Case #1956.0

Innovation at GSA: Zero Environmental Footprint and the Extreme Challenge (A)

Publication Date: March 28, 2017
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In 2010, Martha Johnson, new Administrator of the General Services Agency (GSA), advanced the Zero Environmental Footprint (ZEF) initiative—a sustainability initiative to render GSA’s activities environmentally neutral, agency-wide. She and her leadership team initiated a high-profile renovation project—dubbed the Extreme Challenge—at the agency’s headquarters—one which sought to consolidate all GSA employee office space in the Washington, D.C. region into a single federal building. Doing so would require nothing short of a major organizational change effort within GSA, one which, if successful, could potentially serve as a model for other U.S. federal agencies looking to transform the way in which government employees organized themselves within modern office spaces. A year later, the agency approached a crucial moment in its evolution as a number of key leadership and organizational change questions needed to be answered: Could GSA execute on the vision put forth by Johnson’s senior leadership team? Were the steps taken to date the right ones in setting the tone and preparing the agency for success? And what additional steps or strategies would need to be undertaken to ensure that the $5.5 billion investment in the Extreme Challenge would succeed, even as GSA pursued a longer-term vision of net zero impact through ZEF?

The 13-min. video supplement includes 5 short segments exploring various aspects of the ZEF initiative. In it, Martha Johnson and her team describe their vision for the new office space and the challenges involved in changing the organizational culture at GSA. The videos also include footage of the old headquarters and examples of the new workspaces, as well some of the visual aids being used to increase staff engagement.

Learning Objective:
To present alternative approaches for a senior executive to develop and implement a strategy. The case contrasts a “strategic planning” approach that involves systematically considering goals and alternatives with an iterative approach that starts quickly with incomplete information and changes mid-course based on earlier learning.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
James Quinn
Video Producer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
Steven Kelman
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States