What is ONA?

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a method of studying the relationships between individuals and groups within an organization. It uses techniques from social network analysis to map the connections and flows of communication and information within a company, and to identify key players, influential groups, and potential areas for improvement. ONA can provide valuable insights into an organization's structure and operations, and can be used to support decision-making, improve collaboration, and identify potential risks.

‘Active ONA’ surveys look at how groups of employees feel about their colleagues and relationships in the organization. This method can identify informal influencers who might not always be at the top of the traditional organization charts. Informal leadership and influence are based on subjective perceptions, it is only by directly asking employees we can properly identify the informal influencers within the organization. Active ONA is the most useful tool here and used to support effective onboarding, change management and leadership development. Active ONA provides a snapshot of the collaborative networks of the organization at a particular point in time, and it is best complemented by passive ONA.

‘Passive ONA’ provides a complementary view of how teams are collaborating by analyzing communication patterns, for example from email meta-data of collaborative tools like Office 365. This can provide insights on a regular basis by monitoring teams’ digital footprint and has proven to be effective when assessing productivity and burnout risk.

An ideal approach is a combination of active ONA at an employee level and passive ONA at aggregate level, providing actionable insights, but also protecting employee’s privacy.

It is essential that any project utilizing people analytics, including organizational network analysis operates with clear ethical guidelines. Any initiative that risks employee trust will erode the goals of the project.

From a data privacy perspective, active ONA is relatively straightforward because employees provide their consent when completing the survey.

In the case of passive ONA, each employee would need to explicitly provide consent in order for their metadata to be analyzed at individual level, therefore it is more efficient to perform the analysis only at aggregate level. This way, companies respect employees’ privacy and accelerate the internal approval cycle when presenting a business case for a passive ONA deployment.

How are Organizations using ONA?

Active ONA has been useful in onboarding, by identifying informal leaders, who can be ‘buddies’ to new hires in order to accelerate their time-to-productivity and enhance their overall employee experience. Where the majority of workers are working at home, this can be even more crucial to get new team members up to speed in their work.

Another common Active ONA example is in change management, where informal leaders are positioned as early adopters to accelerate strategic change adoption. For example, a 45,000 employee corporation, using ONA technology from Cognitive Talent Solutions, identified informal leaders to act as super-users for a change program. This accelerated the program adoption and saved $161k in process improvements.

Passive ONA can help companies assess employee burnout risk by monitoring indicators in the employee's digital footprint such as the percentage of communications outside of working hours, the percentage of unread messages, or the average response time.

This technique enables companies to identify potential employee burnout scenarios and implement mitigations when needed. For example, a Fortune 500 biotech company created summaries at the division level highlighting predictive and prescriptive analytics on burnout risk, and productivity. They combined Passive ONA’s aggregate-level insights with Active ONA’s individual-level insights. The company was able to analyze changes in the organization’s internal collaboration dynamics in real-time. This allowed them to accelerate strategic change adoption and implement more informed mitigation plans.

Looking at collaboration patterns can also help identify where there are lower levels of trust in the context of mergers, and acquisitions. Understanding which employees are the informal leaders can be useful to prevent or mitigate cultural clashes during the post-merger integration. An example of a business benefit is to help accelerate the realization of IT synergies by accelerating the replacement of legacy systems by new centralized ones. Once the integration is completed, ONA can also help companies understand the level of integration between legacy organizations and its impact on their performance.

ONA has proved to be effective in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Monitoring collaboration patterns in the organization by gender, age and ethnicity, can highlight potential conflict areas where intervention might be needed.

The above is an excerpt from the article "The New Technology of Teams: How Organizational Network Analysis Can Increase Team Collaboration" by Francisco Marin and Andrew Spence. You can also read it on Andrew Spence's Workforce Futurist Newsletter.