketing structure
  • Relevant examples from life sciences and B2B healthcare executives and their organizations’ approach to digital marketing

This report specifically looks at digital marketing within life sciences organizations but for cross-industry examples, you can read more in Altimeter’s research, “Organizing for Digital Marketing Excellence”. In addition to the three operating models, it also includes a four-step process for organizing your digital marketing team. Read the full report here.

Download The Cultural Levers of Pharma’s Transformation

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Thank you for your interest in Prophet’s research!


Webinar Replay: Operating in the New Normal

There are many variations of passages of Lorem Ipsum available, but the majority have suffered alteration in some form, by injected humour, or randomised words which don’t look even slightly believable.

56 min

Watch the webinar replay for insights on what leaders should do and how they can prepare for operating successfully in a post-crisis world. Slides from the webinar are available here.

Learn more about how Altimeter and Prophet can help you and your organization. Our offerings include:

Interested in a conversation with Charlene or someone from Altimeter? Please get in touch today.

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