Organization Dynamics: Chain of Demand vs. Enablement Chain

I was talking to the VP of Engineering at another local start-up in Boulder yesterday. In the conversation, I asked what metric their board was focused on. He listed a few – total revenue, revenue per seat, subscription revenue vs consulting revenue. Then he said that a majority of the board meetings are spent with the executive team asking the board questions and the board offering to assist in various ways.

We talked about how this differs from a board that uses their time with the executive team to make demands and give orders to the exec team. We discussed which way the ask is going. Is it going down the org chart or up (if you can consider the board as being above in the org chart).

And of course, this impacts the way all the asks in the reporting structure of the organization go. In the organization, is there a “chain of demand” effect where execs make demands of managers, and managers make demands of front-line employees? Or does the ask go in the other direction, where front-line employees ask questions to their managers to be able to do their job better, and managers ask questions of the execs, etc… I think of this later category as an “enablement chain” within an organization. Because the managers are there to enable the front-line employees to do the best work they can, and the execs enable the managers to best enable the front-line employees.

Of the companies I know, those that are more on the enablement chain side of the spectrum have happier employees, stronger growth, and more longevity. The studies I hear and read about suggest the same.

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