I hold that any successful business venture must operate on three levels; the operational, the tactical, and the strategic. These dimensions must also be kept in mind when making plans. There is nothing revolutionary in the underlying ideas, but I think it is worthwhile to define the terms, to bring about a (more or less) unified understanding of them.
By the operational dimension, I mean both the day-to-day running of the business, as well as anything happening in the immediate future, i.e. within the next two weeks to (at the absolute outside) two months. Any employee should have an understanding of how their role fits into this dimension, and many employees will have the authority to make decisions in this dimension.
When talking about the tactical dimension, I am talking about the period of time immediately following the immediate future, though not stretching into the far future. As a general guideline, I define the tactical dimension to cover the period starting a month from now, and ending in six to twelve (though I know of managers defining it as high as thirty six) months. While information should be available for all employees to be able to read up on what happens in this dimension, they should not be expected to know about it unless explicitly and directly informed about it.
While many employees have the authority to make decisions within the operational dimension, this is less true within the tactical dimension, where decision-making will often (but not always) be left up to personnel or process managers. Decisions in this dimension will often be more expensive in terms both of money and resources than those in the operational dimension.
Finally, the strategic dimension covers anything happening beyond the tactical dimension. Decisions in this space are generally made by senior managers, and will have to take into account not only the context of the company, its employees, customers, and stakeholders, but often also the current political climate, financial projections, and pending legislation, to mention a few.
While I have used time as the dividing factor above, cost – in terms of money, as well as in terms of resources – can be just as important. While challenges in the operational dimension must be solved with the personnel and resources you currently have at hand, this is less true of challenges in the tactical dimension, where you can take a bit of time to seek other resources. While available resources must be kept in mind for the strategic dimension, its extended time frame means that you do have time to recruit and/or train new personnel to meet these challenges.
Depending on the complexity of your customers, you will need to engage with them on one or more of these dimensions, Establishing these fora is an important part of long term business planning, as well as a good way to establish a working relationship with your customer. The more complex the customer and their needs, the more effort will need to be expended in this pursuit.