What is your insurgent mission?

By: Bill Van Eron Monday March 27, 2017 0 comments Tags: Bill Van Eron

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By Bill Van Eron

External Value Inspired Business Actions

Headwaters Marketing & Innovation

I started making a difference for HP in 1978, as all employees then did.

HP soon earned regard as a top 3 company in the world. Its mission was not insurgent. It was very inclusive with an enabling Management by Objective style -- The HP Way -- plus disarmingly humane founders with integrity, astute business & leadership skills. HP invested in education, environment, & communities to show social support. 100% of HP employees found their work as passion fueled. Ample lessons for leaders as only 30% buy-in on average today (Gallup).

So, what is an insurgent mission and why is it so important now? Conventional leaders reinforce their thinking by leaning on conventional sources for answers which explains why they struggle. Inc.’s story about a Founder’s Mentality defines insurgent mission as “a higher purpose and a longer time horizon.” Well short of an edgier mission, but still accurate, if not clear about why.

They ask and rated the following questions:

  1. What percentage of your employees can clearly articulate the mission statement and priorities? 
 Fewer than 25%. b. 25-50%. c. 51-75%. d. More than 75%. 

  2. How many of your company’s core capabilities are clearly the best in your industry? 
 Fewer than 4. b. 4-6. c. More than 6. 

  3. In how many new competitive capabilities are you actively investing? 
 Zero. b.1 or 2. c. 3. d. More than 3. 


Their answers encompassed the following for each numbered above:

  1. Ensure everyone knows your priorities. Founders often overestimate this number, but, on average, only two in five employees said they have any idea what their company’s priorities are. Companies with high Founder’s Mentality, such as Ikea, Nike, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car leave no question about mission and priorities. Employees who know and embrace their company’s strategy are four to five times more likely to offer ideas and invest time in a customer. This contradicts the expectation to memorize a mission statement.
  2. Be a foot wide and a mile deep. The best companies usually have three to four deep and strong capabilities that form their core. Mediocre companies often claim they are great at lots of things. I challenge this blanket statement as new economy agility begs just enough insight & expertise before a deep dive. 

  3. Focus your innovation. More than 80% of executives surveyed said their company needs to develop one or two new capabilities to keep a business model competitive. Adding them methodically has been successful for Netflix and Amazon. Lower performing companies lack a plan to do this or invest in too many directions. I insurgently disagree as wise innovation anywhere, anytime outperforms limited applications. 


To Inc’s credit, they also advise Founders to do the following:

  1. Budget from scratch.
 B. Schedule weekly debriefings.
 C. Reward excellence now.
 D. Kill old ideas. They cite as one example; complexity is the silent killer of profitable growth. 
E. Put your top talent on your toughest challenges. They say 95% of winning companies do this.

I applaud C, D – where feasible, and E on this list as every company needs a better meritocracy system. They also need to recognize, encourage, challenge and support new ideas and reward their champions.

So, the Inc. article does a decent job representing “conventional wisdom.” Yet that may inadvertently reinforce why conventional companies struggle more today than ever. We are in very unconventional times demanding better answers and across the system that defines any solution. While there is partial truth in most of the above questions and suggestions, I see the need to upgrade this thinking so more of you wanting to enable organizations to adapt and thrive in this new economy, can benefit. True, a mission that has an edge of insurgency has a better chance of measuring up internally and externally.

If you hope to understand and measure up as you shape your own I.M., the initials inferring “I AM” decry a personal attachment to something that matters. and worth fighting for as a purpose, fueling work, passion, innovation at a personal level, as a team, organization-wide and that fires up your markets where they believe you make a big difference.

I used to grant that loyalty status to Newman’s Own as I bought salad dressing as all profits went to charity. Patagonia connected their outdoor gear to environmental appreciation, notably a higher need and value today.

What’s most important to understand is the system defining the “why.” We are in the midst of a major trust crisis. Corporate greed often interprets to closed cultures, a do what’s expected malaise about one’s work, and only those at the very top prospering when anything is accomplished. That also why Gallup’s latest report on employee engagement shows 70% as still emotionally detached from work, down from 77% the year before, yet woefully short as an outcome where about 90% of CEO’s said inclusion would be their top priority.

So, creating an insurgent mission where it does stand for something way above the norm, and that can well up pride across an organization and markets, one must wonder why we avoided this for so long.

