What is Organizational Network Analysis? And How Does it Benefit Companies? (i4cp login required)


In every organization
there are go-to people who make everything work.

They are the subject
matter experts, the influencers, the energizers—the people the company can
least afford to lose. Yet, ask senior leaders who those people are, and
research shows they can’t identify the majority of them. That’s because they
are often buried in the hierarchy, adding tremendous value without recognition,
and surprisingly are often introverts, not extroverts. 

How do you uncover and
leverage these hidden superstars? 

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)

A company can identify its
true influencers and energizers through an organizational network analysis
(ONA), which tracks and maps day-to-day workflow, collaboration, and expertise
sharing enterprisewide.

As Professor Rob Cross, the foremost expert on
ONA and co-manager with i4cp of the Connected Commons consortium describes it:
“ONA can provide an X-ray into the inner workings of an organization—a powerful
means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in
strategically important groups visible.”   

Michael Arena, vice president of
talent and development at Amazon Web Services and a member of i4cp and
Connected Commons, describes it even more simply: “ONA provides a new lens to evaluate how people
show up in an organization.”

The chart above brings to
life the power of organizational network insight, which shows the traditional
formal hierarchy that is found in most organizations versus the way work really
happens: through a network structure.   

If you were to rely on a
traditional organization chart, it wouldn’t be obvious that Mitchell—buried
deep within the hierarchy—is actually a conduit for much of the work that
happens, and in fact is the only central point of contact for a team of

Meanwhile, Mares—the
senior vice president, who by traditional standards should be the leader and
influencer—is barely connected, indicating they are  either an underutilized or not particularly valuable
component of the network. The network chart also
highlights that an entire department (Production) mainly collaborates in a silo
and not with the rest of the organization—a common problem in most companies. 

Conducting an ONA will
identify critical individuals such as Mitchell, raising questions such as:  

  1. Is Mitchell a flight risk? They may
    feel overloaded, and their departure would negatively affect productivity.
  2. Does Mitchell need a team? Their
    capabilities could be scaled exponentially with the right talent around them.
  3. Is Mitchell a bottleneck? They
    might be doing work that others should do, enabling them to be more
    effective at their primary duties.

Why now?

If it wasn’t already, connectivity should now be at the
center of your talent strategy. Following the extraordinary events of 2020, we
can all more readily appreciate the critical role workforce connectivity plays
in productivity, well-being, culture renovation®, innovation,
execution, and agility.

As organizations and individuals contemplate
new ways of working, effectively leveraging a more distributed, decentralized,
and digital workforce will separate the high-performers from those that
struggle in the new normal.  

In this context, proactively ensuring and enabling
positive and productive connections has become central to strategic talent
management, and will increasingly become critical to retaining key talent. 

Why companies use ONA

There are a variety of scenarios that
warrant  performing an ONA. Consider,
for example, the fact that strategic success depends more than ever on
effective collaboration between client-facing employees and those with roles
that are internal and more operational. Companies use ONA to optimize
operational efficiency by illuminating where an organization is most siloed.
They use ONA in onboarding new employees to monitor the breadth of connections
to others in the organization, which is often a key component of success or
failure in year one. They also use ONA after an acquisition to gauge the
strength of integration by examining the collaboration between business units. 

Organizations use ONA to help
identify a range of important network roles, including

  • Boundary
    Who sit in
    the white spaces between groups or units that would otherwise not be
  • Central
    : Who are
    crucial to performance and yet risk overload and burnout
  • Energizers: Who generate enthusiasm and a
    sense of purpose amongst their networks

For companies that have
major changes on the horizon, an ONA aids in understanding how leaders are
truly perceived by the workforce and identifying those individuals who have the
respect of their peers and can help drive change and behavior modification. 

How companies use ONA

Companies put ONA into
action to address a variety of specific challenges. Here are a few examples: 

  • Promoting rapid innovation: At its core, ONA
    visualizes collaboration—how it works within groups, across groups, and
    throughout organizations—and the ways in which work and ideas are exchanged or
    stifled. With the data resulting from ONA, organizations can spark innovation
    by removing silos, combining expertise, and accelerating decision-making.
  • Introducing new leaders: ONAs can provide new
    leaders with critical insights about the organization, the department, or the team
    they are now leading. It can also inform them about the people they’ll need to
    turn to, and visualize how work flows internally.
  • Driving diversity, equity, and inclusion: Conducting an ONA project
    can readily expose issues of isolation—employees who aren’t well connected
    in their networks may be underutilized or at risk of departure. When juxtaposed
    against race, gender,
    identity, ability, or other demographics, troubling patterns—and
    opportunities—can emerge.
  • Improving employee well-being: Well-being programs
    often focus on physical and mental health, but rarely attempt to address major
    stressors at work such as collaborative overload, which ONA is uniquely positioned
    to identify. Employees who are frequently tapped for their expertise by
    colleagues may feel overloaded and burned out by the number of incoming
    requests they receive. Identifying these individuals and scenarios early can not
    only have a positive impact on their well-being, but also mitigate turnover
  • Leading a culture renovation: Companies spend a
    tremendous amount of time and effort attempting to change culture, yet i4cp
    research shows that only 15% actually succeed. Often, it’s because
    companies don’t take the time to properly identify influencers, energizers, and
    blockers within their workforce. By pinpointing who these key connectors are
    early in the process, the culture change team can build support through influencers—who
    may not be obvious functional leaders—and work to win over or, in some cases,
    work around potential naysayers.
  • Managing a merger or acquisition: Unsuccessful acquisitions
    are often the result of poor cross-culture strategies. ONA can help identify
    boundary spanners who understand both cultures, understand who influential
    people are on both sides of the organization, and can be engaged to act as
    leaders for the transition. 

How to get started with

We offer multiple ways to
get started quickly with organizational network analysis and the network
principles of ONA through the Connected Commons: 

  • Agility Accelerator: This rapid ONA platform quickly visualizes
    and analyzes communication and collaboration, provides insights about workflows
    within your team, group, or department, and most importantly offers
    research-based recommendations to implement immediate improvements. Agility
    Accelerator allows any business leader to deploy and analyze results in as
    little as a week, with no technical or analytical expertise required.
  • Custom ONA projects: To collect and analyze larger data
    sets—such as an entire workforce or region—we will construct a custom
    organizational network analysis project to fit your needs, providing the tools
    and resources to deploy, analyze, and act on the data.
  • Connected Commons membership: Join a consortium of
    cutting-edge organizations to access virtual classes on how to conduct ONA and
    participate in workshops and meetings to advance and apply network analysis
    principles. Connected Commons access is available through i4cp membership. 

Are you considering
conducting an organizational network analysis project?
Contact us for a research
briefing and to discuss recommended next steps.

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