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Why It’s Time to Add Organizational Network Analysis to Your Strategy

A few years ago, HR leaders from a trillion-dollar asset management firm encountered a puzzling trend within their workforce: Despite hiring an equal number of entry-level male and female employees, fewer women were receiving promotions. 

To identify gender differences in developing productive working relationships, the company turned to its promotion data and Organizational Network Analysis (ONA). The asset management firm was able to determine whether women were building networks that helped them advance in their careers. 

ONA provides what expert Rob Cross describes as an “x-ray into the inner workings of an organization,” helping leaders see the informal networks that do not get captured on the traditional org chart. The most robust ONA studies incorporate data coming from multiple sources, such as calendar, email, instant messaging, sociometric badges, and knowledge sharing applications. 

Moving the needle on inclusion is a major advantage that ONA can provide to organizations: Companies can, with basic demographic analytics, measure diversity, but only ONA helps them measure inclusion. ONA has also been proven to help businesses improve productivity and boost sales through a better understanding of team interactions.

In spite of these benefits, however, ONA has not been widely adopted. Many leaders expect HR leaders to have these capabilities, when in fact they do not—yet.

Organic team structures: The new gold

In our HR Trends 2020 report, we predict that ONA will finally hit the mainstream in the near future—but it will look and feel very different.

The majority of organizations have been reluctant to invest in ONA as a standalone platform, even though companies are very vulnerable when communication flows are not aligned with the overall business direction. The next decade will see a profound shift in ONA’s user base, how it is sold, and what kind of insights are available.

Over the next decade, ONA will rapidly evolve to become:

  • A feature, not a product. ONA enthusiasts won’t have to struggle to gain buy-in for the capability as a separate platform. Instead, ONA will become a critical feature for HCM, ERP, communication, and other transactional systems. Each system will provide a different lens on how work really gets done within the organization. Robust people analytics platforms will have the capacity to bring all these different perspectives together into one picture.
  • Personal and in-the-moment. As the volume of network data grows, new kinds of machine learning models will emerge that better predict what makes individual employees and teams successful. These insights can then be fed to rank-and-file workers as real-time suggestions through nudge engines.
  • Invisible. ONA will become as prevalent as the Google search engine. Employees will use the technology behind ONA every day without realizing it. With more vendors offering the capability as part of a pre-packaged solution, organizations won’t have to hire or nurture staff with advanced knowledge of machine learning or statistics to deploy it successfully.

Even if you aren’t planning on deploying ONA capabilities tomorrow, there are steps you can take now to prepare for a future where team interactions will become the firm’s most valuable asset. Follow these tips:

  • Connect with senior business leaders to gain an understanding of where the organization is headed five years in the future and how collaboration will play a role in supporting business goals. 
    • For example, your organization may need to engage more external stakeholders if it will be expanding its gig network. This will require your employees to nurture different kinds of relationships.
  • Initiate more regular touch points (through pulse surveys) around whether peers and work networks are net contributors to or detractors from success in the business.
    • This information can eventually be combined with ONA scores to gain insight into both the quality and quantity of team interactions. If an employee has very few connections and it’s likely to impact their productivity or turn them into a flight risk, HR can make changes to ensure they increase the number of connections they have.
  • Be clear in advising individuals on why you are collecting their personal data. 
    • Even if your future ONA capabilities will eventually become so seamless that they will be invisible to employees, you will still need a sound data privacy policy in place. When combined with data security measures and clear internal communications, this can help maintain employee trust.

This topic appeared as “Trend #9:ONA Hits the Mainstream” in our HR Trends 2020 report. Download the full guide to get more tips related to this trend and learn about 9 other trends that will impact HR and work over the next decade.

Author Photo
Zack Johnson |
As GM, Embedded Analytics & Mid-Market, Zack is focused on building strategic partnerships with organizations that believe analytics unlocks critical, untapped value for their customers. Zack manages Visier’s OEM analytics business, where we partner with other software providers to bring world-class analytics to their customers. Prior to Visier, Zack was the co-founder and CEO of Syndio, a people analytics platform that helps business leaders make informed people management decisions around retention, engagement, and driving a more connected organization. Beyond Visier, Zack advises Grammy-nominated artist Mike Posner (Island Records) and regularly lectures on analytics and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management.