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Marcus Gee, Mentis Consulting

Marcus Gee Coventry Event

Informal networks between individuals and teams have for too long been ignored by organisations, managers, consultants and psychologists, argued Marcus Gee of Mentis Consulting at the inaugural meeting of the ABP Midlands group held at Coventry University on November 5th.  Over-emphasis on individual profiling and an HR dominated agenda of appraisals do not adequately reflect employee contributions and certainly do not reflect the potential that individuals might be able to achieve in an appropriately supportive environment.

Organisational Networks Analysis (ONA) does not claim to have all the answers, but this new technique has already attracted the interest of the industry and large organisations who can see the value of using this tool to analyse the informal networks operating in their organisations or their clients.

According to Bersin, a Consultant with Deloitte, ONA is a technology that captures data from emails, feedback activities, and other sources to understand how people are communicating with each other. It identifies workflow patterns, bottlenecks, and the individuals within the organization who serve as experts, advisors, or traffic cops

ONA is a sociometric, as opposed to a psychometric, and is a tool that analyses and visualises workplace relationships and networks. ONA can provide an x-ray into the inner workings of an organisation — a powerful means of making invisible patterns of information flow and collaboration in strategically important groups visible

ONA has an important role in people analytics.  L&D and HR have an individualistic focus, yet try to predict and improve outcomes related to teams and the organisation as a whole.   However, the traditional way to look at analytics does not explore two key areas:

  • Social Capital (SC) – Collective relationship resources of an organisation.
  • Social Quotient (SQ) – An individual’s ability to access and leverage Social Capital within an organisation.

Most leaders are interested in some form of people analytics, as in general there is a return of $13 from $1 invested.   The ONA model fits around and complements traditional analytics.

A key feature of ONA is the “Sociogram” as opposed to the more familiar organisational chart.  This is a social diagram which aims to visualise relationships in organisations   They are very flexible, reflecting the different types of relationship found in organisations.

Sociograms work because they not only reflect informal networks, but they recognise that 95% of people at work in some way use other people’s knowledge.  They can illustrate:

*          communication channels which are used for information sharing and can make sense of the dynamics which exist in personal relationships.

*          sentiment, representing feelings, emotions and perceptions

*          transactions, representing the exchange of tangible and non-tangible exchange, such as money or advice.

ONA can use passive or active data collection types: passive is easier to collect and is scalable but active can allow detailed and impactful collection.  A full ONA would use both, depending on resources available.

The key to ONA is that Social Capital should be seen as an organisational resource.  The five main metrics are:

*          Diameter, the distance between the two furthest individuals in an organisation, providing a good indication of how effective the communication is

*          Density, the percentage of identifiable relationships of the number of relationships which could exist.  Low density has weaker connectivity and therefore less effective communication

*          Cohesion, density at the intra-group level, representing the percentage of relationships being utilised between employees of the same department

*          Collaboration, the density at the inter-group level, such as between two different departments

*          Fragmentation, representing how susceptible the network is to disruption: if fragmentation is low, the network is less susceptible if people leave or are moved elsewhere in the organisation

Linking into Social Capital is the Social Quotient, which has five facets:

*          Centrality,  a measure of how influential an individual is to the whole social network.

*          Outreach, a measure of how much an individual reaches out to establish connections and communicate.

*          Receptivity, which is an indicator of the extent to which other individuals reach out to connect with this individual.  This is a good indicator of level of respect

*          Linkage is a measure of the extent to which an individual wil be effective in connecting disconnected groups or individuals in the communications network.  Those scoring high on linkage know who holds information and know to access it, with skilfully ambitious people scoring highly in this area

*          Access, which measures the effectiveness of individuals in being able to communicate across the network.

There are numerous uses of ONA.  Among the most effective and practical for organisations are:

*          Change Management

*          Team Performance and Collaboration

*          Talent Identification and Management

*          Knowledge Management

*          Innovation

ONA can be used to provide a range of tangible and intangible benefits: it is perhaps what is traditionally viewed as intangible benefits where it can be the most effective, such as collaboration and communication, knowledge transfer, decision making and leadership.

Management can use it for a range of benefits from identifying and dissolving silos, to identifying those at most risk or burnout and in most need of support.

Additionally ONA can be used as a development tool, addressing collaboration, performance management and succession planning.

One of the main problems with ONA is that Senior managers will not take part in ONA interventions.  While they will take part and show interest in dashboards, a challenge for introducing ONA into organisations is that managers feel they can lose control of processes and it can undermine their position.  A key element of the process of tapping into the benefits of ONA is to ensure that managers have sufficient confidence to handle such an intrusive means of business improvement.

While organisations face challenges with skills and knowledge gaps, the greatest barrier to more effective working is silos.  This causes the biggest problem in most organisations and efforts to remove these will have far and away the biggest impact.  Combining ONA with initiatives such as “Intentional Networking” and creating “Break out Spaces” in the same building have been particularly effective.

The best software for ONA is the analysis package UCINET.    ONA is not compatible with SPSS as it is in matrix format.  Mentis has its very own active ONA tool which uses talent analytic dashboards to integrate with mainstream data.

In conclusion, ONA has been shown to be effective in identifying communication and collaboration gaps and working on needs for targeted training and collaboration work.

*          ONA is a great addition to any People Analytics strategy, contributing relationship analytics to existing attribute analytics.

*          ONA quantifies and visualises Social Capital and the Social Quotient

*          Focusing on ONA, Social Capital and the Social Quotient provides a number of tangible and intangible benefits, and predicts a variety of organisational outcomes. * ONA itself is not necessarily a solution – by integrating with existing data it helps create more effective solutions and additional impact and insight.


November 2018

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