Making Better Plans With the 4-Level Pyramid

Category: Product | By ClockShark | 16 minute read | Updated Dec 14, 2017
Making Better Plans With the 4-Level Pyramid

No matter who you are or what industry you’re in, you have a particular set of goals in mind when it comes to your business.

Maybe you want to affect social change. Maybe you want to become the leading player in your space. Maybe you just want to pay the bills and enjoy your work in the process.

Whatever the case may be, there’s no escaping the need to form effective plans. If you don’t pay enough attention to this critical topic, your business is set for failure before you even get going.

Of course, “business planning” is a very general term. It can refer to a number of things – high-level business vision, strategic implementation, tactic selection, and operational decisions. All four of these domains are important to a business, and if you hope to succeed, you’ll have to give consideration to each of them.

The Strategic Planning Pyramid

There’s a lot of noise in the business planning space. It seems as if every second “management guru” is promoting their own unique approach, touting the effectiveness of their methods over everyone else’s.

Here’s the truth – there is no one perfect model. You can’t expect to take a cookie-cutter solution, apply it to your unique situation, and be rewarded with instant and everlasting success. As the old saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat. Finding what works best for you may take time, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

Now, that’s not to say that it’s simply a matter of trial and error. In our experience, all solid business planning methodologies follow the same basic steps… and we like to share this framework with our customers. It distills all of these systems down to their bare essentials and shows you exactly what you need to consider when you’re deciding whether or not a particular approach is worth pursuing.

So what is this mystery master system?

So what is this mystery master system?

Fairly straightforward… but when we look at it like this, it’s a little too abstract to be of any real use. Fortunately, it maps perfectly onto another model that we love to use.

How to use The Organization Strategy Pyramid For Better Business Planning?

How to use The Organization Strategy Pyramid For Better Business Planning?

If you’ve read some of our other work, you’ve probably seen this picture before. In fact, you may be wondering why we reference it so much.

The answer to that question is simple – because it works. Not just for outlining how a business is structured, but also for showing us how we can best approach many different tasks in the organization. In this case, we’re talking about business planning, but we could just as easily be talking about training and development, resource allocation, or even personnel decisions.

The organizational pyramid is a perfect vehicle for business planning because it reinforces the need to approach the process with a certain level of forethought. By taking the time to figure out what kind of plans are needed at various stages, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re getting as much out of the task as possible.

4 Level Pyramid

As we can see from the image above, the pyramid is broken up into four levels:

1. Leadership level – the domain of visionaries

2. Strategic level – executives and top brass steering the business

3. Tactical level – mid-level managers supervise and optimize

4. Operational level – where employees do the work

As you already know, the kind of people who occupy each level of this pyramid will typically perform different roles. Leaders lead, executives… (execute?), managers manage, and employees do. However, you may not realize that each of these levels requires a different kind of planning.

In this article, we’re going to illustrate the different business planning needs that must be attended to at each level of the pyramid. In an effort to show you just how universal these underlying principles are, we’ve elected to teach them via two examples – growing your business and improving your physical fitness.

While we’re dealing with each level, in turn, we’re going to focus solely on that one, ignoring the rest. This is the same way you should approach the planning process – deal with one level at a time, allowing things to progress naturally as you complete the activities at a particular level.

And just so we’re clear – this isn’t just for big businesses, with clearly defined candidates to operate at each level. If you’re the leader of a smaller organization, it’s quite likely that you occupy multiple levels of the pyramid: you manage, you strategize, you test new tactical approaches, you steer the business as a whole…you may even be present on all four levels!

In this case, don’t worry about having separate people to handle each stage of the process. Instead, you should approach the task of business planning sequentially. First, you handle leadership and vision issues… then strategic choices… then tactical approaches… and finally, you devolve into operational concerns. You can certainly do all of these things by yourself: just remember that you need to maintain separation between the different stages of the process.

If this is the situation you find yourself in, just know you’re not alone. Countless other entrepreneurs have traveled before you, proving to everyone that it can be done – you just need to be patient and methodical.

Now that we’ve clarified what exactly we’re going to be talking about here, it’s time to move on. This model functions in a descending manner, so we’ll start at the highest level.

