Apr 27 2021

Uncovering Hidden Dynamics by Leveraging Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)

“ONA Tools, Market, Use cases and Case studies to help leaders uncover the hidden dynamics that drive performance by diving deep into the social capital of their organisation. ”

by  Swechha Mohapatra, Principal Consultant-Digital HR, hrtech.sg

The crisis has hit the reset button. As organisations embrace the NEW way of work, they have been doubling down on their efforts to engage employees, support them to be more productive & enhancing the communication and collaboration with the teams and organisation itself.

To address and enable this they are asking questions like - How does the information and communication follow in the organisation? How are teams and individuals collaborating with each other? Is there a way we can identify the most influential employees or teams in the organisations & quantify their comparative impact? Who has most been affected due to the pandemic? Are there signs of burnout? Are some employees at a higher risk of exit? Can we identify how employees can be more productive or support them to perform better?

Answers to these questions generate particularly valuable insights that can help organizations streamline their business models as well as drive org-wide digital & culture transformations. As organisations and leaders turn to a more data-driven approach of finding answers to these questions, they realise that talent issues lie beyond an individual's behaviour, skills and capabilities.

Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) helps leaders uncover the hidden dynamics that drive performance by diving deep into the social capital of their organisation.

An Insight 222 research found that Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) was the analytical technique that people analytics leaders most wanted to learn more about. Although ONA is regarded as one of late buzzwords, it can be traced way back at least in the 80’s. In 1985, George Barnett and colleagues, wrote an article that addresses Organizational Network Analysis (ONA)at different levels of organizational hierarchies.



ONA is a branch of People analytics that ‘in-a-nutshell’ helps to understand who communicates with whom in an organisation.

According to Deloitte “Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a structured way to visualize how communications, information, and decisions flow through an organization. Organizational networks consist of nodes and ties, the foundation for understanding how information in your organization is flowing, can flow, and should flow.”


In the article What is ONA renowned subject matter expert Professor Rob Cross explains “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”. Organizational network analysis (ONA) measures and graphs patterns of collaboration by examining the strength, frequency and nature of interactions between people in networks. ONA provides detailed information about hidden factors for success, such as flow of information, decision-making, revenue producing collaborations, innovation, inclusion—even trust, purpose and energy.


Some key concepts to understand in Network Analytics (Fig. 1) are explained in this table below by Mercer:

Fig. 1: Key Concepts of Network Analytics. Source Mercer


Another detailed article by Deloitte gives insights on the core elements of ONA (Fig. 2 - Nodes and Ties). Visualizing the relationships between nodes and ties makes it much easier to identify critical connections and potential barriers to information flow and collaboration. 

Fig. 2: Core elements of ONA. Source: Deloitte



The effectiveness of ONA relies on the data available that helps in depicting the relationship between employees and teams within the organisation. Organizational Network Analysis is traditionally divided into two types - Active ONA & Passive ONA (Fig. 3)

Active ONA uses direct input from employees in the organization themselves who answer a series of questions about their relationships with other employees. Here data is collected explicitly by surveying employees/people whose collaboration habits are important for understanding the relationships that they have with other individuals within (or outside) the organisation.

Passive ONA on the other hand uses data that already exists within the enterprise- such as email logs, chat logs or in some cases even understanding who's collaborating on certain documents.

Fig. 3: Active vs. Passive ONA - data sources and key characteristics. Source: David Green


Since both Active and Passive ONA data collection methods have some key differences and challenges(like the amount of time spent, dependencies on individuals to share data, and privacy of information etc. ) people analytics Leader, David Green suggests that “Combining Active and Passive ONA is the way forward. Using survey based Active ONA alone may produce great insights and results, but it can take significant investment in time and resources, is ‘point-in-time’ and at risk to low response rates. Adding Passive ONA to the mix adds scale, continuous and real-time capability. When combined, the two sets of data provide a revolutionary 360-degree view both to understand how people feel AND what they do.”


ONA TOOLS- People Analytics and ONA Market Landscape

In 2018, David Green categorised the vendors (Fig 4) driving innovation in the ONA space.

Fig. 4: ONA vendors in 2018. Source:  David Green

In the recently published HRTech Market 2021 report, Josh Bersin called out People Analytics and ONA as one of the key trends. Some key vendors in the People Analytics space listed in the report are (Fig. 5)

Fig. 5: HRTech Market 2021, People Analytics Vendors. Source: Josh Bersin


The People Analytics space and specifically the ONA space has grown many fold, evolved and matured. The latest People Analytics Technology: Landscape Tool by Redthread Research helps  PA leaders looking to invest in technology in 2021. The PAT research study by Redthread research (Fig.6 ) focuses on 3 areas of market changes, vendor capabilities, and the considerations for making (or expanding) PAT investments.

Fig. 6: People Analytics Tech Market Solution Matrix | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

The key findings of People Analytics Tool study 2020 included that majority of the people analytics tech solutions available in the market reported employee engagement, experience, D&I as their primary focus to address the customer needs in 2020; With over 121 PA technology solutions - the PA technology market, estimated at $2 billion, grew by over 35% between 2019 and 2020 alone; People analytics practitioners and HR teams are the key users today and a majority of vendors anticipate that HRBPs and people managers will be using their solutions more frequently in the next 3 years; and PA solutions capabilities include new-age tech use of advanced NLP, deep machine learning, and the use of new, unstructured data. Access the full study and tool here.



