What is ONA (Organizational Network Analysis)?

ONA is a structured charting method used to analyze how employees collaborate and contribute to their company. 

Individual influence levels are often hard to pinpoint within the traditional hierarchical business structure. Thus, ONA technology aims to identify and leverage the different types of influential employees and discover problem areas, so leaders can enhance the way people work together and share information.

Why should HR leaders care about ONA?

ONA helps HR leaders analyze employee networks—the work relationships that organically form between personnel. ONA adds another dimension to traditional workforce analysis methods, giving HR professionals a deeper look into the impact of collaboration on performance. 

HR uses an ONA network to evaluate employee connectivity, identify untapped talent, and enhance workforce planning and workflow. In turn, ONA can assist in:

  • Reducing attrition and increasing retention
  • Leveraging talent
  • Improving creativity and productivity
  • Identifying silos
  • Boosting business profit

Why is ONA becoming such an important area?

People analytics leader David Green says that organizational network analysis is the number one technique that people analytics leaders want to learn more about. Why? Because as organizational structures move away from hierarchies, ONA has the power to unlock what’s really happening within your organization.

Back to Leonardi and Contractor: “Decades of research convincingly show that the relationships employees have with one another—together with their individual attributes—can explain their workplace performance. The key is finding ‘structural signatures’ patterns in the data that correlate to some form of good (or bad) performance.” 

How to evaluate an organizational network analysis chart

Creating a diagram is one thing, but the interpretation of an ONA chart is key to deploying a relational analysis effectively. For example, if there are too many people getting all their information from one individual, it may be that that person isn’t collaborating well with others and seeks to be the center of attention.

Meanwhile, a member on the periphery could be an under-utilized resource who needs to be integrated more effectively into the team.

Here’s how you can get a gauge on the health of your organization: aim to create a healthy flow of information that doesn’t bottleneck at one player, and ensure that everyone’s talents are utilized effectively and are integrated into the team.

However, this will look different in every organization. There may be good reasons for some people to be working independently, as your organizational analysis may show, like individual contributors focusing on independent projects. 

Equally, an individual relaying more information than others may not be a sign of an attention-seeker, but rather a single source of truth conveying important data or insights. In cases like these, it’s important not to assume that things are broken just because there’s not an equal distribution of information.

What are the other practical uses of organizational network analysis?

Leonardi and Contractor hypothesized six signatures of relational analytics, and have concluded that it can be used to predict certain traits at employee, team, and organization levels. 

The six signatures are:

  1. Ideation: employees coming up with good ideas
  2. Influence: employees who are influential in changing others’ behavior
  3. Efficiency: teams most likely to complete projects on time
  4. Innovation: teams innovating most effectively
  5. Silos: how and where organizations are siloed
  6. Vulnerability: employees the organization can’t afford to lose

For more detail on each of these applications and how to identify these traits, you can read this fascinating Harvard Business Review article here.

When used effectively, ONA is a powerful tool that can help HR teams predict and get ahead of possible roadblocks and issues. 

For example, identifying which employees are valuable to the flow of information and ensuring that those people are engaged to ensure retention. Another application of this knowledge is to help broader human resource analytics and their HR leaders know how and where to direct culture transformation, engagement strategy, and soft skill development resources.

What can HR leaders do to implement ONA?

Here are some basic steps HR leaders can take to integrate an effective organization network analysis system:

  • Develop a strategy.  People analytics expert David Green outlines two approaches to ONA:
  1. Active ONA involves surveys and other types of self-reporting methods.
  2. Passive ONA uses technology that tracks employees through wearables, digital badges, email, instant messaging, and collaboration platforms. Green points out that combining both active and passive ONA methods can provide a more holistic perspective on what drives employee collaboration. 
  • Fuse ONA with the workforce management system. Combining ONA with a company’s workforce management system enables managers and HR leaders to design a work community that is socially and professionally conducive to productivity. For example, ONA can assist HR in building teams of employees who work synergistically, with greater efficiency and innovation. 
  • Collaborate with IT. Integrating ONA with already existing IT structures helps ensure the smooth functioning of the entire workforce planning system
  • Prioritize privacy. With an influx of technological innovations that can monitor body language, speech, written communication, and even breathing patterns, privacy is a big concern. HR leaders must consider the governing laws that protect employees’ private information. The EU’s GDPR (General Data Privacy Regulation) or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce data privacy laws offer valuable information regarding employee privacy policies. 
  • Take the best of both organizational systems. Using both the traditional hierarchical system of a company and ONA’s technological people analytics methodology, companies can gain deeper insights into optimizing their workforce. While the familiar, established hierarchical system does reveal employees’ basic professional skills, ONA highlights their hidden talent, using behavioral data and metadata to create a more productive, creative workplace. 

How can ONA improve company culture?

ONA helps businesses maintain a balanced workflow– assisting companies in incorporating peripheral employees, connecting separately functioning teams, reapportioning workloads, and leveraging influential employees. 

Ultimately, effective ONA can promote a more cohesive, innovative work culture by supporting more impactful workplace relationships. 

How can HR tech help with ONA?

Integrating HR tech is instrumental in supporting and optimizing the implementation of ONA. By utilizing cutting-edge software and tools, HR professionals can efficiently gather, analyze, and present data—leading to actionable insights that foster better collaboration and engagement from your team. 

Here are a few key ways in which HR tech can help with ONA: 

  • Advanced analytics. Modern HR tools can leverage machine learning and AI algorithms to uncover certain patterns and trends within analytical data. This allows HR leaders to gain a deeper insight into the underlying dynamics of their organization and their team. It also allows them to make data-driven decisions that can help boost collaboration and productivity. 
  • Data collection and integration. HR tech platforms allow you to gather data from a number of different sources such as emails, surveys, and social networks. This data can be combined with your existing workforce management systems to offer a comprehensive perspective on your team members’ interactions and communication patterns. 
  • Automation and efficiency. HR technology can help to simplify the ONA process by automating data collection, analysis, and visualization tasks. This gives HR leaders the freedom to concentrate on strategic decision-making based on ONA findings.