Level 1. Leadership (Why?)


The pinnacle of the organization, this is where the business’ vision comes from. Up here, we’re not concerned with the petty trivialities of day-to-day operations. These small details don’t matter – all we’re focused on is the bigger picture.

The leadership level is the domain of the business leaders (predictably enough). As you probably know, the issues that leaders face are very different from the issues faced by those on the lower levels of the organization.

While this is the highest, smallest level in our pyramid, the decisions made here form the foundation upon which the rest of the business is built. It’s important that the people in charge take the time to really think about what they’re doing here: failure to do this can put the business on the fast-track to nowhere.

The focus of this article is how you should approach strategic planning, with the organizational pyramid being offered up as a useful framework you can rely on. With this in mind, you need to remember one important fact:

The decisions you make here will trickle down through the business, having an unavoidable and lasting impact on everything that happens below.

This is highly intuitive. In a nutshell, it’s “leading by example”.

If a business’s leaders value customer relationships above all else, then this is likely to be reflected in the way the organization does business. They’ll hire people who share the same values, adopt strategies and tactics that target improvement in this area, and they’ll likely devote a good portion of their operations to taking care of their clients.

On the other hand, what if the leaders don’t value their customers?

Well, if they don’t care very much about these relationships, then they won’t put much emphasis on them. Executives, managers, and employees will take note of this sentiment, and they won’t try very hard to keep clients happy.

In a situation like this, your customer service reps won’t make a great effort to accommodate customer needs… and they won’t see anything wrong with this.

As we can see from the simple example above, leadership decisions matter. They’re not just empty words or fodder for a nice-looking mission statement to hang on your wall. They’re important, with the power to steer the business towards success or ruin in equal measure.

Leaders lead. Everyone else follows. With this in mind, it’s obviously important to spend time ensuring that the decisions you make at this level are well-thought-out.

Where is your business going?

Take the time to think about where you see the business going. Your goal is to figure out why the business does what it does… why it’s in existence.

  • What are your values?
  • What’s your long-term vision?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What are you committed to achieving in the market?

Your answers to these questions will define your business. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you’ll give them the attention they deserve. This deep understanding of “why” matters when it comes to your personal life too. Think about the process of getting fit.

Now, depending on your background, “getting fit” can mean certain things to you. Maybe you envision yourself losing weight, maybe you think of becoming a hulking bodybuilder, maybe you imagine yourself running a marathon!

It’s strange that so many people will have different perspectives on what it means to “get fit”. This is due to the fact that everyone values different things.

If you’ve been overweight for a long time, then you probably care about losing weight, not gaining more. If you were skinny throughout your early years, you probably like the idea of being a lot more muscular. If you’re out of shape, maybe you fantasize about what it would be like to be able to run for hours without getting tired.

No matter what your goal is, you have no hope of succeeding unless you understand the reasons why you’re doing something. Once you possess this knowledge, you’re in a much better position to figure out where you should go, what you should do, and how exactly you should do it.

Take our person who’s trying to lose weight. They’ve always been “big-boned”, but over the last 5 years so, through a combination of high-stress, poor-quality food and a lack of exercise, they’ve gained an additional 30 lbs.

Now, they’re not a lost cause by any stretch of the imagination, but there is going to be considerable work involved. Sustainable weight loss doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time.

Unless this individual makes the effort to figure out why exactly they want to lose weight, they’re unlikely to remain disciplined throughout the process. Something will cause them to slip up – they’ll skip workouts when they’re tired, they’ll grab some fast food on the way home, they’ll eat some donuts a co-worker brings in on Friday – can’t let them go to waste now, can they?

But if they take the time to figure out why they care about losing those extra pounds in the first place, then they’re considerably more likely to see things through to the end.

Maybe they’re lacking confidence, and believe that losing weight will help them to get out more. Maybe they’re looking for a relationship, and they believe that they’ll be more attractive when they drop those extra pounds. Maybe they’re genuinely concerned about their health and want to make a preemptive change, rather than a medically enforced one.

When they’re clear on their way, it’ll be easier to get that workout in, avoid that drive-through, and pass up that tasty treat in the office. In this way, they’re making leadership decisions for themselves. Certain things will help to achieve their vision, and others will hinder the process – discerning between them is the first step towards success.

