Vision statement? Apply this three-part test before you hit 'send'

cartoon of a pair of binoculars

Last week, a big pharma firm was ‘proud’ to reveal its vision statement for its new Antibiotic Business Unit. Here’s that vision statement.

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, way too long

This vision statement is repetitive, but not in a good (rhetorical) way. How much of it can you actually recall? Go on, try and repeat it back. Did you get any further than ‘something about antibiotics and the government’?

It’s way, 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 actually 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 of a piece to print).

It’s not actually a vision statement

By which I mean a vision statement in the sense of ‘this is where we want to be’. From the outset, the language is hesitant, hedged, 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 actually 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 went ‘whoah - way too direct!’

It’s got Legal’s hands all over it

Why else all that hesitant, hedged, 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 organisation, not a charity, remember.’ Guys, you’re Big Pharma - we get it, OK?

How to avoid the visionless vision statement

Google ‘how to write a vision statement’ and you’ll find loads of great advice (I particularly like this formula).

So rather than add to all the information out there, I’m going to give you my three-part test for sanity checking that vision statement before you proudly announce it on Twitter.

This test is guaranteed to ensure your vision statement is as memorable, concrete and inspiring as a vision statement should be - and you don’t even need to get a single colleague involved. Instead, run it by three generations of your family!

Clare’s three-part test for a vision statement that doesn’t fall flat

1. The ‘memorable’ test

Read it out to your mum. If she can’t repeat it back to you word for word, it’s too long.

2. The ‘concrete’ test

Ask your ten-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.

As ever, tell us what you think in the comments.