Facets Of ONA In A Remote Working Era

Facets Of ONA In A Remote Working Era

The pyramids of global cultures have stood the test of time withstanding the vagaries of nature and human conflict, proving beyond doubt that they are stable structures.

The pyramids of Giza are imposing structures indeed. Located in the Greater Cairo area of Egypt, these were built between 2600 and 2500 BC. Tombs, in essence, these pyramids have enthralled generations who have wondered how these magnificent structures were built sans any mechanisation. While, undoubtedly, the Egyptian civilization comes to mind when it comes to pyramids, there are equivalent structures in varied nations like Spain, Greece, Indonesia, Peru and more. Clearly, this polyhedron shaped structure has inspired many over the centuries. They have literally moved mountains to create these mountain-like structures! And interestingly, they continue to inspire the millions that travel many miles to visit these monumental landmarks.


Closer to recent times, many of us in the professional world are wont to overestimate this pyramidical structure, which we recognise as the typical corporate framework. Introduced to the same during our MBA programmes, we later experience it firsthand when absorbed at the junior level in our organisation. As we notch up victories along the way and get scored on our performance appraisals, we see the pyramid do its magic – we move up the corporate ladder to climb one level higher to the apex. And this is how our belief in that hierarchy-driven organisational structure strengthens validating years of education and execution.


But this is where the dichotomy lies. Anyone with even a few years of experience navigating the corporate machinery would realise that while this structure does support the business operations, it is not the only framework that does. In fact, in the modern-day large and distributed workplaces, there is an element that plays an even more intense role in the same. This unrecognised element is a result of the network effect.


Organisations, even as they attempt to be formal hierarchy-driven structures, become a network because of the simple reality that the boundaries in internal structures are not impermeable. So, a sales representative is quite likely to be having an animated discussion with his colleague from the finance department on the new leave policy that has been announced, even as they stand in the cafeteria line waiting for the server to dish out their respective plates.


Magnify these conversations and exchanges in other forms like email and you have a classic network effect playing out. To understand the impact of this effect, the science of ‘Organisational Network Analysis’ proves to be immensely useful.


Defined by Deloitte, Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) is a “structured way to visualise how communications, information, and decisions flow through an organisation. Organisational networks consist of nodes and ties, the foundation for understanding how information in your organisation is flowing, can flow, and should flow.”


The field of ONA is as interesting as it is complex. A quick glance at the image will enable you to understand why this is so.




 How does one track the multitude of conversations and interchanges in large structures?


 Even more challenging – how does one measure the impact of these?


Like bits of code that zip around our internet, these are as fluid as the thoughts and ideas that birth them. The challenge seems to become more acute as we enter a world powered by remote work and a decentralised workforce.


 How does organisational culture get strengthened when employees hardly have any inperson connects?


 How do leaders drive engagement to foster enthusiasm and ownership towards work?


What additional measures need to be taken to ensure collaboration does not slow down because people are not physically together?


There are a few fundamental realities that must be understood if one is to even attempt to answer these questions. As the Deloitte study shares, in every organisation, information and ideas are transmitted via people who can be considered to be ‘nodes’. Between these people or ‘nodes’, there exist ‘ties’, which are nothing but the formal and informal relationships between them. These ‘ties’ are the determinants that impact the quality and speed of transmission of information within the organisation.


Understanding these linkages becomes important for any organisation, for reasons including the below:–


Enhancing the Speed of Adoption of Change


Within the community of identified ‘nodes’, lies a sub-group of individuals that are termed as ‘central nodes’. These are those individuals who are generally well-liked and have high influencing power. They are well connected and seem to know everyone. They like to be well informed about their organisation and also like to share it ahead with their connections. When it comes to the arduous process of change adoption, these ‘central nodes’ can play the role of a catalyst in speeding up the process.


Increasing Operational Effectiveness


In any organisation, if one were to slice the workforce into buckets based on their performance, one would surely be able to find a mix. As seen in the annual performance reviews, there are always the high performers, those that just about meet expectations and then the nonperformers. Utilising information gleaned from ONA, one could dig deeper down to gain insights that can aid the development of action plans arising out of those reviews.


Driving a Culture of Innovation


One of the primary advantages of ONA is to enable us to identify how information is flowing in our organisation. Critical and careful analysis helps to identify where new ideas are emerging from and how problems are getting solved. By leveraging these insights and focusing on strengthening frameworks and linkages that support these, we can spur innovation in our organisation. The learnings prove immensely useful in breaking down silos and promoting connectivity between the ‘nodes’.


Deploying Talent Effectively


Designing an organisation structure on paper (or on MS PowerPoint, for that matter) is one thing. Getting the individuals plugged into that structure to collaborate and efficiently operate is a different thing altogether. As shared earlier in this write-up, work does not happen in the confined boundaries of positions or titles that feature in a typical organisation. Anyone with even a few years of experience would have resolved an issue with a colleague over a shared smoking break. In our physical office spaces, we often see teams organised on the shopfloor according to their need to collaborate. This is truly a clear mechanism to make sure that a basic ONA study improves the speed of information flow between parties that need to do so, thereby enhancing collaboration and reducing turnaround time.


Driving Revenue Growth


Patterns of information flow, when analysed through the lens of ONA can help in determining the exchanges that are facilitating sales. One can determine the network behaviours of the high performing resources and encourage adoption of the same by others. Also, the ONA can also help discover those hidden resources who can be leveraged to strengthen the sales engine or identify processes that can be tightened leading to operational gains. All these measures will directly or indirectly lead to higher revenue growth.


Having walked through the advantages of driving ONA in our organisations, we must also be aware of the primary pitfall – excessive information flow. The reality is that we have already embarked into a hyperconnected world. There is just so much data and conversation flowing around, that it can be overwhelming for anyone. Drinking water from a hose cannot be categorised as fun, even with the wildest stretch of anyone’s imagination!


Therefore, at a certain point, we need to understand that even as ONA gives us valuable insights to enhance our organisation’s overarching performance, an overkill of the same can be debilitating. The pyramids of global cultures have stood the test of time withstanding the vagaries of nature and human conflict, proving beyond doubt that they are stable structures. Maybe that is something that we in the corporate world need to consider before we completely disregard our traditional structures, even as we imbibe the gains arising out of our ONA programmes.


Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR professional, an Author, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 18 years of highquality experience in the corporate world, he has worked with both start-ups and large corporations like Wipro and Concentrix. Currently, he is heading the Human Resources function in India for IPG DXTRA, part of Interpublic Group, the world’s leading marketing communications company. In his community building capacity, he plays multiple roles including that of Advisor to the BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Young Leaders Programme.


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