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Why organisations need to adopt Organisational Network Analysis now

Thu 7 May 2020

Organisational network analysis might be your best data weapon in the fight against Covid-19

It’s a turbulent time for many businesses as they face financial disruption and reckon with stay-at-home measures that disrupt business-as-usual. Organisations need a high-performing workforce more than ever, but simultaneously, HR departments are being forced to action redundancies, furloughs and pay cuts to ease the bottom line. 

Much attention has been placed on technology and tools that enable remote working, but comparatively less has been placed on a burgeoning subset of analytics that can help HR departments drive employee productivity and wellbeing during this critical period. It’s called Organisational Network Analysis (ONA).

People Analytics

Before we explain the fundamentals of ONA and how it helps businesses generally and throughout this period, it’s important to first breakdown people analytics, a subset of data analytics that paved the way for ONA.

People analytics is effectively analytics for HR departments. Indeed, people analytics is often referred to as HR analytics. People analytics was coined by Google in 2007 to deal with its combined desire to ditch corporate lingo and need to make strategic and informed people-related decisions about its ballooning workforce.

In the three years up to 2007, Google’s employee count was doubling in size every year. Google knew that the only way to efficiently and effectively manage its people was to apply the key ingredients of data analytics (namely, statistics, technology and expertise) to employee data. As a result, the company’s HR department was actually renamed to people analytics and remains so to this day.

The cornerstone of people analytics is employee data, or talent data, which might include best practices of individuals, application utilisation, vacancies, skills gaps and more. The accumulation and analysis of this data allow organisations to find better candidates, make intelligent hiring decisions and optimise employee performance and retention.

Nowadays, an increasing number of companies are attempting to follow Google’s lead to ensure optimal return on staff investments. According to Deloitte, more than 70 percent of HR departments consider people analytics to be a high priority. But exactly how well are they getting on?

Organisational Network Analysis

Despite widespread adoption, companies adopting people analytics have run repeatedly into the same problem: their efforts only provide insights about individual people, not relational data about employee interaction. It quickly became apparent that to truly understand and analyse a workforce, it was necessary to adopt a more sophisticated approach, one that joins the dots — building a view of the organisation that captures this complex web of interaction.

ONA is the attempt to uncover these hidden patterns between individuals and groups within a company. By using more relational data, such as email exchanges, Slack chats, and file transfers, firms can understand the nature and qualities of interconnections across their organisation. These elements, in turn, allow for more accurate predictions of individual behaviour and can better inform pay, promotion and other “people” decisions.

Cranfield School of Management offers a useful framework for understanding the different types of actors or groups within an organisation that ONA can help identify.

  • Value creators: individuals (or groups) who are top sources of novel ideas
  • Influencers: individuals (or groups) who significantly affect others
  • Bottlenecks: individuals (or groups) that limit the performance of the organisation
  • Boundary spanners: individuals (or groups) who bridge communities and cross multiple boundaries.

If one network is vastly more productive or happier than another, the idea is that a well-crafted model can determine the features of the group that make it so. HR then applies the learnings to optimise behaviour and performance in other parts of the organisation. Ever worked in a department where communication was steadily deteriorating? With ONA, employee data will be signalling this fact to your HR department in real-time. In need of launching a project but don’t know who would make a good team or what tools to use? Smart use of ONA will identify your dream team. 

                             The competency-based approach to ONA (Source – TrueCue)

How can ONA benefit my business now?

Even in normal circumstances, ONA has a raft of benefits that can bring your HR department into the digital age. But with Covid-19 having financial impacts across a multitude of sectors, there is even more pressure on HR teams to improve existing workforces and hire effectively for important Covid-19-related projects. For a number of reasons, ONA might actually be a company’s best weapon in the battle to get through the current crisis.

With ONA, rather than blunt, indiscriminate redundancies, informed decisions can be made about who should be made redundant, furloughed or retained. When redundancies or furloughs have been actioned, the same principles can be used to reconfigure employee workflow in the short-term while the ship is steadied. With a reduced workforce, it’s likely companies will be forced into forming temporary suboptimal teams. ONA helps firms identify what these integration challenges might be, so the onboarding process is as painless as possible. 

                                                        Competency Benchmarking (Source – TrueCue)

Then there’s en masse remote working. Covid-19 induced a rapid redistribution of the workforce that has an immediate impact on individuals’ ability to navigate and grow their organisational network. As ONA is purpose-built to facilitate collaboration and enhance knowledge flow, these challenges can be identified, ironed out, and their solutions disseminated throughout an organisation.

Not to mention employee well-being, frequently highlighted as a concern as employees deal with makeshift working environments and social isolation brought about by stay-at-home measures. A lot of surveys are being sent out now due to Covid-19. These surveys can serve as an active data source for Network Analytics if properly designed. This a particularly powerful application of the “competency-based approach” to ONA, where employers establish needed competencies and ask staff to both select those which apply to them and nominate people who they approach for guidance in relation to certain competencies.

In addition, tools that facilitate remote-working, such as Slack and Teams, can also provide a rich dataset that can help HR teams identify the employees struggling with these new conditions and the all-important characteristics of the groups and individuals that are thriving.


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