Businesses depend on planning and making decisions to grow and thrive. While strategic planning and operational decisions make up the backbone of how an organization runs, these two modes of thinking have their specific place within the structure. The best organizations maintain consistency between the planning and operational sides. With larger companies, trying to keep strategic and operational thinking in sync becomes difficult, especially when the decision-makers don't understand the thinking at the other end of the decision chain.

Strategic Decisions

Geared for the long haul, strategic decisions point the company in the direction management wants to take it. These are more general, taking on all operations as a whole. Top management usually makes strategic decisions with or without input from department heads or key employees. Strategic decisions cover the "what" and "why" of a business. Without strategic decision-making, all operational decisions become a mass of procedures and projects without anything to tie them into a cohesive whole. Ideally, strategic decisions are the first to be made in any new business. However, poorly made strategic decisions affect future operational decisions, and if the future doesn't match up with projections new strategies must be made to adjust.

Strategic Applications

Mission statements and business plans form the cornerstone of strategic thinking, and all other decisions flow from those. To a lesser extent, strategic thinking paints a general picture of what kind of line employee a company wishes to hire. Strategic decisions help a company decide which direction to expand, what new products or services to introduce, and whom it envisions as the typical customer.

Operational Decisions

Unlike strategic planning, operational decisions deal with the ground-level tactics of putting plans into action. Operational decisions get down to specifics of how to get things done. Because of this, operational decisions lean more toward the short term. Without operational thinking, strategy becomes little more than a dream with little to make it happen. On the other hand, operational decisions made without strategic planning become more random and lack a central theme to determine an organization's direction.

Operational Applications

Examples of operational planning include scheduling employees and allocating resources on the departmental level. Most hiring decisions come from this level, along with designating key employees and managing a department. Protocols for customer service and shipping the product or service also come from the operational side.

The Administrative Bridge

A third level of decision-making -- administrative -- usually serves as a bridge between the strategic and operational sides. If operational thinking is concerned with how to get things done, administrative thinking fleshes out top-level strategic plans and breaks them down to actionable chunks for the operational decision makers.