Catalysts: The Cultural Levers of Growth in the Digital Age

Disrupted markets demand dramatic changes to strategy and infrastructure. Cultural transformation is the toughest.

The importance of organizational culture is now beyond question. No matter how digital they may be, all organizations are human and it’s the human factors of digital transformation that have grown in prominence. The ability to transform and create uncommon growth in the digital age obviously demands dramatic changes to your strategy and infrastructure, but it’s the challenge of culture which remains the number one hurdle holding many back from success.

Our latest research with business leaders from around the world outlines cultural levers that need to be prioritized to ignite digital transformation and create a path toward accelerated change.

In this report, you will learn:

  • What culture is and why it matters.
  • Where to begin and why a digitally-led transformation is different than others.
  • The hidden accelerators that make a significant difference to speed and sustain growth.

Download the full report below.

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Leveraging Organizational Culture to Achieve Uncommon Growth

Today’s leaders are beginning to understand that true transformation always requires a cultural change.

2 min

Why is Culture So Important Now?

According to Prophet Partners, Tony Fross and Helen Rosethorn, culture is so important now because in the past 20 years, the way we define and discover value has significantly changed. Organizations founded within this time period are thinking much differently than those founded before; and those more traditionally founded companies are looking for ways to also thrive in the digital era.

Our upcoming study will provide actionable strategies for digital transformation so that organizational leaders can get the outcomes they truly want.

Leveraging Organizational Culture to Power Business Growth

Organizational culture can be a powerful driver of growth in today’s landscape of transformation. But, is your culture helping or hindering your business to achieve its goals? Luckily, we have the secrets to success in our latest global study.

Culture is undoubtedly the most powerful fuel for maintaining a competitive advantage in business today. Our upcoming study by Helen Rosethorn and Tony Fross, both Partners at Prophet, provides processes for building a strong organizational culture.

This study provides insights from discussions with over 50 business leaders and 400 survey participants from across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and China, arming executives with a set of concrete steps to drive high-performing, fit-for-strategy cultures.

In today’s digital age, organizations’ efforts to adapt are ongoing. Now is the time to harness the power of culture and help your organisation achieve uncommon growth.

Download the report.


Healthcare Transformation: How Do We Get There?

On the Healthcare Rap podcast, Jeff Gourdji, co-author of the new book Making the Healthcare Shift, breaks down the 5 necessary shifts for becoming consumer-centric, and how marketing and technology are involved. All that, plus an inside look at launching his book and a shout-out to little moments that make a big difference.

Listen here


The Body, Mind and Soul of Digitally Evolved Organizations

Getting employees to believe in transformation efforts requires a bold new way of thinking.

Why Corporate Culture is the Biggest Impediment to Digital Transformation

When it comes to digital transformation, many companies say the hardest part is changing the culture itself. They often do a great job signposting new corporate values, like innovation and agility. They hold town halls and may even pour millions into expensive technology initiatives. At best, they get poor adoption rates. But often the worst happens: Nothing changes.

After a few rounds of announcements, disappointed (and increasingly cynical) employees sit back and wait. Their leaders tell them that things must change, but then offer platitudes about their position as traditional industry leaders. “There will always be a need for pharmaceutical sales reps,” they might say, or “Those start-ups don’t even make money.”

Meanwhile, employees watch, keenly aware of digital natives that threaten to disrupt their own industry. They have few choices: They can leave for fleeter firms, or stay put, watching the clock tick.

Do Your Employees Believe in Your Digital Transformation?

For most older organizations, the digital age presents a very specific challenge: How might we compete when the assumptions about where and how value is created have changed? They know the answers lie in digital, and it’s not as though these born-before-the-Internet companies have been standing still. Most have many digital things–websites, sophisticated email strategies, social media and probably at least one mobile application.

Still, progress is slow. And employees, who spend their outside time experiencing companies like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, are painfully aware of how behind the curve their own employers are. Convincing them that true digital transformation is even plausible, never mind possible, is difficult. Why should they believe you?

“How might we compete when the assumptions about where and how value is created have changed?”

What makes it worse is that even though employees can see–everyone can see–that the company needs to make radical changes, internal strategy teams focus on gradual tweaks and long-term transformation, to minimize disruption. While employees can see the company needs to travel vast distances to catch up, their employers are only taking baby steps.

Relatively few organizations have truly asked themselves, “What would we look like if we’d been designed in the last 20 years?” and then set a rapid roadmap, three years at the most, for working backward to create those capabilities and the culture to support them.

Challenges of an Incremental Approach to Digital Transformation

And the unrecognized truth is that taking an incremental approach to digital transformation comes at a tremendous cost. The widely reported “retail apocalypse” is an obvious example. Over the last 25 years, nearly all retailers worked hard, but slowly, to launch to e-commerce websites and mobile apps. They tried to balance conflicts between physical and virtual stores, creating expensive loyalty programs that gathered customer data.

