Organizational Network Analysis—Cracking The Code for HR

by Patti Anklam, principal consultant, Net Work

Knowledge flows along existing pathways in organizations. If we want to understand how to improve the flow of knowledge, we need to understand those pathways
—Larry Prusak

The effectiveness of an organization—innovation, productivity, decision-making, and employee satisfaction—hinges on the strength of the relationships among its people. The sum of the relationships among people, norms, values, and shared meaning in an organization is often called social capital.

The understanding of the importance of social capital is coupled with discoveries and research in the field of the network sciences, which provide mathematical evidence that there are physical laws that govern the structure, evolution, and characteristics of networks of all types—mechanical, biological, electronic, and human.

Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a diagnostic method for collecting and analyzing data about the patterns of relationships among people in groups. Applied to a number of HR disciplines and practices, ONA provides a view into the network of relationships that gives HR professionals insights into dysfunctions and opportunities.

A network analysis can help answer questions like:

  • Who are the people in the organization who are the most trusted by their peers to provide straight answers about organizational change and who might be enlisted as knowledge champions in a change management program?
  • Which managers in line for succession have the greatest diversity of connections across the organization’s divisions—and which work best with staff across hierarchical boundaries?
  • Which people in the organization are the most sought-out for critical expertise and are they at risk of being overloaded?
  • How well is information moving across organizational boundaries? Across geographies? Across areas of expertise? Are there enough pathways across these boundaries to ensure that new ideas that enter one part of the organization may spark innovation somewhere else? Are there enough pathways to ensure that the organization is not constantly “reinventing the wheel”?
  • Are there people in the organization who excel at moving information across boundaries and are they amply encouraged, rewarded, and positioned to succeed?
  • Is there a correlation between groups with high social capital and their key performance indicators? Which groups are doing well? Can their best practices be transferred to other groups?

Consider the case of the Senior Vice President of a professional services organization who perceived that a lack of cross-group interaction was having a negative impact on sales. His HR manager worked with an ONA consultant.

The resulting map, shown above, illustrates a low frequency of quality information flow among the top two levels of management. Working with the map and the associated metrics from the project, the managers all became engaged in identifying ways to improve their communications and decision-making patterns. The HR manager said, as the project went into high gear, that ONA’s visual and quantitative results had “cracked the code” of delivering a diagnostic wake-up call to managers.

A network analysis begins with data collection, usually via a survey, targeted at questions that address a key business problem. Resulting maps and statistics lead to thoughtful questions about patterns of connectivity across the organization and the positions of both key and marginal people.

Facilitated interpretation leads to appropriate interventions that increase the flow of ideas and knowledge, reduce decision-making bottlenecks, and highlight change agents, innovators, and future leaders.

Patti Anklam helps organizations work more effectively through collaborative networks. In addition to her consulting practice in knowledge management assessment and strategy, she is a recognized leader in the field of social network analysis for knowledge management and is a frequent speaker and writer on the topic. Her book, Net Work: A Practical Guide to Networks at Work and in the World, has been widely read and referenced among networked nonprofits. Ms. Anklam is a charter member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of independent consultants and enterprise-based professionals dedicated to bringing lasting change to forward-thinking 21st century enterprise leaders.

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