Don’t worry about what’s happening on the other levels.

You need to begin with the end in mind.

Focus on figuring out what your ultimate destination is. Is it happy customers? More profits? Better health?

And if you really want to get this right, go one “why” deeper. Don’t just figure out the goal, figure out why you care about achieving it in the first place. This analysis can be as deep or as shallow as you need it to be. Just keep asking “why?” until you reach the answer you’ve been looking for.

Confused? No problem. Here are some examples…

Example 1: Trying To Lose Weight

Q) What’s your goal?

A) I want to lose weight.

Q) Why do you want to lose weight?

A) So I’ll feel more confident.

Q) Why do you want to feel more confident?

A) Because I’ve always been held back by my body image.

… And so on.

Example 2: Trying To Boost Business Profitability

Q) What’s your goal?

A) To increase the profitability of the business.

Q) Why do you want to increase the profitability of the business?

A) So we can have more security moving forward, and have more resources to meet client needs.

Q) Why do you care about having security, or meeting client needs?

A) Because we’re in this for the long run. We’re not here to simply make money – we want to make a difference in the market.

… And so on.

Take the time to determine your high-level vision at the beginning, before you do anything else. Do this, and everything else will fall into place that much easier.

Now that we’ve got a firm grasp on what this level stands for, let’s turn our attention to Level 2.

Level 2. Strategic (What, Who, When?)

pyramid strategy

Back on the leadership level, we completed the first difficult step of figuring out our precise vision. Without this predefined purpose, you have no way of picking between the infinite number of options that lay before you. This holds through both business and life in general.

Once you’ve got that important task out of the way, it’s time to start focusing on the details. Here on Level 2, you turn your attention to selecting your strategies.

When we talk about strategies, we’re moving on from the reasons why we want to go somewhere, and start to look at the various roads we can take to reach our destination.

Of course, it’s generally not the leaders who are responsible for selecting strategies – this task is usually left to top-level managers and executives. They’re the ones who have to take the ultimate goal put forth by those up above, and figure out how to make it happen.

This is the point where your critical thinking skills start to become more relevant. When you’re clear on your vision and motivated to see it accomplished, it can be easy to get sucked into the trap of trying to hustle your way to glory. You think that hard work is all that matters, so you stick your nose to the grindstone and blindly plow forward, desperate to see results manifest themselves.

This is not a smart way of doing things. If you’re lucky, maybe the first strategy you land on will be an effective one… but in all likelihood, it probably won’t be. Failure is part of the journey, but it’s going to be a much bigger part of it if you don’t take the time to evaluate the various choices you must decide between. Effective strategic plans can save you weeks, months or even years of struggle when they’re done right, so they’re worth paying attention to.

Strategic planning is supported by a number of different things, dependent on your particular business situation. You’ll probably find that it’s best to draw on a variety of sources when making these plans. Leaving that aside, the most important thing to remember on this level is:

The strategies you plan to follow must be in alignment with the leadership plans (the vision) you decided upon back on Level 1.

So what do you base your strategic planning pyramid on?

Lots of different things.

If your business is established, and your leadership decisions basically amount to “do more of the same, but do it better”, then your past experiences will provide useful, highly relevant information. By looking back over your past campaigns and initiatives, you’ll be to see what worked, what didn’t, and what you can use going forward.

Of course, if you intend to grow your business by a considerable margin, it’s unlikely that your current strategies (or the ones that worked in the past) will continue to work forever. As you scale in size, your systems, people and processes will probably stop functioning like they’re supposed to.

If you find yourself in this situation, it can be a good idea to look at other companies in your space who are ahead of you. How did they deal with their growing pains? Could you adopt some of their approaches, making your transition that much easier?

Modelling other firms just like yours can be an easy way of avoiding painful failures. However, it’s not always that easy – sometimes you’re entering a new market, or you’re the market leader, or the market is highly competitive, with little information available for you to learn from.

In these scenarios, you need to continually refer back to your vision. What is it that the company stands for? What are your values? What are your long-term goals?