But their incremental approach was often too little, too late. In the U.S., for example, grocers didn’t fully anticipate the speed with which Amazon and Walmart would enter their markets with advanced digital capabilities for serving shoppers. Dozens of chains, including Toys R Us and Payless Shoes, were forced into bankruptcy by online competitors. Mainstream and luxury department stores, from JC Penney in the US to Harvey Nichols in the UK, are teetering. Across Europe, high streets have been similarly decimated, with House of Fraser the latest to struggle. And in Asia, online retail continues to sizzle, led by Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall, as well as

That’s just one industry. Look at what Airbnb is doing to hotels and Uber and Lyft to taxi operators, or the way Grab is shaking up food delivery in Asia. These digital companies are succeeding because they know we live in an experience-first world. Customer wants are rapidly evolving, requiring dramatically new levels of organizational flexibility, agility and adaptability.

And that responsiveness is about technology, yes. But it’s very much about humans. Data can tell us what people have done in the past and what they need, but it can’t create new products and services. Digital technology can’t see trends, nor help you decide how to shift a business as markets evolve. It can’t drive culture, those values and beliefs that make people want to come to work for you every day.

Transforming an Organization’s Body, Mind and Soul

At Prophet, we’ve started thinking about digital transformation as rewiring the Body, Mind and Soul of the enterprise.

Body: Reinvent the Operating Model

A company is trained and equipped to achieve its vision if it can do three seemingly simple things:

  • Design customer-focused business processes unencumbered by bureaucracy
  • Create an organization with the right roles, empowered to make those processes fleet and effective
  • Shape a governance structure that makes it supremely easy to do the right things, versus being designed purely to block the wrong things

Modern operating models frequently depart from traditional approaches, organizing communities of practice instead of departments and using multi-disciplinary teams to understand customer needs and design new products, services and experiences.

For instance, a large financial services firm determined that its key strategic goal was to dominate the industry in customer experience and differentiate itself through service. But it was bogged down by business units so siloed that its best customers, those who purchased the broadest range of products, got the worst experience. Working with our team, the leaders agreed on a digital transformation vision. Two years after launching its new operating model, it has moved from being the customer-experience laggard to an industry leader, according to several analysts.

Mind: Energize the Talent

The relentless pace of innovation means that many companies struggle with a mismatch of skills and capabilities. This can even happen to digital companies: We recently worked with a global tech behemoth that couldn’t find a market for its newest products. It wanted to deliver innovative Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products targeted at healthcare, but its talent wasn’t up to it. Product managers had never developed SaaS products before. Project managers weren’t trained in agile software development.

Addressing challenges within the Mind of your organization means pinpointing these mismatches, and either building skills through training or recruiting new talent.

Soul: Create More Meaning

The corporate soul, like the individual one, is as important as it is subtle. We approach Soul starting with the very DNA of firm: by identifying the purpose of an organization. We then begin defining the supporting values that make the firm a place that people love to work. Our recent research on purpose, based on 350 business leaders, confirms that this purpose must be evident to employees (and consumers) every single day.

And it must address big questions: What role do we play in the community? How well do we manage our impact on the environment? Is our workforce diverse? Are we adapting to technological change? Are we providing the retraining and opportunities that employees need to adjust to an increasingly automated world? Those with a well-defined purpose, like Starbucks, Patagonia and LEGO, inspire the way their people think and work toward the kinds of transformation that ensure values for customers and meaning in the work itself.


Balancing all three is challenging. But healthy human-centered enterprises recognize that mind, body and soul are connected. Organizational health–and the ability to step boldly into future transformation–comes from synchronicity between the three.

Learn more about how to spearhead your brand’s successful digital transformation.


Research Report: Becoming Purposeful

Industry leaders explain how the right purpose–authentic and differentiated–becomes a guiding force for change.

Does Your Purpose Have the Power to Transform Your Organization?

Purpose is more important than ever. With always-on digital transformation, purpose is impactful in guiding and energizing organizations, in motivating talent and in elevating employee engagement.

Purpose can be powerful, but only if it is authentic and deeply ingrained. It’s easy for organizations to state a purpose, but many are merely scratching the surface; missing the full potential of the kind of purpose that can transform.

‘Becoming Purposeful’ is a research report that outlines the four fundamentals of what makes an organization truly purpose-led, and also explains how to action them in your business. Speaking to business leaders from Nationwide, eBay, The Co-operative Bank and more, it arms leaders of change with knowledge of how to chart their business’ journey toward becoming truly purposeful.

Want to learn how Prophet can help you unlock growth by defining and harnessing a compelling purpose to drive performance? Contact us to learn more

Download Catalysts: The Cultural Levers of Growth in the Digital Age

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Thank you for your interest in Prophet’s research!


5 Key Benefits of Higher Purpose Programs

Companies can no longer pretend investors are all that matter. There are many other stakeholders to consider.

