How Business Coaches Design an Inspiring Vision with the Logical Levels Model

By Marie Taylor, Steve Crabb

The Logical Levels model was created by Robert Dilts, building on the work of Gregory Bateson. This model is widely used in personal development and business coaching. You can use it both as a diagnostic to help clients consider where the business is currently and also as a planning tool to elicit rich data to support the development of mission and vision. It can also be useful when coaching leaders who are planning for change.

Logical Levels Model for business coaching
The Logical Levels model, developed by Robert Dilts.

Identifying the six levels

The following are adapted descriptions from the original model that you can use when helping a business leader or team diagnose their business and spot the gaps. Dilts recognized the importance of helping individuals and teams understand the various levels at which they operate. Here. the model is adapted for use in a business context.

The interplay between the six levels in the model is important. You can create more sustainable business by paying attention to all the levels and how they relate. You might notice that the higher you go up the pyramid, the more invisible the factors become. They’re harder to change and harder to assess, but this level is where the really powerful work is. Lots of organizations spend too much time at the lower levels of the model fiddling around with the environment. This focus may take the form of changing the organization chart, reorganizing the office, or restructuring roles.

The place where leaders and coaches can make the most impact is working at the top of the Logical Levels model: on purpose, identity, and values and beliefs. If those are robust, everything else is relatively easy. This level is where mission, vision, and values are developed. However, you need to work through all six levels with a new business.

Environment

The environment level describes the physical layout of the business, its offices, factory floor, retail unit, warehouse — where the business operates. It relates to its range of stakeholders and relationships — the operating environment.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • Where do you do business?
  • When do you do business?
  • Whom do you do business with?

Behavior

The behavior level relates to the specific actions in the business: what behaviors are evident in the business explicitly, and what behaviors the leadership sets down.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • How do you expect people to behave with each other?
  • What specific behaviors do you want to see in this business or specific business scenario (for example, change, merger, acquisition)?

Capabilities or competencies

The capabilities or competencies level includes the requisite skills and knowledge that impact the way people behave in the environment they work in.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • How does the work get done?
  • How does the operations team relate to the delivery team?
  • How do you train and develop people to make sure that they have the right skills and knowledge?
  • How do you assess their competence from time to time?

Beliefs and values

The beliefs and values level encompasses those things that the business and people in it consider to be important — the emotional, heart-based drivers that explain why the team works here rather than in the business next door.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Why is it important to you to be here?
  • Why is teamwork/commitment/balance important around here?

Identity

The identity level is about how the organization thinks about itself: how it describes itself, its purpose, and how the teams in it describe themselves and their roles collectively — in other words, who it is.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • What is the identity of those working in your business? (Describe the roles.)
  • Who are you? (Describe your purpose in the world you operate in.)

Purpose

The purpose level is about the wider connection beyond the business: how the business connects to something outside itself, its reason for being there, and its relationship to something bigger.

The questions you can ask include the following:

  • What are your services and products here for?
  • Whom do they serve?
  • Beyond that, what’s the impact of those products and services?
  • What else do they reach, wider than that?

Using the Logical Levels model

The levels influence each other in both directions, but a change at a higher level in the model always has a greater impact on the lower levels.

To step a client through the Logical Levels model, have your client relax in a chair and do this activity as an eyes-closed process, or use a Logical Levels diagram on the floor, or get your client to color in it as you go along. Add lots of encouragement as you move between the levels. You want to encourage a bit of playfulness and fantasy-type thinking. If you’re working with a team, engage them in creating a picture or infographic for each level. At each stage of the process, you’re building on what the client generates. Use her language and descriptions, and keep building a rich picture of her new world.

Using the model works well with clients who like a structured way of thinking about things and may need some encouragement to be creative and flesh out their ideas so others can understand their business proposition.

You can start anywhere in the model depending on what your client is working on in her coaching. If her concerns are about staff competency, you can explore at that level. If you see a need to look at the behaviors she needs for a specific project, go to behaviors. Then do a check. Whatever you elicit and whatever actions she decides on, walk her through the model and check the impact of those decisions and whether they’re congruent with other aspects in each level of the model.

For example, learning a new skill (capability level), such as how to do business in China, might open her up both to the importance of other cultures (values level) and her identity — “I am in the world and I am part of it” (identity level). It changes her behavior because she can potentially relate to people whom she may not have related to before (behavior level). There might even be a dramatic change in her environment — she may move to China for a while (environment level).

If the belief level is changed first, the power of that belief change is enormous because it impacts through all the levels. For example, if your client had a limiting belief that sounded like, “I can’t learn how to do business in China,” and you can change that to “I can learn how to do business in China or any other country if I choose to,” the shift will affect every other level of the Logical Levels model.