Reporting on Shared Value: Marks & Spencer Gets It Right

Last month, the British food and clothing retailer, Marks & Spencer, released a 5-year progress report on their sustainable retailing strategy, Plan A. (Slogan: “Because There Is No Plan B.”) The document, which was released at the same time as their annual corporate responsibility report, sets out the lessons M&S has learned since the inception of the strategy. To be honest, when I opened it, I was expecting just another report: nice photos and interesting anecdotes, but not much in the way of usable insights that could be applied elsewhere. I was wrong. Unlike many similar documents published by other companies, M&S have made a concerted effort to distil and share lessons on how to roll out an ambitious program to reconfigure a value chain across a large, national retailer. It’s a great read.

The reason I decided to blog about it, however, is not the content of Marks & Spencer’s shared value strategy – it’s how the company has approached measurement and reporting that is so refreshing to me. Three things stood out to me as exemplary in how M&S approached this:

  1. The report shares lessons, not just stories. Frustratingly often, companies’ communications tell great stories about the impact of CSR, sustainability or philanthropy efforts in individual cases, but do not provide sufficient data or context for the reader to be able to draw conclusions. By contrast, M&S is going beyond just seeking to create a warm but otherwise meaningless glow among its stakeholders. The document identifies clear lessons, supported with data, that can be applied by other firms wrestling with similar challenges.
  2. The company measures, and reports on, shared value creation. In a world where companies are drowning in reporting standards, ESG metrics, certification criteria and the like, it is surprisingly rare to see firms identify and report on the value to the business associated with social progress. M&S does. The report provides the reader with a series of vignettes into specific practices and innovations that the company has pursued under the Plan A banner. In almost all of them, the company states the cost reduction associated with each, which it calculates with respect to a carefully framed “do-nothing” option that ensures the number is meaningful. In this way, M&S provides its investors with a robust basis to incorporate the firm’s sustainability efforts into valuation models for the business, not to mention signaling the power of its approach to others in the marketplace.
  3. The company used insights from measurement to drive implementation. Perhaps the most exciting aspect (for a data geek like me), is the evidence all through the report that not only has M&S been measuring its shared value creation, it’s been using that to guide robust decision making. The authors describe how progress was linked to management incentives to drive adoption. They explain how measuring and reporting progress helped change the way managers thought about Plan A, sparking new innovation to meet ambitious targets. And they discuss how, by having a robust basis of measurement, they were able to test new ideas, quickly rolling out the most effective ones, and postponing or abandoning others.

Measuring and reporting on shared value creation is a challenge for many companies, and both theory and practice are still evolving. My colleagues will publish more on the topic in the fall (see here and here for more on what they're finding out). In the meantime, reports such as Marks & Spencer’s provide a great blueprint for companies reflecting on how to measure and report on their own shared value strategies.

Do you know of other companies that have used their CSR reporting to quantify their shared value creation and share lessons of strategy and implementation? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

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