Milton Friedman famously said that the “social responsibility of business is to increase profits.” To many observers that is the accepted paradigm. However, a remarkably high number of businesses have a social/environmental higher purpose alongside creating and marketing a functional offering and increasing sales and profits.

5 Key Benefits of Higher Purpose Programs

There are five benefits that motivate these firms and should motivate yours:

1. Employee Alignment

Employees nowadays, especially millennials, seek out a higher purpose. They want to feel that their work means more than the bottom line or a paycheck. A higher purpose that they can support, rally behind or be a part of, can address those needs, and lead to more productive, committed and engaged employees.

2. Customer Connection

A growing segment of customers will build relationships with brands and firms who have a higher purpose that aligns with their own interests or concerns (or avoid brands that don’t). Even if that group is relatively small, it could be influential and contribute to financial success. For example, Prius drivers are extremely loyal to and supportive of the brand due to its unique design and efforts to combat global warming.

3. Bottom-Line Benefits

Consumers aren’t the only drivers of profit from social and/or environmental programs. Organizations can see a positive impact on the bottom-line from:

  • Energy savings: In 2005, Walmart decided to undertake its ambitious environmental program; affecting the stores, the products carried, logistics and much more. A surprise early finding was that do-gooder energy programs reduced spend and enhanced profits.
  • Expanding markets: Unilever noticed that increasing the health and economic status of third-world families created meaningful markets for their products. A business with insights into local conditions, assets and the ability to quickly implement and manage programs has enormous advantages over government-led solutions.
  • Create brand energy and visibility: Social and environmental programs can create energy and visibility that may otherwise be difficult for brands to achieve. Consider Always’ #likeagirl video campaign – designed to encourage self-esteem for those transitioning into womanhood. With over 80 million views, it achieved a rare feat for a product advertising campaign.
  • Intrinsic benefits: A reduction of catastrophic damage to the environmental, social and economic framework in which we live would objectively be a plus for long-term business profitability.

4. Stock Market Investor Support

The stock market rewards social or environmental programs. Per the Global Sustainability Investment Alliance’s 2016 review, $8.7 trillion had been invested in sustainability and social impact in the U.S. (up 33 percent from only two years prior). That number represents 22 percent of all investment assets in U.S. professional management. So it is not clear that there is a need to turn against the stock market to have a social or environmental higher purpose.

5. Doing the “Right” Thing

For a large number of firms, social and environmental programs are pursued because it is simply right from a moral and ethical perspective. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff says, “All businesses can and should help make the world a better place.” While Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman notes that the Unilever business model is focused on finding solutions to ensure that the needs of communities carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders.

“All businesses can and should help make the world a better place.”

Marc Benioff, Salesforce

The ethical rationale usually comes from having empathy with people that, because of your business, you get to see up close. If you see the devastation caused by global warming, children dying before reaching 5 or kids with inadequate education resources – and your firm can do something about it within your business model – why would you not act?

Consider the Dove programs to raise the self-esteem of girls and women and Lifebuoy’s program to get one billion people to change their handwashing habits to reduce infant deaths throughout the world (they are halfway toward the goal).

In the face of this logic and firm behavior, we saw the specter of the Brazilian private equity group, 3G Capital, who own Kraft Heinz and InBev and whose strategy was summarized by Fortune as “Buy Squeeze Repeat,” rebuffed in their effort to buy Unilever. Unilever is a shining light with its umbrella USLP (Unilever Sustainable Living Plan), launched in 2010, and its many social programs. Can you imagine what 3G would do to Unilever?


Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative



Powerful product, country and functional silos are jeopardizing companies’ marketing efforts. Because of silos, firms misallocate resources, send inconsistent messages to the marketplace and fail to leverage scale economies and successes, all of which can threaten a company’s survival. As David Aaker shows in Spanning Silos, the unfettered decentralization that produces silos is no longer feasible in today’s marketplace. It’s up to chief marketing officers to break down silo walls to foster cooperation and synergy.

In this age of dynamic markets, new media and globalization, getting the different parts of your organization to collaborate is more critical (and more difficult) than ever. This book gives you the road map you need to accomplish that feat.

“Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold.


  • Strengthen your credibility with silo teams and your CEO
  • Use cross-functional teams and other strategic-linking devices
  • Foster communication across silos
  • Select the right CMO role from facilitator to strategic captain
  • Develop common-planning processes
  • Adapt your brand strategy to silo units
  • Allocate marketing dollars strategically across silos
  • Develop silo-spanning marketing programs

About the Author

David Aaker is the author of over one hundred articles and 18 books on marketing, business strategy and branding that have sold over one million copies. A recognized authority on branding, he has developed concepts and methods on brand building that are used by organizations around the world.


Want to interview Dave or feature him on your next podcast? Please connect with us or David Aaker directly.

David Aaker and Prophet can help your business span silos and maximize the success of your marketing efforts – contact us.

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