Subject matter experts (SMEs) who can answer any question in their respective areas are the lifelines of an organization. Imagine the benefits of forming a team of SMEs across your operational areas. All your employees could reach out to this core group for all their answers.
But from an organization’s standpoint, how can you visualize and formalize communications with these SMEs? How does information flow? Does it start with the employees or the SMEs? How can this information help to make decisions? Organizational network analysis (ONA) answers these questions for you. That’s because ONA is a visual network that depicts the flow of information in your organization.
Let’s start by digging deeper into what a network analysis is. I’ll then discuss how it works, its benefits, and best practices when implementing it.
What Is Network Analysis?
Organizational network analysis (ONA), or just network analysis, is a formal way to understand how people communicate. It helps you understand where people get information and how they use it for decision-making. It’s a comprehensive lens to understand the inner workings of a company and its invisible patterns of communication.
Now, you must have a million questions about how you can implement it. To answer some of them, let’s first discuss how network analysis works.
How Does Network Analysis Work?
Network analysis has many elements. They all come together to enable a seamless flow of information and ideas throughout the company. The SMEs I discussed earlier are the central nodes that disseminate critical information and knowledge to others. The channels they use for communication are called ties.
Some networks also have optional knowledge brokers. These brokers act as bridges to bring disconnected and peripheral employees into the network-sharing process. For context, peripheral employees are disconnected, low-morale employees who don’t actively participate in informal conversations.
In addition, a network analysis maps the central nodes and the ties. That way, you can see how information flows through your company. As an example, here’s a diagram that depicts an ONA.
In this diagram, the circles are the central nodes that act as information centers. Essentially, they’re the key players (SMEs) who keep the network together. The diamonds represent employees across different functions.
Meanwhile, the rectangle represents a knowledge broker who brings peripheral employees into the network analysis map.
The lines that connect the players are the ties. From this information, you can understand the flow of information.
Now comes an important question: why is it important to understand this information flow within an organization? To answer this question, I’ll discuss some of the key advantages of using ONA in your business.
4 Benefits of Organizational Network Analysis
An ONA offers immense benefits to a company. Instead of offering an exhaustive list, here’s a look at the important ones.
1. Enables Change Management
The central nodes are, in many ways, the influencers of a network. Persuading these nodes to accept a change will have a cascading effect on the entire network. When these central nodes accept change, they’ll spread the word about the benefits of the change. That way, others may be more willing to accept it. Undoubtedly, this process will save your company time and decrease the attrition rate.
2. Points Out the Barriers
Nowadays, many companies find it difficult to understand the communication barriers existing within their networks. This means they’re unable to fix the problem. Organizational network analysis greatly eases this concern as you can visualize the information flow and the areas where they stop. Accordingly, you can formulate strategies like having language translators to lessen the barriers.
3. Enhances Employee Morale
Informal networks are the best way to boost employee morale. That’s because it’s easier to identify individual talents and strengths and promote them accordingly. ONA helps you understand the not-so-visible employee stengths like empathy. That way, you can find the right job for each employee. Knowing your employees better through network analysis can also help you make decisions that will be more widely accepted.
4. Create Office Layouts
An ONA helps you understand employee relationships and patterns based on how the communication flows. Based on this understanding, you can set up your office’s layout. Ideally, you’d keep influencers and disconnected employees together for greater information flow.
These benefits undoubtedly make ONAs an essential part of your organizational strategy and communication. That said, they’re not without downsides. This is why I’ll talk about the potential pitfalls and how you can mitigate them next.
3 Things to Look Out For
Though ONA is a powerful tool, it requires great responsibility to use it well. Below are some areas to watch out for.
1. Information Explosion
One of the downsides of ONA is the explosion of information. When employees are connected to more than one central node and knowledge broker, they tend to get a lot of information. And these high levels of interaction can become overwhelming for employees. As a company, this is something to watch out for.
One way to handle this issue is to move employees to different departments or office areas. That way, you have only one influencer for a bunch of employees. It would also help to have an open discussion with the influencers to limit the flow of information.
Network analysis is a thin line between privacy and interaction. This is because some private information can become official without the concerned employee’s knowledge.
To avoid any privacy and ethical implications, you must let your employees know about your ONA endeavor. More importantly, give your employees the freedom to decide if they want to join this network. It can also help to avoid taking direct names and just create networks for your reference.
