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

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:


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


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?

[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to drive employees to your intranet]

It’s simultaneously over- 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:

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

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

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


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