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How to Establish a Compelling Vision: A Blueprint for Founders

When you stop and think about it, building a great company is like building a great house. You need a compelling Vision of what you’d love to build, a set of detailed plans, a set of concepts that govern your Vision (style, size, space), and the tools (hammer, saw, level) and disciplines (carpenter, roofer, project manager, supervisor) required to transform your Vision into a reality. 

Like great houses, great companies don’t appear with the snap of the creator’s fingers. Turning a Vision into reality takes time, people, patience, persistence, and a bit of luck. To build a truly great company, there can be no shortcuts, no “this is good enough” in your process. That’s because creating a compelling Vision — something that is explicit, coherent, and resonant — is essential for defining success, fostering innovation, and inspiring team members.

Let’s take a high-level look at the steps we recommend for creating not just a compelling Vision but one shared by all:

  1. Print or download our Vision Builders Workbook
  2. “Go to the mountains” and create a straw man of your Vision.
  3. Come back and share your straw man with your Senior Leadership Team (SLT).
  4. Set aside a couple of days to review and align on a compelling shared Vision.
  5. Roll out your Vision to the entire organization — and then reference it often.

Winners Corner Rubiks Cube_V2.21 [Hand Drawn]At Ninety, we’re passionate about the process of crafting an explicit, coherent, and compelling Vision that eventually becomes shared by all. And make no mistake, it is a process — one that starts with you and then evolves until you and your SLT are enthusiastically committed to turning it into reality. After all, it's difficult to attract and retain the types of people you’ll need to turn your Vision into reality without getting alignment. Remember the adage, “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.” 

In this article, I'll share the essential ingredients — what I like to refer to as Core Agreements — of a clear and compelling Vision, plus a time-tested process for not only getting the Vision done but also ensuring it is “shared by all.” You’ll also discover: 

  • Why we refer to these Core Agreements as Focus Filters
  • The power of agreements-based cultures
  • A recommended process for going from ideas to agreements
  • The key to living your Vision organizationally
  • The value of memorializing your Vision

“I point our entire national community of employees to Ninety and say, this is what the vision is. This is where we're going. This is what we've committed to this year. This is where we are this quarter. This is how we're growing. And this is where we’ll be in the next three to ten years.”

— Jennifer Zick, Authentic Brand


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Understanding the Core Agreements Associated with a Well-Developed Vision

At Ninety, we strongly believe that thriving high-trust companies incorporate a culture based on explicit agreements among their various stakeholders and, in particular, among their employees. This is in contrast with traditional expectations-based cultures. Agreements are established mutually among team members and between leaders and their team members. Expectations are one-way, while agreements go two ways.

While all agreements are important, some agreements are established between the Senior Leadership Team and the rest of the organization — we call these Core Agreements. Examples include Core Values, Ideal Customers, Unique Value Proposition, and so on.

Before outlining the time-tested elements associated with an explicit, coherent, and compelling Vision — elements we call Focus Filters — we want to emphasize the need to address each one of them when you get started on creating your Vision. Only through this exploration can you clearly establish some of the Core Agreements that should genuinely matter to (and for) your organization. Taking shortcuts or punting on the hard stuff might be a temptation, but you should fight through that. It’s worth the work, 100%.

Each of the Core Agreements associated with your Vision is part of what we call a Northern Constellation. Collectively, these agreements are some of the most important commitments your organization needs to make. They will not only help guide every one of the decisions made in your organization each day but they will also help you collectively focus and filter out distractions and other “shiny objects.” That’s why they are called Focus Filters. These Focus Filters are your:

Core Values

These are very precise words and/or phrases that describe the core behaviors associated with your people working well together. They are essential for creating a healthy, high-trust, agreements-based culture. Core Values are instrumental for decision-making, hiring new candidates, and continually caring for your Ideal Team Members. 

Learn more in our Core Values Brief.

Purpose, Passion, and/or Just Cause

This filter describes your organization's Compelling Why: the value your organization provides (Purpose), the powerful emotions that collectively influence and drive you (Passion), and/or why your company matters beyond making money (Just Cause). Establishing a Compelling Why will help you attract and retain the kinds of Ideal Team Members you’ll need to surround yourself with to turn your Vision into reality. 

Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Identifying and understanding the demographics, geographics, and psychographics of your Ideal Customer — who you serve best — removes ambiguity from your go-to-market strategy and provides a clear target for your teams to focus on. Knowing your Ideal Customer is vital in helping you maintain the future-focused Vision you need as an organization. Aim for having 90% of your customers be Ideal Customers. The more Ideal Customers, the more efficient and effective your business practices will become.

Find out more in our Ideal Customers Brief.

Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

Your Unique Value Proposition is your collective promise to your Ideal Customers — why your Ideal Customers choose your product/service over all your competitors. A strong UVP tends to land squarely in one of four categories: 
          •   Lowest cost
          •   A focus on innovation
          •   Impeccable customer service
          •   Status for the consumer

Find out more in our Unique Value Proposition Brief.

