A 3-part test to give your vision statement the oomph it deserves

Here’s how to make sure your public credo is brief, clear and vivid.


Too many vision statements lack true vision.

One big pharma company was “proud” to reveal its credo for its new Antibiotic Business Unit.

Here it is:

Development
Big Pharma plc is working towards a reinvigorated global environment for antibiotic research, development and commercialisation.

Collaboration
We are collaborating with all stakeholders, and acting as a constructive partner to governments to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Commercial environment
Commercially attractive policies, alongside global initiatives, must be developed if new antibiotics are to reach patients.

Did you get that? Were you inspired by it? Can you even remember much of it? No?

Here are some reasons why that might be:

It’s way too long.

This vision statement is repetitive, but not in a good (rhetorical) way. How much of it can you recall? Try to repeat it back. Did you get any further than “something about antibiotics and the government”?

It’s way too abstract.

Witness all those abstract nouns like “development,” “collaboration,” “commercialisation” and “environment.” Compare the Big Pharma vision statement with this one, from Microsoft: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Which is more concrete? Which can you picture?

It’s simultaneously over-detailed and under-precise.

Who are all these “stakeholders”? What are all these “attractive policies” and “global initiatives”? Why mention them if you can’t give us details—other than to satisfy all the internal stakeholders whose sign-off was required to get this camel into print?

It’s not actually a vision statement.

It doesn’t say, “This is where we want to be.” Throughout, the language is hesitant, hedging, postponing. It doesn’t talk of an outcome. Rather, it talks of “working towards a reinvigorated global environment” for a series of abstractions. There’s no goal, nothing to hang on to.

Half of it’s not about the company.

Who exactly is responsible for developing all these policies and initiatives? The use of the passive “policies … and initiatives … must be developed” is telling. It’s as though the original said: “We’ll lobby governments to develop policies and initiatives…” and someone said, “Whoa—that’s way too direct!”

It’s got Legal’s hands all over it.

Why else all that hesitant, hedging, postponing language? Why else that passive allusion to the development of policies and initiatives? Why else that phrase “constructive partnership,” with its distinct whiff of legal tautology? (One wonders what a “non-constructive partnership” might look like.)

It’s got the finance director’s hands all over it.

Did we really need some variant of the word “commercial” to appear three times? It’s as if the brief said “We want it to be inspiring, but not too inspiring. We’re a commercial organization, not a charity, remember.” Guys, you’re Big Pharma—we get it, OK?

How to avoid the visionless vision statement.

Here’s a three-part test for checking your credo before you proudly post or announce it:

1. The “memorable” test. Read it aloud to your mum. If she can’t repeat it word for word, it’s too long.

2. The “concrete” test. Ask your 10-year-old nephew to draw it. If he can’t, it’s too abstract.

3. The “inspiring” test. Ask your Gen Y cousin if it makes you sound like a cool place to work. If they say no, it’s too dull and corporate.

A version of this post first appeared on DorisandBertie.

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