by Mike Klein and Dr. Anita Zbieg, PhD
Following nine months of all-remote working across their business, Head of Comms Owen Newell Anderson met with Chief H.R. Officer Hayley Rodriguez to discuss one of his major agenda items – his desire to conduct an Organizational Network Analysis of the entire enterprise to better understand the way internal influence works in a time of major change..
Let’s listen in.
ONA: Thank you for inviting me today.
HR: You’re very welcome, Owen. Believe it or not, I’ve always thought Organizational Network Analysis was interesting. Under these circumstances, where cost-reduction and remote working have obviously changed a lot of our internal dynamics, I think it is now worth a serious look.
ONA: I’m glad we’re on the same page. Working outside of our physical structures, new social structures have undoubtedly formed, and it would be very interesting to know more about them, and about who is driving them.
HR: Agreed. As you can imagine, even though we have social distancing until the vaccine comes out, we will be taking some steps to get us ready to grow again.
ONA: New hires? Perhaps an acquisition?
HR: Both in the realm of possibility
ONA: Well, the most valuable things ONA can do in those cases is give us a better sense not only of the assets we still have on board and where they fit together, but how we can accelerate the effectiveness of new hires and how to best start the integration process for a new acquisition.
HR: Remote onboarding is tough, and the toughest part I’ve seen is that it’s very difficult to connect new remote hires socially with the right people who have the right knowledge about how things actually work. I see ONA as a potential precision tool for getting the understanding we need.
ONA: The main thing that ONA does, as you say, is map out all of the relationships in the enterprise. Knowing about how people actually work and actually communicate won’t just help us with onboarding, but can help us take out a lot of the noise in the organization.
HR: Communication has improved since the crisis began in the sense that employees are happier about it, but the quantity seems to have ballooned. I’d be interested in seeing how ONA could help.
ONA: ONA exercises tend to be seen and presented, rightly, as exercises to improve communication, and that’s something most employees tend to want.
HR: There may be some resistance, but there also seems the opportunity for a potential payoff.
ONA: I think it has the potential to be transformative, both from a communication perspective and from having genuinely deep organizational knowledge. The main thing is that we will know who really drives communication in the business: not me and not the theory of a line manager cascade, but the actual 3% of the people who drive 90% of the conversations.
HR: That’s the “three percent rule” you’ve told me about a few times
ONA: Precisely, Hayley.. But it’s more than just the knowledge, it’s what that knowledge would allow us to do. It would help us reduce the noise and irrelevance that hits people in this business. It would get rid of the constant pressure to dumb things down so that people who have nothing fo with content won’t be bewildered by it. We will be able to target better. We’ll also be able to listen better.
HR: Better listening? Tell me more.
ONA: We’ll have a better idea of whom to listen to. The influencers for sure, but also the people who are less connected, particularly if they are new arrivals. We need to know what moves them, and why certain things don’t move them. The insights about individual intensity of connection will add immeasurably to the way we collect feedback and listen.
ONA: But it’s not only that. ONA can make our organization more resilient.
HR: How is that possible?
ONA: Resilience demands “distributed control with centralized coordination,” not “centralized control with distributed execution” and that’s exactly how a real-time Organizational Network Analysis can have you covered. Knowing how the work is done will help your company become more resilient by providing employees with high quality real-time collaboration data & visualizations.
HR: Does it mean that ONA can help guide me through the continuous process of change?
ONA: Yes, by showing real-time how people and teams work in your company. Day-to-day company-wide change may bring chaos. Every single team and employee is having to learn how to get work done in a new way. What if they knew how actual collaboration looks like? Know the actual and proven work practices?
HR: Tell me more about ONA’s ability to enable company-wide change.
ONA: With ONA, it becomes possible to:
– learn quickly about where to act and who should be involved,
– know which people are driving value in your company,
– set up new processes, roles, and practices based on actual work practices and relationships,
– support your managers by knowing what’s going on – and using that knowledge to make them more confident and effective
– develop insights into key individual relationships
HR: You told me that collaboration can be measured real-time. How is that possible?
ONA: Along with surveys, ONA tools can bring data about digital traces of interactions from tools your company uses (e.g. MS Office, G-suite, GitHub, Asana).
HR: Insights about “key individual relationships”? Are you sure we wouldn’t be too intrusive?
ONA: This isn’t a “search and destroy” mission. It’s more of an x-ray to get a picture of our organizational reality and be able to work within it consciously, for the first time. I sense a question about “what do we do with negative influencers.” You have to remember that we only give privileged information to managers, and everyone else is either informed by their managers or gets a common set of corporate internal messages. So, what that means is that there are a lot of influential people getting very limited information. These people either put one and one together and share their conclusions, or they outright make up rumors and fake news.
HR: Rumors and fake news?
ONA: Yes, And many don’t realize that’s what they are doing. Employees go to them to close the gaps in what we provide them, and they close the gaps with the limited information and insight they can add.
HR: So, by identifying influencers, we can make sure they are better informed?
ONA: Absolutely, Even the biggest rumor monger can’t overcome a set of actual facts. Having well informed influencers will by definition reduce the scope for rumor and misinformation.
HR: I think it’s time to do this. We’re at an important juncture, and we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as we can about where we are now, to set the stage for our next bout of growth.
Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and has been a longtime advocate for the use of Organizational Network Analysis as a key communication strategy tool.To order his guide to Internal Influence, email him at email@example.com
Anita is co-founder of Network Perspective, software that brings collaboration to the company org chart, to improve organizational culture. She holds a PhD from Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny we Wrocławiu and her latest article on ONA can he be found here.