The Four Levers of Control

by Unre Visagie

four levers of control

Four levers of control

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Simons Four Levers of Control

In this article you will find a question and answer style explanation of the four levers of control.

levers of control


I often hear people say that the company is on track. How do they know that? What mechanisms exist that guide the company, its people and its business to stay on track?

levers of control


As a fast growing company in an ever-changing environment your company focuses on the effective utilization of , as  R.Simons from Harvard Business School calls it, the four levers of control.

Within the company, mechanisms exist to ensure that four things happen effectively:

  1. Obtaining commitment to the purpose of the company
  2. Staking out the territory
  3. Getting the job done
  4. Positioning for tomorrow

For each aspect there is a lever of control to ensure it Stays On Track.

This diagram identifies the four levers of control and gives you a Holistic view of the dynamics of controlling strategy:

levers of control

Levers of control

simons levers of control


I can see that we are dealing with four sets of systems – the four levers – that work together to ensure that the business strategy stays on track. I recognise some of the terms, but can’t you give me practical examples that will enable me to get a better picture of what the Four Levels of Control consist of in our company.

simons levers of control


See the link with the symbols and the culture of the company? Remember the balance scorecard?

It’s a very useful diagnostic control system…and do you realise that the key result areas process is also a diagnostic control system for individual performance and career management.

Lets explore the What, Why and How of the four levers of control in the company:

LEVER 1: Belief systems


Explicit sets of belief that define basic values, purpose and direction; including


To provide momentum and guidance to opportunity

  • Mission statements
  • Vision statements
  • Credos
  • Statements of purpose

LEVER 2: Boundary system


Formally stated rules, limits and prescriptions tied to defined sanctions and credible threat to punishment


To allow individual creativity within defined limits of freedom

  • Codes of business conduct
  • Strategic planning systems
  • Asset acquisition systems
  • Operational systems

LEVER 3: Diagnostic control system


Feedback systems that monitor organisational outcomes and correct deviations from preset standards of performance like:


  • To allow effective resource allocation
  • To define goals


  • Set standards
  • Measure outputs
  • Link incentives to goal achievement

LEVER 4: Interactive control system


Those systems that team player skills use to advance and develop.


  • To focus organisational attention on strategic uncertainties
  • To provoke the emergence of new initiatives and strategies
  • To ensure that the way we do business relates very closely to the changes in customer needs


By ensuring that:

  • Information regarding changes in technologies, customer requirements, supplier strategy, competitors strategies and team skills are adequately and proactively incorporated into the strategy process
  • The chosen strategy remains appropriate to the business reality and overall company objectives
4 levels of control


Much of the How of Lever 4 is achieved over a cup of coffee through interaction during team discussions, and through listening to your customer…

Try some active listening and productive questioning techniques on your customer, you’ll be amazed at what you learn!

Thinking about changing careers? Read this next: What career is right for me

About Unre Visagie
I am a master coach with 30 years of career and business coaching experience. I have built and sold many of my own multi-million dollar companies. I have always built my companies based on the principle of successful people make a successful company. I invest in people. As your coach you get 30 years of experience to help you do the work you love and earn the salary you want.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

patrick July 12, 2010 at 8:33 am

excellent explaination, very clear about the theory itself and how the theory workd in real life. thanks a lot

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