As leaders, it’s far too easy for us to get caught up in the little things we do every day that we can often forget the meaning—the why—behind it all. Taking time away from work to look ahead seems nearly impossible when balanced with our daily duties. But how can we measure success if we don’t have a clear vision for the future? That’s why the Emplify executive team hit the pause button for three days to create a vision that was five years into our company’s future.
In this part of our Vision blog series, I’ll be giving you a backstage look into our executive team’s offsite, and showing you why it’s critical your leadership is fully invested in creating your company vision. As Lois mentioned in the last blog, business leaders often dismiss these vision crafting exercises as costly or time-wasting, but nothing could be less true. As a high growth company that is constantly changing, we wanted our people to feel empowered to make decisions quickly. This was one of many reasons why engaging in this vision crafting work was so vital to Emplify’s success. By going through Emplify’s history and values, we made a vision that we believe all our people can see their role and success in.
We started this work knowing that it would have a transformational impact on our business. We wrote our vision as if it was March 1st, 2025. By giving it a clear end goal on an exact day of an exact month of an exact year, we challenged ourselves to think broadly, yet tactically. It was important to us that we knew the vision was something we could realistically do. When you commit to building a vision, you will come out with a firm directive that will affect every part of your business—including your bottom line.
Throughout the course of three days, we worked offsite with our vision guide, Lois Weinblatt, through exercises that asked us to examine our past, imagine our future, and create an actionable yet inspiring message that would help push Emplify into our next era.
Dedicate Time and Space
Imagine you have a picture on your phone that you’ve zoomed in as far as possible. What does it look like? Probably a lot of blurred pixels with no clear meaning, right? Before you can create a compelling vision, you need to zoom out of your daily responsibilities to get the full, non-blurry picture of your organization. The first thing we did as an executive team was find intentional time and space to start the work of building our company vision. For us, this meant meeting in person over three different days, including some outside homework—overall about forty to fifty hours of work.
But how did we focus on the vision and balance our other work? Well, we didn’t. We sequestered ourselves offsite without access to our teams. Lois even mandated that we keep our phones in a separate room for the duration of our time together. In order to truly disconnect, we rented out three different Air BNBs with unique atmospheres to encourage self-reflection. For your organization, this offsite location could look different, but it’s important that you do this work apart from your ever-growing list of tasks so that you can truly focus on the future.
Once you’ve taken that step back, then what? It can be overwhelming and you might not know exactly what’s next or how to start. That’s why you need a guide.
What You Need To Start your Vision Building Process
- Dedicate a chunk of time with your leadership team where daily tasks and responsibilities will not distract from visioning work
- Find a location off-site to do this work where you can self-reflect
- Identify an outside visioning expert who can help guide your discussions and challenge your preconceived notions
Get an Outside Perspective
At several points in Emplify’s history, we’ve tried to do this vision work on our own. I mean, we’re people experts, right? But time and again, what we envisioned never felt quite right, nor did we act upon it much past the ninety days after we created it. What we found was that we were too close to our work to know what was or wasn’t important to have in the vision—the things we needed to specifically focus on and areas where we could leave things up to interpretation.
We needed someone who could give us a different and objective view of Emplify, someone from the outside.
Santiago Jaramillo, our CEO, found Lois through a Google search. True story! The perspective she brought challenged us all. Lois uses the principles from Zingerman’s, a deli that shares their visioning exercises with the world. We’ve always been fans of Zingerman’s books and used their process in previous vision attempts, but having a third-party lead us through the process proved to be the piece we were missing in previous exercises.
Lois put to us that in order to fully understand our future, we needed to know our past. Led by our invaluable guide, we spent the first-day archiving Emplify’s history into events and eras that illustrated how we got to where we are today. We asked ourselves what traps we commonly fell into, and what themes were emerging from our shared past. This helped us better understand where we had been to give us the clarity on where we were going.
Questions to Ask to Define Your History
- What are the distinct eras of your organization’s history?
- What are the turning points within your organization’s history and how did they influence change?
- What common traps has your organization fallen into throughout its history?
- What themes emerged from your organization’s past?
- Who were the players in those eras and how do they represent your organization’s values?
Lean into a Visionary Mindset
The next step was to imagine exactly where we’d be in five years. Not in an “I wish” or “I hope” kind of way, but in an affirmed “I will” mindset. We spent so many hours in this future headspace that I kept having to do mental arithmetic to remember how old my kids were (they’re ten and twelve in 2020, but in 2025, I’m the stressed father of two teens).
While difficult, vividly imagining our future helped us know exactly where we want to take Emplify and the things we need to do to get ourselves there. After twelve hours of talking five years in the future, consensus started to form amongst the leadership team. Our future was taking shape and our confidence that it was going to happen was growing.
Lois was an invaluable asset on this journey, and we really couldn’t have done it without her. On top of her work as guide, she was also our scribe, furiously taking down the notes during our meetings so that every person in the room could focus on the vision. After she transcribed everything, she synthesized all our perspectives and wrote the vision out herself to be edited by the team. Equipping yourself with a good writer is vital to capture the essence of your company’s vision. With her guidance, we were able to adapt a future mindset that helped us craft a vision that would inspire discretionary effort, alignment, and speed from our people at Emplify.
Create a Visionary Culture
As soon as we finished our vision, we knew our work had just begun. We had made a vision that was big enough to seem challenging yet achievable. A vision has to be lofty enough so that it inspires your team, but also provides enough specificity so you know what success will look like.
The outcome of all of these sessions was a thoughtfully written, four-page vision that was achievable and aspirational. It’s specific, inspiring, and motivating. The leadership team left the visioning process with a renewed sense of purpose. Unlike past vision attempts, we are confident that we have the right vision and with our team, we’re going to make it happen.
But, this was just the beginning. While our executive team had spent days crafting this message, we knew that without a well-executed launch, the vision would fall flat. In our next blog, Gabby VanAlstine, Emplify’s Director of People Ops, will be walking you through our vision rollout. This activation is crucial to making your vision real for your people. Gabby did an amazing job making it interactive and meaningful—especially while our entire workforce is working from home.