So, what do we call this work of “evolving” an organization to become better adapted to the world in which it finds itself? A lot of best practices for reorganization fall under the general heading of change management. But this particular evolution requires something different. I’ve struggled over the years to explain why this change in particular is so difficult, so all-consuming, that it requires a special sort of person to pull it off. It requires:

  • Leadership skills of a most distinctive kind, since transformation pits its leader against the hostile reactions of experienced people whose lives and careers are deeply invested in the status quo.
  • Audacious experimentation, since beyond the general framework I’ve presented so far, every organization has to find its own distinctive shape, its own unique adaptations to the specific context in which it operates.
  • The boldness to invest in sweeping, company-wide change—and the patience to wait until just the right moment to make this commitment. The discipline to start with small experiments that might hasten the arrival of the right moment without growing too big, too bloated, too fast.
  • The most difficult kind of cross-functional collaboration: enlisting functional leaders in the creation of new and competing functions, thereby breaking down old functional silos and requiring old enemies to make common cause.

But after all that backbreaking effort — it may not work. There are so many, many ways to fail: executive sponsors who get cold feet, market shifts or changes, competing internal reorganizations, a coordinated counterattack from powerful enemies within the company, and, most important, shifts in external competition and market conditions that can disrupt even the best-laid plans.

— The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth by Eric Ries