Insights That Matter

Insights That Matter

As we bank more on people analytics with the use of Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) powered by technology, there is more to learn about the impact of social capital on the human capital of an organisation.

The first time I came across the concept of Organisational Network Analysis (ONA), I could not help relating it to how we always knew about it, but may not have been strategic about it.


A very simple analogy for understanding ONA would be large joint families! Think of your own if you have one or someone’s family you know of, and if that is not the case, you can always rely on a Bollywood movie! You will often see that in such families the influencers and keepers of secrets or less-known knowledge are not always the head or elders of the family by authority or age. Likewise, in organisations, we are well aware that behind formal organisational structures on PowerPoint slides, there are hidden and informal networks that define and underpin the way work gets done in an organisation.


So, how do we accurately know who are the key influencers at different levels?


• How does information or knowledge really flow across these organisational layers?


ONA enables and empowers organisations to make decisions driven by insights by analysing their social interactions.


More and more organisations today value their human capital more than their physical capital. The emergence of people analytics in the field of HR is valuable because it empowers an organisation to make data driven decisions to attract, develop and retain talent. As we bank more on people analytics with the use of ONA powered by technology, there is more to learn about the impact of social capital on the human capital of an organisation.


So, how does ONA do this? ONA highlights different roles employees play within an organisation’s network with an intent to identify champions. The intelligence from the analysis allows one to leverage the right champions for the right role/project or initiative! There are several preexisting case studies on the use of ONA in making more data-driven decisions. It can potentially help an organisation investigate into insights that matter and direct its resources to act on that intelligence!


For instance:–


• What behaviours do high performing teams demonstrate?


• How do we choose our future leaders?


• How can we measure the impact of various development interventions?


• How can we foster a culture of problem solving and innovation?


• How do we drive change and transformation in the organisations?


• Which of our employees’ risk burnout due to overload?  


• Who can help new joiners settle in the organisation as soon as possible?


• Whose attrition is going to impact teams and departments the most?


This makes the usage of ONA very insightful and if one peruses different case studies, I wonder whether they would feel in a similar manner. In my mind, the application of ONA is limitless, and we are yet to explore its full potential. It is a very powerful diagnostic tool in the hands of the organisations to address their current challenges and to build future readiness.


“Active” or “Passive” Tools


The implementation of ONA in organisations can be done using “Active” or “Passive” tools. Active ONA is about using surveys to map formal and informal relationships between employees, e.g. work relationships, social relationships, relationships to exchange knowledge or ideas etc. As I dug deeper to learn about ONA from different experts on the subject, something stuck with me about the use of Active ONA. It is the process of asking employees questions about the nature of the relationship they have with each other that leads to reflection and a sense of recognition and gratitude.


Passive ONA is where the organisation can use its existing data available in the form of emails, messaging platforms, calendar, document collaboration etc. to understand the relationships. So, while Active ONA relies more on responses from employees to further analyse relationships with each other, Passive ONA relies on the existing data, and is therefore, more current. Of course, there are questions on ethical, legal and data privacy that needs to be addressed with Passive ONA.


Another aspect of Passive ONA is having the ability in terms of resources and infrastructure to process such a huge volume of data! There are vendors who are operating in this space who can manage active and passive ONA analysis for organisations. Is it not interesting? So, what should organisations choose? Well, it is said that it depends upon the intent of doing ONA. What relationships do we want to evaluate for the intended purpose? ONA can be applied to individuals, teams, or departments and when all of these data points come together; they provide insights that impact the organisation as a whole. While there are pros in each approach, it appears as though many experts recommend a hybrid approach to get the best of both worlds.


The Importance of ONA 


Whether an organisation is deploying ONA or not is another discussion. The point, however, is that if you are a leader, you cannot ignore understanding the importance of Organisational Network Analysis. It changes one’s perspective of how high performing teams are created. There will be a difference in the way you think about your team - their development, how they collaborate, communicate, and manage change. There will be an improvement in your outlook towards identifying missing links to create a more cohesive and collaborating team.


The use of ONA helps us to see the social network in an organisation. This enables us to identify people who are critical to how information flows, influence collaboration and decision-making. Many a time, if these people do not get the visibility, reward and recognition for their contribution they will eventually leave the organisation. That is talent leaving the organisation even without being recognised!


Here is another insightful piece of research from Rob Cross that I would like to share. As per his research, in companies with strong cultures, it can take about 3-5 years for a new joiner to be connected as a high performer. This is, however, not the reality and new joiners can also reflect high performance even in 12 months!


Now, think about this from various aspects e.g., the war for talent or generational diversity.


• What is the impact of this on attrition especially between 1-3 years?


• What can be the impact on the sense of belonging at the workplace?  


• How does this impact the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition?


Rob goes on to say that ONA has the capacity to identify the employees at the periphery - whose contributions go unnoticed. An understanding of ONA opens mindsets to look at people in teams and organisations beyond who they are as a “box” in the formal organisation structure.

Credits: The author has used learning from experts on this topic e.g., Rob Cross, Michal Gradshtein, Greg Newman, Arun Chidambaram and David Green.


Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed in this article solely belong to the professional and do not reflect that of the organisation she works for.

Geetanjali Wheeler is a seasoned L&D professional passionate about building a culture that promotes learning agility at all levels in the organization. With an experience of about 17 years in varied verticals like Telecom, Airline & E-commerce, Geetanjali has spearheaded both global and national roles. Before moving on to her current role of leading L&D for a global financial services group in India, she worked for a large Telecom company where she headed Training & Development for the Enterprise vertical and led many L&D initiatives within the CoE team.


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