Beyond Strategy: The Leader’s Role in Successful Implementation

Strategic Direction

ISSN: 0258-0543

Publication date: 11 October 2011


Speculand, R. (2011), "Beyond Strategy: The Leader’s Role in Successful Implementation", Strategic Direction, Vol. 27 No. 11.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Beyond Strategy: The Leader’s Role in Successful Implementation

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 27, Issue 11

Robin SpeculandJossey Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2009, ISBN: -13 978-0470824986, 130 pp., $14.96 paperback

As a college professor, I have read a number of books on implementing and managing organizational change. Two texts that hold particular strength in this area, both of which I have used in organizational change courses, are Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by Bridges (2003) and Leading Change by Kotter (1996). Though these texts are of particular value because of their broad-based explanations of change processes to organizations, they are not necessarily written specifically for leaders who are responsible for large-scale implementation of organizational change. One of the many strengths of Speculand’s book, Beyond Strategy, is that is specifically addresses the responsibilities of the leader in successful implementation.

There are a number of macro-level strengths with Speculand’s book that should be noted. First, his writing style is clear, succinct, and accessible to organizational leaders. The reason this strength is important, even vital, is because organizational leaders who are preparing for systemic organizational change have neither the time nor patience to wade through useless organizational change verbiage or principals that have little actual impact on successful implementation. Speculand bases his approach to implementation not on complex theories or cumbersome processes but rather on a model he calls the “implementation compass”. Explaining the eight points in this compass becomes the structure for the chapters in the book. He takes a complex subject and immediately places the conversation within a model that both simplifies concepts and codifies or “operationalizes” the implementation processes. A second strength of this book is Speculand’s ability to employ anecdotal data that support and validate each of the eight steps. His work is not based on untested theory but on a proven track record from those who have used Speculand’s approach. Third, Speculand clearly wants the reader to understand not only his approach to implementation but also what it takes for the leader to bring implementation full circle, that is, to ensure that implementation from inception to completion is done well and with organizational integrity. He labors vigorously throughout the book to get the reader comfortable with the different aspects of implementation. Each chapter addresses the philosophy (the “why”), methodology (the “how”), and the praxis (and “when”) of the eight steps of his implementation process. Speculand concludes each chapter with a summary entitled, “The leader’s role in implementation”. In this section, Speculand identifies the essential practices or the checklists to which the leader must adhere if implementation is to be successful.

Moving to the specific content of his book, Speculand begins chapter one by identifying an essential step in the implementation process: seeking and obtaining board approval. This chapter addresses the climate-setting responsibilities of the leader. Getting key stakeholders informed, prepared, and on-board begins to create a supportive environment for implementation. Building a sound strategy that reflects multiple inputs from across the organization is critical. Chapter two explains Speculand’s implementation compass model. This eight-point compass model is laid-out in sequential fashion and informs the leader about what needs to happen, in what order, with whom, and how it can be measured.

Chapters three through nine address the details of each step of Speculand’s model. The implementation compass begins with the most important element of change: human beings. People and the work they are about must be considered and explored. This includes understanding how people within organizations can support, withhold, or sabotage the implementation process. This knowledge and leveraging the right types of people to help advance implementation is critical. Following the “people” compass point, establishing the business case is the next point on the compass. That which is implemented must first be understood and shown to bring added value to the organization. This then increases the likelihood that the implementation process will be successfully and sustainable. The topic of effective and consistent communication of the implementation comes next in Speucland’s model. This is followed by a very strong chapter on measuring implementation progress. Noting that “measures drive behavior” (p. 62), Speculand does a superb job of arguing why new strategies must also be accompanied by new, not old, measures. The next point on the compass speaks about organizational culture. The leader must be mindful and realistic about creating or growing a culture that can support and sustain the change. Too often implementation fails because leaders, though they build a sound strategy, give little consideration to building a culture that will champion the implementation. Speculand then addresses what may well be the meatiest and most valuable section in his book: choosing a proven implementation process. Here Speculand invites the reader to choose from among the “best practices from previous quality initiatives” (p. 97). He provides a number of redesign methodologies, presented in a table format, that allow the reader to quickly scan and compare various methodological approaches. The book concludes by addressing the final two points on the implementation compass: reinforce and review. The former point speaks to the importance of creating, through targeted reinforcement, the behavior and attitudes that support the implementation strategy. The latter point emphasis how the implementation process should be strategically reviewed to ensure that it stays on-track. There can be no “auto-pilot” when it comes to the continued and consistent oversight of the implementation process.

I wholeheartedly recommend Speculand’s Beyond Strategy. As a text, it is efficient and even inspiring. It invites the seasoned leader to move implementation forward in a more informed and deliberate fashion and it provides the timid, perhaps inexperienced leader, with a valuable primer on the basics and parameters of the implementation process.

Reviewed by: Jeffrey D. Yergler, Olympic College, Bremerton, Washington, DC, USA.

This review was originally published in Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2011, pp. 102-104.


Bridges, W. (2003), Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, Perseus Press, Cambridge

Kotter, J. (1996), Leading Change, Harvard Business Press, Boston, MA