Diversity & Inclusion

What Is Organizational Network Analysis?

Organizational Network Analysis (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 calendars, e-mail, instant messaging, sociometric badges, and knowledge sharing applications.


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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 professionals 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 stand-alone 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 kinds 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 human capital management (HCM), enterprise resource planning (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 prepackaged 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 in which team interactions will become your firm’s most valuable asset. Follow these tips:

  • Connect with senior business leaders to gain an understanding of where the organization is headed 5 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) on 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 the quantity of team interactions. If an employee has very few connections and it’s likely to impact his or her productivity or turn him or her into a flight risk, HR can make changes to increase the number of connections the person has.
  • 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.
Zack Johnson is the GM of Embedded Analytics & Mid-Market at Visier. 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.