Compelling and Audacious Goals (CAGs)

Compelling and Audacious Goals are ambitious, long-term objectives that unite and inspire organizations to achieve greatness. These challenging, long-term goals (typically ten years) should be focused, measurable, and aligned with your other Focus Filters. They inspire and help foster a high-performance, motivated culture. When team members see your future as their own, everyone wins.

Learn more in our Compelling and Audacious Goals Brief.


We’ll break these down in the next section. Suffice to say, there is tremendous value in establishing 3-Year Goals, 1-Year Goals, and 90-Day Goals (what we call Rocks). These goals are core elements of your Northern Constellation. They light the way from today to 90 days, one year, and three years down the path. And, if done well, they collectively point the way to your CAGs.

Read more about setting goals in our goals briefs.



Why Do We Call These Focus Filters?

At the risk of stating the obvious, every business is either growing or dying. To grow almost always means adding more people. As you grow, you want to help your people make good decisions on their own. This involves helping them understand what’s important to you as a company, which helps everyone focus. Each of the Core Agreements in your Vision is there to help you collectively focus. 

As an example, if your UVP is great customer service, you want your people to appreciate the importance of meeting your Ideal Customer’s needs. As another example, if a non-Ideal Customer wants you to sell them something you don’t provide, your team members don’t have to worry about trying to make that customer happy. 

In short, a small set of explicit, coherent, and resonant Focus Filters helps us focus on things that matter and limit (hopefully reduce) the amount of energy we collectively allocate to working on things that don’t matter.

The Process of Crafting Your Vision

Now that we’ve laid out the Core Agreements associated with a well-developed Vision, and hopefully made a case for why these help us focus, let’s dig into how to to establish yours. 

When crafting your Vision, it’s best to get out of your workspace and away from potential distractions. Find a remote spot that will inspire and energize you, places that are awe-inspiring. It could be in a forest, on a mountain, or on the sea.

To help you think about the ingredients of your Vision, we created the Vision Builders Workbook. In this workbook, you’ll find a detailed overview of the essential ingredients associated with a well-developed Vision and explanations for why each one matters so much. Finally, as you would expect in any workbook, there are prompts to help you think about and document your answers. 

Let’s now fast-forward to the day you’ve returned from the proverbial mountaintop with your newly drafted Vision in hand. Most likely, this Vision is incomplete and perhaps even partially incoherent — it’s just a first iteration.

The next step in your Vision-building process is sharing it with your SLT and working with them to:

  • Complete the missing pieces of the Vision
  • Make it fully coherent
  • Align the entire SLT around it

This is one of those moments where you may want to consider hiring a business coach because the process of genuinely aligning on all the elements of a Vision is often messy for a host of reasons, not the least of which are egos. (We’re delighted to help you find a business coach — we’re close with hundreds of amazing coaches.)

Regardless of whether you hire a coach or go it alone, our experience suggests that getting agreement on your Vision is best attacked over two distinct, intensive sessions. Each typically takes anywhere from 5–8 hours. We refer to these as the Vision Setting Session and the Goal Setting Session.

The Vision Setting Session

During your Vision Setting Session, take out your VBW and talk about why you think now is the time to clarify and align on your company’s Vision. Then, section by section, share a summary of why you agree with the need to specify each Focus Filter as well as what could be called your straw man answer. 

As you collectively progress through clarifying each Focus Filter, ask your team members to provide their thoughts and suggestions on whether they appreciate the value of the Focus Filter and, hopefully assuming yes, if your straw man resonates or could be made clearer, more concise, or more compelling.

Allow disagreements to surface, and resolve them through conversation. By the end of the Vision Setting Session, you and your SLT should be fully aligned around a precise definition of each Focus Filter. To do this, you’ll need to write your answers down. There are three approaches teams tend to take:

  1. Use a dry-erase board or Post-it note board, and start writing down the answers.
  2. Open a document and share it on a big screen so everyone can wordsmith together.
  3. Put the answers right into Ninety’s Vision tool. This is super efficient, and you’ll be able to share access to your final answers with everyone in the company when you're ready to roll out your Vision.

Your goal is to finish the Vision Setting Session with decent agreement on the words associated with your answers to:

  • What is your Purpose, Passion, and/or Just Cause?
  • What is (are) your Compelling and Audacious Goal(s)?
  • Who is your Ideal Customer?
  • What is your Unique Value Proposition?
  • What are your Core Values?

We use the word “decent” because it's almost impossible to end the session without a sense that more wordsmithing is needed. It's not reasonable to nail every word, but over time, you’ll get there. Everyone who genuinely sees the value of an explicit, coherent, and resonant Vision gets there.

The Goal Setting Session

During the Goal Setting Session, you’ll roll up your sleeves and establish a set of goals that will help you navigate the journey associated with turning your Vision into reality. I recommend holding this meeting 2–4 weeks after your Vision Setting Session. Begin by reviewing the work from the Vision Setting Session. For each Focus Filter, go over the answer you came up with. Read them out loud and listen to how they sound. If you and your SLT don’t love them, work on them. But don’t dwell on them — spend no more than 90 minutes. Then, move on to the following:

3-Year Goals

Now it's time to align on what the company will look like in three short years with your team. Similar to the approach you took during the Vision Setting Session, share your answers and the “why” behind each one, as well as how each gets us closer to the Compelling and Audacious Goals we set. Your goal is to paint a compelling picture of what you and the rest of your colleagues can accomplish: a picture that draws them into the journey in front of you and helps them envision that it’s possible for their future selves to achieve their three-year dreams, a picture that helps every Ideal Stakeholder understand where you’re going and what’s most important.

