Five Best practices and pitfalls when using ONA tools

Reflecting on the great number of comments and reflections on the „7 ONA tools” allow us to think further and share with you our experiences, how you can use such Organization Network Analysis tool well or less fortunate. This is based on five years’ market practice, fact not speculation.

  1. What ONA is mostly used for – what purpose does it support? First, let us start with the obvious one: define the desired impact, in measurable way, if possible. A safe recipe for failure if you map networks just for sake of mapping. This is highly unlikely too, as it minimalizes chances to display a positive ROI on the initiative. Below, please find the top seven goals that provide a fertile ground for an ONA tool to impact the business positively. Organizational Change Management, Digital Transformations, Designing agile organizations, Intra departmental Communication enhancement , Employee Engagement, Strategy planning and rollout, Leadership improvements. ( here we need to add one sentence summaries)
  2. Strongly related to the goal, comes the question of the metrics. We have identified four measurement approaches, that work well, if implemented well. The best practice here to deal with this before an ONA project starts – very few clients were able to come up with credible metrics retrospectively. Even though it could be difficult or awkward, apparently slowing down project kickoff, this is a clear best practice.
  3. In terms of scope and timeline, fast beats large scale. Better results are shown by projects of few weeks duration, rather than all inclusive, tens of thousands employee surveys. Breaking this up and covering lines of business offers agility, however, fails to capture important intra LOB relationships. Best practice? Try to slice it up by value chain processes, rather than organizational boundaries. Product innovation, aftersales, customer care, logistics or other key value processes offer a good alternative to all out org surveys, if the organization is too large. However, current technologies are perfectly capable of handling large data sets. Yet the complexities of visualizing 100.000+ populations are at least doubtful. So our best practices show 10-20,000 populations covered within a 3-6 weeks timeframe.
  4. We touched above the question of visualization-  actually this is part of a broader dimension of actionability. Here practices diverge a lot. Several tools offer a fancy, multi dimensional, colorful and 3D output, that is impressive. Impressive from a visual arts perspective, but not practicality. In our experience, simpler, easy to understand visuals, particularly if they are interactive, and hence customizable ( filtered for your interests) support implementation better. Too complex visuals discourage „ordinary” practitioners of management to learn the code, therefore they might find this intellectually interesting and artistically engaging, make everyday use less likely
  5. Finally the user interface dimension. Somewhat related to its complexity versus ease of use, one of the pitfalls is a very restricted, professional use. If only experts use the tool or the analytics, it is likely to remain a planning tool. Once the use is actively encouraged and supported by online tutorials or peer group help, ONA becomes more of daily management tool, as much implementation monitor as planning vehicle. One specific best practice is when basis user experience in built in the survey process: de facto making it from a one-way survey instrument to a digital consultative tool. So the system does not only collect your network inputs for analysis but also gives the interviewee prompt feedback on your networks and an opportunity to make an analysis of your own work environment, and a feeling of quick wins, by managing your network smarter.

We are pretty sure there are other lessons learnt by implementing organizations – consider this a kick start and we are keen to hear your experiences with such initiatives or questions, which we try to answer in due course.


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