Once you have these critical elements fresh in your mind, it’s time to look outside your industry and search for any firm in any other market with similar values to you. Sure, they have different offerings for your firm… but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that there’s plenty of businesses out there who want the same things that you do.

Nearly every single successful business is committed to maintaining excellent customer relationships. The same holds true for profitability. The same holds true for high standards of delivery… and so on. You may not be able to simply copy their methods, but you will almost certainly be able to learn lessons from their success and failure.

Designing Strategic Planning Pyramids

To quickly recap the above, here’s where you should look when you’re designing your strategic plans:

  1. Look at your past experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What can you use going forward?
  2. Look at your competitors (particularly those that are ahead of you). What lessons can you learn from their successes and failures? What can they teach you about avoiding growth-induced breakdown?
  3. Look at businesses that value the same things that you do. How do they fulfill these values? How do they act out their vision? What high-level principles can you adopt their approach?

Once again, this concept of strategic planning is useful for both your business goals and your personal goals. Let’s revisit our friend who’s trying to lose weight.

So far, they’re feeling good. Having got clear on why they want to lose weight, they’re now at a delicate stage in the process – they need to actually figure out what they’re going to do.

Now, most people have a pretty good idea of what’s good and what’s bad when it comes to diet & exercise. We all know that if we want to lose weight, we need to eat less and move more.

However, there’s a lot of different ways that you could potentially eat less and move more.

  • Should they join a gym?
  • Should they head to your local GNC and pick up some supplements?
  • Should they give up carbs or eat more carbs?
  • Should they lift weights or do cardio?
  • What’s a Crossfit?

As you can see, without a clear idea of where you want to go, there’s no way to determine which option you should take. Fortunately, our friend here knows what they want (to lose weight) so that automatically disqualifies any path which isn’t going to lead them there.

When it comes to making strategic plans, they can evaluate their own past experiences. What have they done over the past decade that caused them to gain weight?

Well, they remember that they started a new stressful job a few years ago. Due to time constraints, their diet became a lot looser (no time to cook anything healthy, just grab something quick and head home), and they haven’t exercised since college.

Drawing on their own data, they can identify three big issues there – a lack of quality food, a lack of physical exercise, and a high-stress occupation. But leaving that aside, how do they go about reversing this weight gain?

Well, they can look to their own experience once again, and start doing the opposite of what they’re doing now… or they could look to their peer group for answers.

Maybe they have a friend that’s lost a lot of weight after they joined a gym – there’s a viable strategy. Maybe they know a personal trainer who would love to see them succeed (and would love to see themselves getting paid… but that’s another topic). Maybe they have a family member who’s a registered dietician, with a pile of success stories to their name.

Your peer group (or in the case of business, your competitors) can be an invaluable source of information when you’re making strategic plans. If it’s available to you, make sure you make use of it.

If you don’t have a useful peer group, then you can look further afield for your information. With the advent of social media, Youtube and the Internet in general, all the fitness information in the world is merely a few clicks away. Our friend here can watch videos, read blogs, and learn from the best in the world about what they should be doing.

As you can see, the principles underpinning effective strategic planning are universal, capable of assisting your efforts in any area of life.

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about the second level of the pyramid, let’s move on and look at the next one.

Level 3. Tactical (How?)

pyramid strategy

Halfway there. At this stage, we’ve determined our vision, and we’ve learned to select strategies that help us to get closer to achieving it. Having overcome these two obstacles, we’re now ready to move onto the next step in the process – constructing our tactical plans.

When we talk about tactical plans, we’re referring to the specific actions we’re going to take in order to achieve the goals we decided upon previously. As always, the plans made here reflect the plans made before: the manner they’re designed in reflects this truth.

The distinction between strategy and tactic is subtle, but it is important:

A strategy is the broad approach you take.

A tactic is the specific process you follow.

Referring back to our business example, we know that our vision revolves around growing the business. Specifically, we value customer relationships and long-term profitability above all else.

With these values in mind, we move to figure out our strategic plans. What have we done in the past that worked? What have our competitors done that worked? What have similar companies in unrelated industries done?

Now, the main issue with strategic plans is that they are largely derived from outside sources. 9 times out of 10, simply copying another company’s practices is not a good idea. Unless your whole plan is to imitate another business, this isn’t a path you should pursue.