Security is an aspect that’s closely associated with privacy. When network analysis maps get into the wrong hands, people can use them to manipulate or even “buy in” the influencers.
Consider using software and techniques like network monitoring and patch management to avoid security threats. In turn, this software can decrease the chances of unauthorized access.
Besides watching out for these limitations and addressing them, you can also implement best practices to get more value from organizational network analysis.
4 ONA Best Practices
Best practices, in general, finetune your efforts when leveraging a tool. Below are some best practices for ONA to help you to use this tool better.
1. Keep An Eye on the Objective
To get more out-of-network analysis, keep the objective of this exercise in mind. This way, you’ll map the different elements in a way that helps you achieve your objective. For example, you might want some information to go through informally. So your ONA will help you choose influencers for this dissemination. When you keep the end goal in mind, you’ll be able to adjust and tweak your ONA map to match your business needs.
2. Measure the Performance
ONA is another tool that can improve your company’s functions. But if you want to truly evaluate its effectiveness, consider using measurable goals that gauge the performance of these tools. For example, one of your goals can be to gauge how a particular piece of information was disseminated among employees. The results can be, say, 85% of employees got the message through the ONA. These measures help you better understand the accuracy of your ONA and its effectiveness in your company.
3. Take a Practical Approach
Stay away from network analysis tools that depict your informal network in colorful and glossy pictures. These additions won’t help with its practical use. Instead, use ONA tools that give the insights you need for further actions and decision-making, even if they aren’t picture-perfect.
4. Use Network Monitoring Software
Understanding how your employees use your network analysis can help with better forecasting and improved performance. This is where network orchestration tools like GFI Exinda can help. Its real-time networking provides visibility into your network’s health, performance, and productivity.
The above best practices can go a long way in making ONA more effective for your company. Before we end, here are a few final thoughts on network analysis.
All in all, network analysis can come in handy to understand the communication patterns in your organization. As it maps how your employees get information through informal channels, you can identify influencers, knowledge brokers, and peripheral employees. Accordingly, you can craft a communication strategy to appeal to all of them.
ONA can undoubtedly provide many benefits like boosting employee morale, identifying communication patterns, etc. But it also has a few limitations to watch out for. Overall, ONA can be a game-changer across many scenarios, ranging from choosing your organization’s workplace layout to changing management and everything in between.
Want to know more about network analysis? Read through our FAQ and Resources sections below.
Are organizational network analysis tools similar to social networks?
In some ways, yes. Organizational network analysis tools, like social networks, map the communication flow and interactions to provide meaningful insights. That said, this mapping results in a relevant news feed on social networks. Meanwhile, in organizations, the mapping provides insights for informed decision-making. The scope of organizational network analysis is also much smaller when compared to social networks.
What are some aspects I must consider before creating an ONA?
Always keep in mind the objectives of network analysis and strive to glean as much information as possible to help achieve your goal. While creating the network analysis map, ensure to define the relationships and the metrics you want to measure. Also, consider the legal, security, and privacy implications as well.
Can I create a network analysis map for short-term goals?
Yes, you can create a network analysis map for short-term goals, though you may spend considerable time and effort. For example, you can have a group that shares learning and knowledge about a specific topic. During this period, you can know who was most interested in the topic and participated actively in discussions. Accordingly, you can then assign roles.
Can I use a network analysis map to create my workplace layout?
Yes. Many companies today are leveraging network analysis maps to create office space layouts. These analysis maps can help you to put together disconnected and low-morale employees with high-energy individuals and influencers. Needless to say, it can enhance the overall productivity of your company.
Can I find tools that can help me create network analysis maps?
Yes, many tools can help you to create network analysis maps. Tools like GFI Exinda act as network orchestrators to provide the necessary visibility. Another good example is Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform. While picking a tool, look for information that adds value to your everyday policies and activities.
TechGenix: Article on Business Impact Analysis
Know more about using business impact analysis to supercharge your IT decisions.
TechGenix: Article on SIEM
Learn how to leverage the power of SIEM for your organization.
TechGenix: Article on Planning a Remote Work Strategy
Educate yourself on how to plan a remote work strategy.
TechGenix: Article on Behavior-Based Security Tools
TechGenix: Article on Best Practices to Boost Productivity
Discover some best practices to boost remote employee productivity.