What is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) and How Can it Benefit My Business?

The world of work has drastically shifted over the past eight months, necessitating a greater level of information and insight on how work gets done within organizations large and small. However, long before the world was rocked by a global pandemic, many organizations sought to understand something that goes beyond employee engagement surveys, performance management systems, and objective and key results (OKR) software. They sought an understanding of the interconnectedness of individuals and teams regardless of function, level, or location. A view into how work truly gets done within their organization. 

People analytics emerged as a new, and at the time, somewhat suspect, approach to leveraging people data to make objective talent management decisions. Larger organizations began to invest in infrastructure to process and data scientists to analyze the vast amounts of data their HR-specific tools were generating – from talent acquisition to attrition, these organizations began to track and analyze the entire employee lifecycle. The predictive power of people analytics tools empowered HR teams across the world to make data-driven decisions, but a critical piece of the puzzle was noticeably missing. 

As the field of people analytics has evolved, organizations have challenged their own assumptions and the breadth of their data when it comes to making forward-looking data-driven decisions. Point-in-time insights became less valuable than actionable and predictive data. Within that evolution, this is where the fields of relational analytics and people intelligence converged to become a powerful tool for organizations: Organizational Network Analysis. 

What is Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)? 

By definition, Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a method of studying and analyzing socio-technical networks within organizations. As an emerging form of HR technology, ONA captures data from e-mails, instant messages, feedback surveys, and collaboration platforms to help identify and understand how people communicate within an organization. Imagine a holistic view of your organization and the strength of the relationships and communication channels within, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for ONA capabilities. 

ONA software provides a structured way to visualize formal and informal relationships in organizations by analyzing how communications, decisions, and information flow internally. 

Recognizing that people are critical conduits for exchanging information and ideas, ONA essentially maps each of these exchanges as data points that can either strengthen or weaken as the organization evolves. The end product: a visual representation of communications, information flows, and decision-making points that morphs with each email, Slack conversation, or support ticket closure. As the relationships and dependencies in and amongst your teams change, ONA graphs track a next level of people intelligence that can provide incredibly valuable information as you plan for and navigate growth and scale.  

Is ONA ‘Big Brother?’ 

The short answer is no. ONA platforms leverage data that is already being generated from your technology and tools that your team uses every day. This data is stitched together and displayed as a graph to visually indicate the strong and weak connection points within the company from a relationship, communication, and process perspective. While this can feel like ‘Big Brother’ tactics for an organization, if there is trust and transparency within the organization, the power of ONA can truly transform a business.  

When ONA outputs are understood by leaders who value transparency and accountability, they inform a greater level of decision making that takes into account the unique intricacies of the organization. The more data that is utilized, the better operational insights an organization will have. With superior insights, companies get a better understanding of their processes, people, and customers. 

How Can ONA Benefit My Business? 

​For organizations seeking to increase their operational effectiveness, the ability to visualize and analyze formal and informal relationships in your organization can help you shape a business strategy that maximizes organic exchange of information, thereby helping your business become more sustainable and effective. This happens on multiple dimensions when you have an educated and empowered leadership team: 

  • Executive Leadership: Good leaders focus on productivity and performance from a place of curiosity, seeking to understand the levers that lead to greater success and optimal outcomes. ONA provides an overarching view of how work gets done within the organization, allowing leaders to home in on measurable outcomes and predict future barriers to success. 
  • Human Resources/People Operations: The capabilities ONA adds to your toolbelt allow these leaders to operate with a front foot advantage when it comes to engagement, succession planning, and attrition, to name a few. No longer do HR teams need to ponder or postulate on which of your managers are struggling with their teams, who has the potential to be a leader within the company, or the likelihood of your highest performer departing the organization. 
  • Product/Engineering: Supported by insights from your ONA platform, leaders of this critical function can truly understand where processes within the development cycle are getting hung up and leading to delayed releases, team frustration, and lack of communication around critical issues. ONA also gives these leaders visibility into how teams are accomplishing their goals through collaboration, information sharing, and process efficiency. 
  • Customer Support: This function is not the only one at risk of burnout, but customer engagement is part of the lifeblood of employee engagement. Happy customers are key to continued revenue generation, platform innovation, and yes, employee satisfaction. Through ONA, these leaders are able to understand the strength of relationships and effectiveness with customers in this critical function and empower them with the insights to make informed decisions. 

Organizations that foster data-driven decision making, autonomy, transparency, and trust will continue to build their competitive advantage. The key to building a data-driven culture is the understanding that performance is optimized by sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it. The list of benefits ONA provides to an organization is extensive and a desire to make data-driven and people-focused decisions is important. As leaders plan for an unpredictable year ahead, it’s imperative that they lean on people intelligence data to understand and predict impact and outcomes.  

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