You need to stand out from the crowd. Sure, there’s a lot to learn from others… but your situation is unique. The tactical solutions most appropriate for your individual problems will be different from those of another organization.

The strategy puts us on the right path. Tactics tell us which side-alleys are worth detouring through.

Tactical Planning

As we’ve said before, the plans made on this level must be made in the context of the plans you’ve made previously. You can’t choose an option that isn’t congruent with the overall vision and strategic approach of the business. The responsibility of making tactical plans falls to mid-level managers. Taking leadership vision and top-level strategy, they need to make intelligent tactical choices to push the business towards achieving its ultimate objective.

To illustrate this with an example, imagine our business that’s committed to growth. They’ve identified maintaining excellent customer relationships as an important value. They’ve noticed that companies with extremely helpful support staff are consistently rated higher than their competitors – it’s clear that this is the strategic approach to take.

However, what makes a support staff “extremely helpful”? This is going to depend on what your business is.

Maybe your customers are primarily busy executives who just care about the results, and don’t care how nice the delivery is. Conversely, maybe your clients care about gentle treatment when they’re looking for help. The tactics that will be effective will vary in these two distinct situations.

As was the case when we were determining our strategic plans, there’s a number of places we can look for support when developing our tactical approaches. You may find that you’ve had great success with a particular method in the past… or you may know that something you did failed terribly. Either way, your past experiences are a vital source of information.

You can also draw on the wisdom of competitors. By evaluating what is working well for them in their business, you can avoid repeating their mistakes, and bolster your own chances of success.

If you can’t learn anything useful from your peers, you can look farther afield, to businesses outside your industry – but this is a little more difficult. It’s one thing to take lessons from a rival firm that can easily be translated into your business, but it’s another thing entirely to do that with an organization in a completely different sector.

As you’re not part of that space, you’re unlikely to fully understand the context they operate in. You won’t be privy to the inner workings of the industry: you’re an outsider, trying to look inside the house through a fogged-up window.

Make no mistake, you can still learn valuable lessons from completely different businesses… but their tactical approaches are far less useful than their strategic plans.

Vision is one empty notebook among many, chosen by you, for you. The strategy is the language you communicate in. Tactics are the words you write down.

This same dichotomy between strategy and tactics exists when we attempt to apply our framework to personal pursuits. Cast your mind back to our friend who’s trying to lose weight. They’re clear on their vision, and they’ve made some intelligent strategic choices – they know that they need to eat less and move more, so they’ve joined a gym and committed to improving their diet.

But what do they do once they’re in the gym? There’s treadmills, bikes, weight machines, group fitness classes… the list of potential options is almost endless.

And how do they improve their diet? Do they cut out carbs? Increase fats? Go vegan? Eat more meat?

All of these decisions are purely tactical in nature. The broad strategy is defined (eat less and move more), but it needs to be implemented and augmented by the selection of appropriate tactics.

They can refer to their own bank of existing knowledge. Maybe they enjoyed cross-country running in their slimmer college years, so they know that’s one method that works for them. If they take the time to examine their past, maybe they even remember that they had a better diet back then (questionable… but it’s a possibility).

They can look to their peers for answers. Their friend who lost all that weight hired a particular personal trainer, so maybe that’s a good idea. They also know that their co-workers have been talking about a specific new diet that’s working really well for them – it’s probably worth a look.

If they can’t find anyone in their peer group to help them make these tactical decisions, they can look further afield. As we said before, the Internet is the great equalizer – you’re never more than two clicks away from information that could change your life. There’s no shortage of workout programs and diets online. All of these are valid tactical approaches to be considered by our friend.

To recap…

Tactics are the ground-level processes you follow to achieve your goal. They’re always selected in the context of your broader strategic approach, which is, in turn, influenced heavily by your vision.

Tactics will change a lot more often than strategy or vision. It’s simply the nature of the game. When you’re on a cross-country road trip, you don’t give up on your destination (vision), and you probably don’t get out of your car (your strategy). However, your route (tactics) may change as you progress: roadworks, traffic jams, and new information can guide you to the best approach in these constantly varying circumstances.

