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Most businesses are ready to share their successes, but reticent about their shortcomings. 

We like to think we’re always open about Plan A, whether we’re forging ahead or facing unexpected difficulties. Why? Because we know we need to be transparent to be credible. And more importantly, we know that we can only achieve our ambitions by working with others – so they need to understand the specific issues and challenges we’re seeking to solve.  

And in truth, although we’ve achieved many more Plan A successes than failures over 8 years, our difficult moments (most of them temporary) have taught us just as much, arguably much more, than our easy wins.  

It’s been this way since day one. Probably because we launched Plan A in a spirit of restless ambition. We didn’t dip a toe, we dived right in – setting bold goals and timescales. And this attitude is still integral to Plan A. 

So let’s be clear, we’re are making strong progress (we’ve just reported 47 commitments as Achieved and 39 as On Plan), however, we have also reported nine as Not Achieved and two as Behind Plan. We’re determined to learn from these and each is dealt with individually in the 2015 Plan A report.  

The good news is, these eleven commitments aren’t clustered around one aspect of Plan A, which convinces us there’s no underlying bigger issue just below the surface.  

On some of them, for example our commitments to explore ways to make our buildings more climate change resilient, we simply set ourselves an over-ambitious deadline. Within months, even weeks of year-end, these commitments will be Achieved. The same is true for our commitments to train senior leaders around Plan A and trial new technologies for the use of doors on our refrigerators. We missed the cut on the first, because we paused to incorporate our new masterbrand and values into the proposed training programme. We’ve now done this, and our new Fit To Lead The Future was launched last month. 

The story on refrigerator doors is rather different. Whilst solutions already exist, we weren’t convinced they were right for our stores and we have been working hard to develop new technology to enable robust trials. Even so, we only just fell short and over the next 12 months we’ll definitely start trials of some really innovative ways to cut cold air loss from refrigerators.  

Other commitments have highlighted bigger challenges, particularly integrating Plan A into our product marketing, and expanding Shwopping. In print, both look like any other commitments, but in fact, they’re attempts to engineer seismic shifts in the retail status quo. 

Integrating Plan A into our product marketing is essential if we want to engage our customers. We’ve had some successes to date, but we’ve really needed an integrated, across-the-board approach.  Our Marketing teams have been working hard over the last year to develop a new masterbrand – a consistent way of communicating across our business which fully incorporates Plan A.  It’s been a massive complex undertaking, but it was important that we got it right.    

The same reasoning applies to Shwopping, which is actually an attempt to change consumer behavior with regards to the disposal of clothing. Perhaps it’s not surprising that we’ve temporarily plateaued on this commitment, because changing customer behavior in this way is very challenging. But that’s no reason to give up on a game-changing idea, so we’re looking at new ways to take make it easier and more engaging and we won’t rest until Shwopping opens the door to closed loop clothes retailing at significant scale. 

Another underlying theme - one that explains why we’ve fallen short on our commitment to use 100% sustainable soy and cocoa– is partnership: the plain fact that we need to work with others to achieve real breakthroughs. And we’d rather take time to find and build the right partnerships for soy and cocoa which work in our specific retail supply chain.  This is nothing new for Plan A, so we’ll re-apply the same basic principle (work with great partners who share our goals) to get where we want to be. 

This isn’t a commitment by commitment account. You’ll find that in our Plan A Report 2015. But hopefully we’ve explained the bigger picture. We don’t rest on achievements and in fact have dialed up our level of ambition once we realized that it was easier than we had anticipated.  

Take our success on leather and tanneries. We hit the target way ahead of schedule. Some businesses might have sat on their success, or closed the commitment. But not M&S. We’ve celebrated success by setting a new much tougher target. Now that’s restless ambition in action.

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