Why companies should leverage organizational network analysis (ONA)

Change efforts in an organization are never easy. Often, leaders lack visibility into critical influencers who may be hidden at lower levels of the organization. Using Organization Network Analysis to locate champions for your initiative can go a long way to maximize your efforts.

What is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)?

ONA is a tool to help organizations visualize and manage their formal and informal networks. In essence, organizational networks consist of nodes, which are the people contained within the network itself, and links, which are the relationships that exist between those individuals.

Relationships between colleagues can take many forms. ONA can illuminate how people interact to complete tasks like finding information, solving problems, and generating innovative ideas. ONA can also illuminate interpersonal dynamics like trust, energy, and gaps of where more communication is needed. By mapping informal networks, ONA provides an x-ray into the inner workings of an organization and is a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration visible.

How is ONA used to accelerate organizational change?

Successful human capital strategies rely on insightful data. Traditionally, this data—in the form of level, tenure, performance ratings, etc.—comes from HRIS tools mapped to formal organizational structures. Of course, people also engage through informal networks. This is true in all sorts of organizations, including traditional hierarchies, matrix work structures, and flatter models. ONA peels back the formal structure to allow organizations to visualize and tune these important informal networks.

ONA can help you identify the smallest set of trusted and respected influencers who are natural change-agents and can be invited to join the change effort as “champions,” thus actively leading their colleagues in building momentum and inviting engagement and commitment of the broader organization.

How Alsephina Consulting used Entromy to leverage ONA

We spoke with Sarah Sonnenfeld, the Principal and Founder of Alsephina Consulting, to understand how she is using Entromy and ONA to help organizations engage with and elevate their key influencers. Alsephina is a management consulting firm that helps leaders map critical risks and make smart organizational investments to deliver powerful business performance.

Q: How can companies benefit from ONA?

I’m a huge fan of Organizational Network Analysis (ONA). How cool is it that with just a handful of influencers (20 in my last survey of 807 employees), you can reach 70% of the organization through informal networks?

We all know that the person sitting in the formal “manager” chair isn’t always the same person we turn to. Entromy helps identify influencers who are only “hidden” in the sense that executives may not have previously realized how deeply their peers trust and turn to them. Through Entromy’s ONA capabilities, you can hear what’s really happening from those who are trusted within your organization and map a path to work together towards change.

Q: What do organizations need to know about leveraging key influencers?

In today’s world, it is so important for leaders to pay attention to both individual and collective voices: What are your people thinking about? How are they feeling? Do they feel you’re paying attention to what matters? Do they understand decisions that are being made and do they agree those decisions will move things in a good direction? What would they advise based on their perspective closest to the ground?

Entromy’s collective upvoting feature powered by Natural-Language Processing (NLP) is a powerful tool for bringing insights from employee voice into critical decisions. As we learn from recent work by MIT professor Catherine Turco, today’s “conversational firms” must excel at balancing voice vs. decision rights. Entromy’s platform allows employees to add their own unique voices and also collectively shape responses by upvoting and editing perspectives from their peers – all this is incredibly powerful in allowing leaders to rapidly sense & respond to the zeitgeist.

It is also important for leaders to understand that key influencers are not always the most obvious individuals. Often individuals with the highest impact are hidden influencers. “These people can become key change agents during periods of transformation or amid organization rollouts if approached and communicated with effectively. ONA technology reveals these individuals by analyzing “nodes and ties” of communication networks,” says David Mallon, head of research for Bersin by Deloitte, an HR research and consulting firm.

Q: What advice do you have for leaders looking to analyze their networks?

If you are an executive looking to leverage ONA, I would recommend using an existing technology like Entromy that has ONA integrated because it really flips the process. You have the data first and then you engage through data…as opposed to a resource-intensive discovery phase where—at the end—you reveal some confirmatory data before finally getting to actions. Entromy allows a much stronger entry point: the data is very credible within the organization and provides a rich trove that we dip into many times along the way to test hypotheses. Of course, there’s still a lot of work, but executive and consulting time is focused on finding the kernels of insight to drive understanding and action. (Plus, as a consultant, I love that hundreds of client-ready slides are ready with a click!

About Alsephina Consulting

At Alsephina Consulting, we help leaders map critical risks and make smart organizational investmentsto deliver powerful business performance. Our grounding is strategy and our focus is people, teams and organizations. We bring tools of strategic analysis, organization design, behavioral science, people analytics, networks, innovation systems and classic human resources to help companies connect-the-dots in new ways as they chart their growth.