When the L-Lab team working with SC Johnson was faced with the challenge of improving the environmental impact of the company's supply chain, they knew what the "standard solution" would be—review all elements involved in the supply chain and create a scorecard that evaluates those elements in terms of environmental impact. Thanks to the lessons of their L-Lab class, however, the team knew that the standard answer wouldn't work.
"If we hadn't taken the class, we would have approached the problem in a very analytical way," says team member Nirav Patel, MBA '12. "The class taught us not to just say, 'This is the answer.' But rather to ask, 'What is this organization? What do they believe? How do they work? And what does that mean for how we should approach solutions?'"
The team set about applying their classroom lessons as soon as they arrived at the SC Johnson offices. They approached the challenge with an open mind and with no preconceived notions; they weren't looking to fit a round peg into a square hole.
In order to understand the underlying culture at SC Johnson, the team spoke to employees involved in every area and at every level. They realized that sustainability and environmental stewardship are an integral part of SC Johnson's identity and how they do business. What the company really needed, the team determined, was to integrate sustainability into their daily relationships with suppliers.
In the end, the team did not provide SC Johnson with just a single solution but rather a broad, overall approach that took corporate culture into account. The team's goal was not to convince the company that their recommendations were right but to raise the issues they'd found in their investigation and to bring awareness to the roadblocks in the company that could prevent SC Johnson from reaching its objective.
Says Patel, "This class has taught me that any attempt to create change in an organization has to start from a place of humility, as well as with an openness to understanding other perspectives and other modes of thinking and behaving. Starting from that place allows a degree of understanding that is more conducive to creating the right kind of change."