So, let’s add a little insurgency to Inc.’s rather ordinary suggestions:

  1. If someone expects you to memorize a mission statement that handed to you, that sucks. Flip that around and think how you would feel if you believed in it deeply, and your entire business and market ecosystem feels inspired by it. If it was created and kept alive as a process of inclusion, in an open culture with ongoing market validation and it offers real enablement to inspire your best every day, now that’s special. Are you contributing to the inclusive, innovative organization of the future, or just holding on to a dead-end job doing what makes a Dilbertesque boss happy? We see benefits in a mindset change to enable employees that engage with customers to have a completely open view of value creation from the customers point of view and where feasible, build that value into a brand that vitally needs to push value to the limits versus incrementally.
  2. As far as adding new capabilities, the “why” should be engineered from a focus on your market or new markets, trends, unmet needs, values and then how to best shape capabilities to add that value.

I disagree with the blanket statement that “mediocre companies claim expertise in many things.” By investing to understand all business functions and the basis of market change, I had a far greater impact on HP as a critical, system & possibility thinker than any slew of experts ever had. The complexity, cost, and limited value “experts” need to think beyond their expertise, suggests higher value in sources who can offer scalable insight and skill to achieve more than silo-based expertise can. Easier, agile, and tuned still ace difficult, slow & so-so.

  1. Focusing innovation closes off its full range of application. Many companies then only see and apply innovation to new product development. I know first-hand after investing time as a creative possibility thinker that found high impact innovative approaches to how HP launched and sold product; how we earned reseller effectiveness, how we defined value to our channel, media, and analyst stakeholders, and how we approached PR, research, credibility, the customer experience, global priorities and a hell of a lot more, all get closed off when one “focuses innovation” rather than enabling it as an open mindset. Talk about fake news.

There’s a lot more to consider when one wants their work to matter no matter where you are in the hierarchy. I appreciate reading conventional advisory sources and applaud what helps yet see a pattern to miss or play down the factors that are most important in this new economy that increasingly defines a better we. So yes, companies that see that and step up sooner, really do matter.

Here are a few examples of insurgent mission’s I am interested to shape further:

  1. Given all the attention about what is the truth and our already well documented trust crisis, I can envision slews of companies in industries stepping up to say “the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth” is their insurgent mission. They can’t just sponsor it or use it as a slogan. They must live and breathe it. I can also see a catalyst; a people-powered insurgent mission to document which companies are genuine and that have a purpose and strong social footprint so more buyers prefer these companies. 

  2. Given Colorado’s expressed desire to earn an “Innovation Central” designation and their slow, checklist- like incremental performance to date, I see insurgency possible in even this as a decent vision lacking a system view of what it really takes. It takes a system to honest achieve this. Education, industry, and government working together eliminating barriers to earn Colorado a much-admired innovation hub status. I already see far better paths to support entrepreneurs than accepting the 20-30% success rate that incubators deliver. The criticality of a skilled labor force translates to better effectiveness in corporations here as well as in education, where it can better prepare leaders for this new economy. 

  3. Define and own up to the organization of the future. If more people support a definition of where they want to work and why, then more organizations should put greed and other debilitating factors aside and own it too. If this takes insurgency, that’s a shame as for too long corporate greed has held ground where more open cultures, better meritocracy systems and work that fuels active minds and hearts must replace it.

What’s insurgent about these ideas is the impact is huge and serves as a scalable model for most or all others to follow knowing we all win when they do. Look past the ordinary and think extraordinary. In this age of WTF labels, more generations stand ready to support awesome. In his book The Conscience Economy, author Steven Overman does a nice job showing why the greater good is better for your bottom-line.

Bill Van Eron

About the Author: Bill Van Eron

Bill Van Eron is the thought leader driving Headwaters Marketing and Innovation to afford organizations that next-gen advisory team they can trust to integrate the best of what they know to help a company understand where it really is and can be to adapt and thrive. Our mission is to help organizations to matter internally and externally. Our work often happens prior to traditional marketing, sales and during product development as they all fail without our foundational attention to credibility, value creation, experience management, broader innovation and leadership that markets now require. We have evolved marketing, business & market ecosystems, and technology enablement since 1990 so we can offer it to you today as unique, new, relevant & proven. Our work as Conscious Catalysts supports Conscious Champions across the ranks which gets organizations willfully inspired to align, exceed expectations and love what they are part of. People powered business is key to success and market regard. Our web site (www.hw2o.com) will soon catch up to our authentic bold leaps so stay tuned. Better yet, jump in as no false pretense here about the value we deliver once you care to really matter, with enough gains in the short-term to justify your future.