Since you have given us a great number of comments and reflections on the ”7 ONA tools” blog post, we would like to share our experiences on how to best use an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) tool. This is based on eight years’ of analysis project implementation, so expect facts, not speculation.

1. Purpose comes before passion

You go to the doctor to receive a diagnostic on your health and instructions on what to do. Companies ask for organizational network analysis for the very same reason: to improve their performance guided by facts and recommendations. A safe recipe for failure would be to map networks for the sake of mapping, just because you are passionate about discovering what is underneath the skin. Instead, agree on how the analysis results will support critical organizational objectives. Be clear on what problem the analysis will help solve. The top seven business objectives that provide a fertile ground for an ONA tool to impact the business positively are

  • organizational change management initiatives,
  • digital transformations,
  • agile organization designs,
  • intra-departmental communication processes,
  • employee engagement activities,
  • strategy development and rollout plans, and
  • local leadership programs.

2. If you can’t measure it, can you manage it?

Best practice here is to confirm measurable outcomes before an analysis project starts, so work closely with the supplier to come up with credible metrics. An ONA tool will show you the influential employees you need to accelerate your change initiatives, among other results. Expect to develop measurable benefits as a result of deployment of critical employee connections. Some best practice examples are better information distribution and maximized message management efficiency, increased direct reach of up to 85% of the total work force, increased acceptance of the planned changes, 20-30% increase in employee adoption, faster change implementation, 15-25% saved time.

3. Never compromise employees’ privacy

In any type of research, a person has a right to privacy when participating in a study, so look for suppliers who act ethically and provide a tool that comes with privacy and data protection policies. Make sure that you are aware of and comfortable with these documents. Best practice is a built-in consent process for employees whom the analysis identifies, which guarantees that they are confidentially asked whether or not they would agree to revealing their names to management and participating in subsequent organizational initiatives.

4. Think big and go fast

When you consider the scope and timeline of the analysis project, better results are obtained when the analysis is opened up to as many employees as possible; preferably the entire organization is involved. Why? Surprisingly, your employees often build work relationships where you might not expect. In any organization, there are both formal and informal hierarchies. The formal one is easy to recognize because it defines power by position. On the other hand, identifying the informal structure requires finesse. In the informal hierarchy, colleagues award power to one another, regardless of position. You will want to know about these informal, unexpected and hidden connections between employees that go beyond formal organizational structures. Therefore, it is best practice to involve the largest possible target group of employees, preferably the whole organization.

5. Don’t let pretty pictures tempt you

The art of visualization of complex networks is at the heart of organizational network analysis; however, you should never lose focus of actionable results. Here practices diverge a lot. Several tools offer a fancy, multi-dimensional, colorful and 3D output that looks impressive from a visual arts perspective, but lack practical implementation for everyday use. Best practice is to obtain simple, easy-to-understand visuals – particularly if they are interactive – with narrative explanations. In addition, use analysis results that not only indicate improvement areas but also show the strengths of your company. It is motivating to understand what goes well and how this could be adopted by others. This will allow for maximized interpretation of analysis results and design of appropriate interventions which will benefit the entire work force.

We are pretty sure that there are more lessons learned from organizations who have used organizational network analysis. Consider this a kick-start. We are keen to hear your experiences or questions.