There is a growing interest in large companies pursuing a new purpose—changing their core reason for being from a singular focus on financial gain to a renewed responsibility to people and the planet alongside profit. Yet knowledge of how a large company can walk that purpose-talk is still in its infancy. In this essay, we zoom in on the development of new sustainable products that embody a renewed responsibility to people and the planet. We conceptualize sustainable product development in a large company as an instance of divergent change and explore: How can sustainable products develop inside a large company in the face of the intense resistance that such a divergent change is likely to trigger? Building on our qualitative study from 2010 to 2019 of four products in a large fast-moving consumer goods company, we unpack two key leadership practices: (1) relaxing metrics for a product team, which (structurally) enables experimenting with a sustainable product separate from the mainstream business, and (2) advocating with gatekeepers, which (discursively) enables anchoring a sustainable product within the mainstream business. Overall, our findings suggest that sustainable product development will not do much to transform a large company if sustainable products remain merely tolerated exceptions.
Kimsey, Marissa, Thijs Geradts, and Julie Battilana. "Walking the Purpose-Talk Inside a Large Company: Sustainable Product Development as an Instance of Divergent Change." Strategy Science (2023): 1-11.