Now that we’ve gotten clear on how to approach tactical planning, let’s move onto the final step in the process.

Level 4. Operational (Do)

pyramid strategy

We’ve now covered three out of four levels of this framework. All that’s left to discuss is, in many ways, the most important part – the doing.

Previously, we spoke at length about the various things you need to take care of before you can focus on effectively doing. If you didn’t have a clear picture of your vision, it was impossible to choose between the countless options before you, so we got that out of the way first.

From vision, we moved to strategic planning, where we figured out the broad approach we could take to achieving our ultimate goal. We didn’t just pick it blindly: we looked at our personal experience, our peers, and other relevant sources to help us make the correct decision.

With our strategy selected, we then turned our attention to tactics. Tactics are the processes we follow to achieve our goals, selected in the context of our overall strategic approach. Tactical planning, by its very nature, is flexible: as long as the tactic in question is getting you closer to your objective, then it’s a candidate for selection.

This is all good – we’ve definitely put ourselves in a good position to succeed. Unfortunately, we’re still missing one critical element: action.

The best-laid plans are worthless unless executed. Without actually making the effort to follow through on all this groundwork, everything you’ve done up to this point will amount to nothing.

Here on this level, we’re focused on operational planning. This is where we figure out how exactly we can implement our plans into actionable, usable approaches. By doing this, we can ensure that we make consistent progress towards our goals, gathering useful data about success and failure along the way.

Returning to our business example, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve done so far:

  • Determined our vision (grow the business by improving customer relationships)
  • Made a strategic plan (having an excellent customer support staff is the way forward)
  • Made tactical selections (12-hour turnaround time on email support queries, 9-5 phone support, etc.)

On the surface, this all looks perfect. There’s a logical progression through the steps, each new plan being made with respect to those that went before it. All that’s left now is the implementation. For our business here, operational plans are designed to put tactics in motion. Responding to all email queries within 12 hours is a tactic, but actually ensuring that it happens? That’s in the domain of operations.

Your operational plans will consist of two things:

  • Relevant performance benchmarks (e.g. objectively measuring how many emails you respond to within 12 hours of receiving them)
  • Processes that make the larger process easier to achieve (making sure that support staff check email at regular intervals to avoid pileup, provide the necessary training, etc.)

The key thing to remember when it comes to establishing operational plans is that they either need to measure the performance of your tactics or make them easier.

It goes without saying that these plans are obviously made in the context of plans made on preceding levels. Choosing irrelevant benchmarks (e.g. focusing 24-hour turnaround time instead of 12-hour replies) or processes that don’t make your life easier (e.g. providing little training for support staff) gets you no closer to your goals – avoid these like the plague.

That said, you shouldn’t be paying undue attention to your vision at this stage. If you’ve followed the process correctly so far, both your strategy and tactics should flow down precisely from your ultimate objective, keeping everything in alignment. If this is true in your case, then you shouldn’t have any issues – focus on keeping operational plans congruent with your tactical plans, and the rest will take care of itself.

Operational plans are derived from the same old sources: your past experience, your peers, and firms in other industries. However, these plans will also change more often than the plans at any other level.

You may find that particular benchmarks don’t help you to accurately measure performance. In this case, you drop them and select something else. On the other hand, you may stumble across a particular process which makes tactical implementation a whole lot easier. Doubling down on these winners is a sure-fire way to succeed, so if you’re lucky enough to find them, think twice before abandoning them.

Logically enough, the people responsible for making operational plans are those that are directly involved – employees and their direct supervisors. Their actions and purpose are guided from above, but only they will truly be in a position to figure out the best way to measure and facilitate performance.

This concept of operational planning is extremely useful in personal endeavors as well. Think of our friend who’s trying to lose weight. They can know what they want, know the general way to get there, and even figure out what tactics they can employ… but unless they’ve got a plan in place for measuring performance and making their work easier, they’re going to fail. In this example, an example of relevant benchmarks will be dependent (as always) on the particular tactics selected. Let’s assume that they’ve chosen running as their way of getting fit. When it comes to running, benchmarks revolving around total time/distance are appropriate, as they accurately measure performance in the activity. However, choosing something that’s harder to quantify (e..g. How they “feel” during a workout, which is impacted by a lot more than just their fitness levels) is not useful, as it doesn’t provide hard data they can use to check for progress.

