The British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) has ‘Plan A’ as the title of their vast corporate and social responsibility programme in the areas of ‘sourcing, reducing waste and helping communities’. I still remember years ago when I first asked one of their Directors, why they called it ‘Plan A’. It was the perfect question, because it had a permanently ready answer, usually provided with a very happy face and some pride. “We call it Plan A, simply because there is no Plan B”. I thought that was brilliant and I still think the same. In fact, ‘because there is no Plan B’ is the tag associated to ‘Plan A’, but I did not know that at the time, so I got the answer in full cheeky mode.
If M&S does not have a Plan B for its corporate responsibility, it is because the company is fully committed to its Plan A. Plan A, as an expression of commitment, is the modern version of ‘burning your ships’ or ‘burning your bridges’.
Hernan Cortés conquered Mexico in 1519 with 600 people. He burnt his 11 boats by the beach. He got rid of his plan B. His exist strategy was ‘there is no exit’. Alexander the Great did the same in the 4th Century when he invaded Persia.
A few bonfires, here and there, may be needed in the organization. The bonfire may be made of products, or services, or old strategies. A bit of a burning smell may be very healthy. Whilst we may not be Cortés or Alexander, and not brave enough to burn all the strategic ships at once, the ‘No-Exit-no-Plan B’ strategy may be in some cases exactly what is needed to focus people’s attention, to mobilize commitment, to redirect energy, to, perhaps, conquer a new territory.
The trouble with many corporate and organizational pledges, not just in the area of corporate responsibility, but also in day to day leadership, strategy and execution, is that they lack credibility. Perhaps, they are simply not credible in their own right. Perhaps they are potentially credible, but people don’t believe the promises.
There is nothing better to focus minds and show commitment than the smell of a good corporate bonfire.
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