Organizational Network Analysis (ONA): The Key to Unlocking the Power of Your Internal Influencers

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA): The Key to Unlocking the Power of Your Internal Influencers


To, start what is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)? How can it be applied to HR and what value does it bring?

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is the study of networks of relationships, collaboration and the flow of information in organizations. It is a powerful tool for gaining a better understanding of how work and collaboration happens in an organization and where potential improvements can be made. ONA can be applied to a variety of common organizational challenges including improving the flow of information by highlighting silos and bottlenecks, identifying hidden talent and understanding the day-to-day experience of employees at work. Organizations typically use ONA to improve communication and collaboration, boost efficiency and performance and improve employee experience.

How exactly does work? How do you go about identifying & mapping nodes (influential people) and the links between them (information flows + relationships)?

ONA involves mapping out and analyzing the relationships or connections formed between people as they communicate and work together. This network data is typically gathered using one of two methods. Either actively, by surveying people, or passively, by directly analyzing communication as it happenings in digital tools, such as work email and calendar. As part of the analysis one typically looks a variety of network factors such as how many connections people have to others, how strong those connections are and how far they spread within the organization and beyond.

What are some of the key insights you've gleaned from ONA? Furthermore, how have these insights been used to overcome HR challenges, enhance decision making and improve HR strategies?

Our company, Worklytics, helps organizations understand and improve their employee experience using techniques like ONA. We have for instance modeled how networks on teams influence people’s engagement at work. Having too few connections tends to lead to lower engagement. This is particularly important early on in the employee lifecycle. If during onboarding employees don't form the vital internal networks they need to perform in their roles, they are far less likely to succeed. HR and other leaders can do a lot to encourage these early connections by doing things like setting up introductory meetings and providing good mentors.

On the flipside, we’ve found that if there are too many connections on a team people are likely to feel distracted and be at risk of burnout. This is a common issue made worse by new and popular corporate chat tools that significantly lower the barrier to collaboration but potentially lead to an explosion in interaction. Leaders can drive productivity and engagement by encouraging healthy communication habits and implementing software tools, like ticket management systems, that promote lighter asynchronous collaboration.

Are there any downsides or risks (i.e. economic, ethical, etc.) associated with ONA? If so, what are some of the ways organizations can mitigate these risks and limitations?

ONA is a powerful tool but it’s use comes with great responsibility. There are important ethical and privacy implications to consider. To mitigate these risks we typically recommend the following:

  • Clearly and transparently communicating the goals and techniques used in any analysis to employees
  • Requesting employee opt-in
  • Using the absolute minimum set of data required. For example, we only analyze metadata: dates, times, frequency - no content whatsoever!
  • Aggregating data to the group level to pseudonymized individuals

For those just starting out, what are 3 things they must do to jumpstart their first ONA initiative and ensure success from day one?

  1. Start with a clear business need and problem in mind and then find the right tools for the job. Not the other way around. Too many people start ONA projects with no clear goal in mind.
  2. Keep it simple. Focus on small quick-win projects that show real results you can use to gain further buy-in from the organization.
  3. Be as transparent as possible from day one about the goal of your project and the techniques being used. Employees are far more likely to buy-in if you do so.

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