How can we get rid of ONA on next year’s HR trends list?

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We are one month into the new year and as a reader of AIHR I am sure you have stumbled on many lists showcasing what the latest HR trends are. These lists consist of themes that come and go – from year to year. Nothing strange about this, because while the world is changing, HR changes with it.

There was, however, one HR trend in many of the 2019 HR trend lists, that didn’t fit this reasoning. It was the focus on organizational networks. The talk around organizational networks has been a part of HR and its trend lists for many years.

Organizational Networks is the talk of the town

In the article 9 emerging HR trends for 2015, Tom Haak from the HR Trend Institute already outlined that fewer people could be captured in the traditional org chart and that there were “weak signals” that the org chart was fading away.

These weak signals were turned into strong signals after the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends by Deloitte was released. This report showed that 94% of all surveyed companies mentioned that agility and collaboration were critical to their organization’s success and that 32% would be focusing on “designing their organization to be more adaptable and team-centric”

Organizational networks were the talk of the town and Josh Bersin – the co-author of the Global Human Capital Trends – highlighted in the article HR Technology in 2018: Ten Disruptions Ahead that organizational network analysis would be a promising method to help companies to design these new organizational structures based on the insights from the networks.

Josh Bersin did not leave it with that. One year later, in the article 5 HR Predictions for 2019, he was asked to share a new shortlist of HR trends. Surprisingly, he again argued that “HR must focus on team-based work and organizational networks”.

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That’s why I was asking myself: how come we haven’t gotten to the point that organizational networks are mainstream? Also because the information shared around the need to understand organizational networks goes beyond the yearly trend lists. Even thought-leaders and practitioners try to help HR in making it mainstream and a part of every company.

Take for example David Green – a well-known speaker and writer in the field of HR analytics. In 2018 he published an article about the role of organizational network analysis in people analytics. In this article, he moves away from informing why companies should understand their organizational networks, to informing how companies can do this. The focus was to point HR to vendors classified by what type of data they use to understand organizational networks.

This brings me back to why it was unexpected that even Josh Bersin called out organizational networks as a 2019 HR trends – once again. Has HR not been informed enough? Or, on the contrary, has HR been overwhelmed with all that has been written about this topic? No matter what the answers are to these questions, there is a more central question:

How can we get rid of organizational network analysis on next year’s HR trend list?

Or in other words: how can companies become successful in enabling their workforce with insights into the organizational networks in 2019? These are the three key questions you need to ask yourself (so that the 2020 HR trend list will be about something new):

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1. Why do you want to know the organizational networks?

It is crucial to understand what insights you want to gain from understanding your organizational networks. You need to know what you are expecting to achieve. Only when you have a clear understanding of the purpose, you can decide what data you need in order to get to the right organizational insights.

2. What types of data do you need to make actionable recommendations?

Organizational networks can be analyzed through many different types of data. Some data bring, however, more context to the relationships in the network than others. And with more context, you can get better actions.

Will you only rely on your organizational networks from data that you can track from the IT system such as email or enterprise social network and observe the relationships in the network without intervening and thereby risking the influence of personal biases of the observer? Or will you rely on the input from people through surveys and ask them about for what and why they are connected? Or do you want to combine the two? And what about benchmark data?

If you start this data-driven approach of looking into your organizational networks, how does then your organizational networks compare with other similar size networks in the same industries? Is it normal or are you off par and radical changes are needed?

Let me share a case to explain why the type of data is key to the success of your insights into your organizational networks.

A global leadership team of 150 leaders conducted an analysis of its organizational network. Rather than to do this based on relationship data from email, they shared a survey with five questions to all leaders. Each leader was asked questions such as who they collaborated with and who they would go to, to make sense of decisions. So, five questions about five different purposes. Data showed that only 4% were connected in all of these five types of networks.

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3. What types of analytical approaches do you need to get to the right actions?

Organizational networks are more than only connections between people. It is also about knowing the sentiments and feelings of the people inside the networks. Understanding your organizational networks will then not only help to identify the right people; it will also help to engage the right people in the right actions.

For example, if the smallest group of employees who can reach the largest share of the organization is positive, you obviously need to do other things than when this similar group is negative.

Dealing with these data that go beyond the relationships itself and move into sentiments and feeling require different analytical capabilities as well as a secure way to handle personal data. As an example, being on the edge of a network does not mean you are not bringing value to the company. On the contrary, such a person could have been on a client assignment for the past 12 months. So, would you want to use internal resources to get organizational network insights? Or do you want to use an external party to bring you the right organizational insight into your networks?

Instead of talking about the importance of ONA, we need to start talking about how we can add value with ONA. In this article, I’ve proposed a 3-step model. This model is a tested and integrative part in the conversations I have with companies who want to run an organizational network analysis. And when the company makes the decision based on these steps, it has always resulted in accurate and actionable workforce insights:

  • Accurate, because the company combined the right data representative to the whole company
  • Actionable, because it is clear for what they want to use the insights – which is also a GDPR requirement to get consent on before you can process personal data

So, get it right with organizational networks by carefully considering these three questions. And who knows, the 2020 HR trend list may look different next year!

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