There’s also a lot of different processes that can make sticking to their workout routine easier.<

  • Maybe they can figure out what days of the week they have the time required to get a full workout in.
  • Maybe they can reduce the cognitive load of the task by scheduling it in at fixed times during the week.
  • If they’re going in the morning, they can lay out their clothes the night before, reducing the amount of effort required.
  • If they struggle with motivation, they can hire a personal trainer – being accountable to another person often helps to overcome any initial inertia.

These are all viable options, as they could genuinely make it easier for someone to stick to their new workout routine. However, without applying some critical thinking to the task, they could end up implementing a method that doesn’t really make things easier. For instance, they might think that having a pre-gym candy bar is a good energy boost… but the sugar crash midway through their workout isn’t exactly helpful. To summarize what we’ve covered in this section:

Operational plans are derived from the tactics we select. They need to either measure performance accurately or make things easier for us. They may change as we gather new information about what works best, but they’re always judged in the context of our vision, strategy, and tactics.


Once again, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. Referring back to the cross-applicable organizational pyramid model, we were able to see how planning should take place on the four main levels of the business – leadership, strategic, tactical and operational. We start off by determining what our overall vision is at the leadership level. As we progress down through the following stages, this initial decision will influence where we ultimately end up. It’s important to know what exactly you stand for as a business, what you value, and what your long-term goals are for the organization. When we’ve settled on our vision, it’s time to progress to the strategic planning level. Here, we take our ultimate objective and figure out how exactly we can achieve it. Referring to our own past experience, the experience of competitors and similarly-driven companies outside our industry, we can come up with the best approach for our particular situation. The strategy is vital, but it’s not enough: you need effective tactics to achieve your goal. In the context of your overall vision, we take the time to figure out how to make our chosen strategy actionable. This is much like the previous step but took place on a deeper level – instead of focusing on the big picture, we turn our attention to how exactly we can make things happen. Finally, we come to the operational level. Action is the name of the game here. All the planning thus far has put us in a prime position to succeed… but all the planning in the world is useless unless you actually do something with it. With our previously laid plans in mind, we focus on picking useful performance benchmarks and determining how we can make the act of doing easier. As always, we look both internally and externally for answers – our own experience and the experience of others have valuable lessons to teach us.

It’s clear that there’s a simple hierarchical flow to proceedings…
  • Level 1 – Leadership → Leaders operate here
  • Level 2 – Strategy → Top-level managers and executives operate here
  • Level 3 – Tactics → The domain of mid-level managers
  • Level 4 – Operations → Occupied by employees and their direct supervisors

The plans made on each level are designed in isolation. Leaders don’t worry about what the employees are going to do – that’s for the executives and middle managers to figure out. Likewise, middle managers don’t worry about what the leaders are dreaming up… they’re more focused on interpreting the strategy they’re working with, and translating it into tactics the operational crowd can use. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that every level of the company operates in complete isolation to the others, but for planning purposes, you need to take it step-by-step, assigning the right people to get the job done. Of course, if your business is on the smaller side, or if you’re applying this model to a personal endeavor (which it works great for), you’re not going to have the luxury of a full team of people to foist the work off onto. This doesn’t matter – the same principles apply, as we illustrated with the example of someone trying to lose weight. You start with your vision, determine effective strategies, pick useful tactics, and put your plans in motion with activities to measure and facilitate performance. The people involved at each stage (if they exist) will take care of what matters to them. If not, the work is absorbed into another stage… but it still has to be done. You can drastically improve your business planning (and your planning in general) by understanding how the 4-Level Pyramid Model works. It’s not meant to be the definitive answer – it’s a framework that all good systems should map onto easily. Dividing relevant planning activities among the appropriate groups in an organization is essential. Ensuring that everything flows well from top to bottom is essential. Realizing that tactics and operational issues will change far more often than your vision or overall strategy is (surprisingly enough!) also essential. Take charge of your business planning today. Start applying the 4-Level Pyramid. Used correctly, it can help you to build a better business, boost your company’s culture, and improve the quality of your life.

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