Once you have shared your dream, give everyone on your team the opportunity to comment on what you have presented and provide their own thoughts on what a compelling picture looks like. The ideas and debates associated with establishing your 3-Year Goals are some of the most exciting parts of the goal-setting process. 

1-Year Goals

Unlike the 3-Year Goals exercise, aligning on your 1-Year Goals needs to be a bit more pragmatic for a host of reasons, including the following:

  • The best 1-Year Goals are incredibly focused, and focus is good. These should total no more than seven. Even as few as three goals is a reasonable outcome. Too few leaves essential work outside your team’s focus, while too many defocuses the team.
  • It's just as dangerous to be conservative as it is to be aggressive. If you're conservative, you'll likely run into capacity constraints, which will limit your ability to take advantage of all the amazing work you’re doing. If you're too aggressive, you’ll likely over-resource and end up with excessive expenses.
  • You want to create a 50/50 set of 1-Year Goals. That is, it's just as likely you’ll barely miss the goal as it is you will exceed it.

90-Day Goals, or Rocks

Finally, it's time to align around your next 90 days and decide on what has to be done over the next quarter to be on track for your 1-Year and 3-Year Goals. You might also address some big issues and opportunities that are staring you all in the face.

You’ll want to establish 3–7 company Rocks, and you’ll likely find that each of your colleagues wants to take on 1–5 Rocks. One or more of these Rocks could be a company Rock, and the rest might be individual or departmental Rocks. All this is broken down in the VBW, but whatever you do, please make your Rocks SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). For each Rock, make sure everybody is 100% clear on how to determine whether it is done. And if you want to have a decent shot at seeing them accomplished, make sure each of the Rocks has 3–5 Milestones.

Core Disciplines of Effective Vision Setting and Goal Setting Sessions

These are the disciplines we genuinely believe to be true:

  • The first time you sit down and document any aspect of your Vision, it will not be perfect. That’s okay.
  • Eventually, for your Vision to truly be of value, you’ll want to share it with your entire company. (More on this below.)
  • A well-developed Vision will become one of the foundational reasons you’re able to attract and retain your version of an Ideal Team Member.

Take the Vision seriously, and you’ll find it’s easier to have the Right People in the Right Seats. Those are the people you want to work with. And those are the people who will absolutely want to work with you.


“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”

— Simon Sinek


Building a High-Trust, Agreements-Based Culture

Once you’ve completed the rewarding work of establishing your Vision, you’ll soon see how the output of those efforts continuously guides (and galvanizes) your team, especially as you scale and progress through the five Stages of Development. Companies lacking an explicit, coherent, and resonant Vision consistently find the progression through those stages — and the rapid organizational growth that accompanies it — far more challenging than it needs to be. That’s because their teams don’t have the information they need to focus and align on what genuinely matters.

With your Vision at the epicenter of all your actions, you’ll be well on your way to having all the essential ingredients to build and sustain a laser-focused, high-trust, agreements-based culture.  

At its core, the Ninety platform is a system for establishing, recording, and tracking all your Core Agreements, making it easy for you to document and share all the agreements that really matter. Our platform not only has all the tools you need to enable agreements — like our Data, Meetings, and 1-on-1 tools — but a deep library that provides you and your Ideal Team Members with all the associated context.

Living the Vision: Culture and Communication

We can’t stress this enough — if you’re an ambitious founder, you have a Vision. Crafting a compelling shared Vision should be one of the easier stages of the journey you have chosen to take if you truly are an ambitious founder. But you know your Vision will only come to reality if you can attract and retain great people. To do this, you need to enroll them in your Vision and then get out of their way. Document the Vision, provide everyday access to it, and consistently and repeatedly share and explain why every component of it matters. Share how you’re progressing every single quarter, and give your team members the tools they need to succeed.

Too often, founders keep their Vision shielded to serve as a reference for themselves or a select few. Unfortunately, that’s detrimental to everyone else because it is infinitely more difficult to be inspired and rally around a Vision if all of the team members don’t know what the Vision is.  

At Ninety, we use our State of the Company Meetings (held every 90 days) to review not only our Focus Filters but how we did in terms of completing our Rocks throughout the company. We aim for 90% completion and get there almost every quarter. 

Imagine what your organization would look like if everyone in your organization was confidently marching together every 90 days and hitting at least 90% of your Rocks.

When everyone understands where the ship is going, how it plans to get there, and how their role fits this journey, they can easily understand and appreciate how and why they matter. Enroll them in your Vision, and you’ll soon see and feel the energy that comes from sharing the Vision with everyone. You’ll also see how much better they become at actively contributing to helping you and your Senior Leadership Team create a focused, aligned, and thriving organization. 

Want to hear more about Vision? Check out this two-part podcast where I take a deep dive on the topic: Part I | Part II.  

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