ONA tools and their applications are becoming increasingly innovative as the People Analytics space matures and as organisations turn to more data driven methods of solving challenges and gather insights into their work, workforce and workplace.

We list 10 ways Enterprise HR Teams can use ONA tools below:

1. Enhance communication and collaboration

To analyse digital interactions across various enterprise communication & collaboration systems on a real-time basis (using metadata). ONA Tools, like Trustsphere, help in assessing the levels of individual collaboration by analysing the relationships that individuals build within their team and the wider organization by giving insights via a visual representation on how effectively they are collaborating with each member of their network. By continually evaluating the collaboration levels at role, team, department or across geographies can enable organisations to identify inter and intra team where there is greater collaboration or where silos exist.

Case study by Innovisor shows how an Intergovernmental organisation used ONA tools (Fig. 7)  to assess collaboration levels with external stakeholders and identify how the organization could benefit from more coordination between entities.


Fig. 7: Case Study- Intergovernmental organisation used ONA tools to assess collaboration levels. Source: Innovisor

2. Discover the strengths & weaknesses of Individuals & Teams &  identify HiPOs

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), like Cognitive Talent Solutions, can enhance the identification of high potential employees (HiPOs) by considering social capital metrics when assessing potential candidates. The goal is to ensure that successful candidates are simultaneously 1) high performers identified by their immediate supervisors and HR vetting process, and 2) informal leaders identified by their peers.

3. Measure the impact of leadership development programs

Passive ONA tools can extract, process and analyse a wealth of previously invisible social capital data. These insights are presented in actionable reports that helps participants to take appropriate action enabling them to improve their own work and leadership. Tools like Trustsphere can capture key data points to share insights such as Leaders with larger networks of strong relationships, teams where manager communications are higher with direct reports that lead to increased team communication & collaboration (Fig. 8), employees with strong external relationships that reduce organisation silos and even larger volumes of emails outside working hours that can contribute to burnout.

Fig. 8: How managers communicate with their teams. Source: Trustsphere

Case Study: Trustsphere helped an FMCG client to measure the impact of a leadership development program. By gathering inputs and asking relevant questions like - What networks do our top leaders build? Are their behaviors changing? How does their leadership impact the people they lead? etc. they were able to see significant improvements like:

  • 115% change in leaders’ own networks
  • 38% increase in the number of working relationships with different business units
  • 114% increase in the number of strong relationships
  • 148% increase in strong relationships with employees at lower levels of the organizational hierarchy
  • 40% improvement in their team’s levels of collaboration

4. Help in Organisation & Workplace design initiatives

By measuring team integration and collaboration, ONA tools can visualize the human capital aspects by identifying mediators & influencers that can be allocated projects or form Teams. By understanding how teammates are interacting, executives can ensure that critical teams are placed near each other to optimize productivity and office design decisions. Communication data can be used to measure the impact of an office redesign or expansion.

5. Bridge Gaps by detecting problems & patterns of misalignments

Network analysis can also determine where collaboration is misaligned with strategic goals and formal structure. Too often, well-intended collaboration efforts are counter-productive, sliding key employees into overload and leaving the most critical points of connection and collaboration understaffed or under-resourced. ONA can help organisations propel organisations agility and uncover insights that help in aligning to business goals. In this

6. Identify best-fit resources for M&A transitions & interactions.

Due to the high level of uncertainty, any delays in M&A transitions are likely to increase integration costs and impact the timeline. In this context, companies undergoing M&A activities can leverage the capabilities of organizational network analysis (ONA) to accelerate and inform decision-making, reduce uncertainty and maximize the success of their deals. 5 Ways ONA Creates Value in Mergers and Acquisitions include - 1) enhance due diligence during the pre-deal stage, 2) reducing top talent attrition, 3) preventing cultural clashes, 4) accelerating realization of IT synergies and 5) monitoring integration effectiveness (Fig. 9).


Fig. 9: Monitoring collaboration between legacy organizations. Source: Cognitive Talent Solutions

6. Promote rapid innovation

Rapid innovation requires people, ideas, information and resources to flow across the organization. Prof Rob Cross shares that ONA Tools can be used to Identify pockets of opportunity, Drive innovation through hidden networks and Engage others in ways that prompt risk-taking, co-creation and ownership. 

7. Track organisation and employee Performance Management by identifying key indicators

One of the potential benefits of relational analytics is that when combined with traditional sources of people and business productivity data it can nudge organisations to get started with integrating these insights into how they think about your workforce. It is becoming increasingly clear that integrating relational network data with traditional sources of HR, productivity and commercial data, or people-enhanced data, is the missing link to solving a universally accepted problem preventing companies from bridging the people data gap.  By identifying and tracking key indicators, relational analytics tools, like Panalyt, can help organisations drive customer centric agile transformations (Fig. 10), drive sales and operational efficiencies, accelerate change initiatives and accelerate post-merger integration amongst others.


Fig.10: Source: Panalyt 

9. Support Diversity & Inclusion initiatives by detecting unconscious bias from interaction behaviours.

Organisations can adopt a data driven approach by using People Analytics and more specifically ONA to identify ways to counteract bias and promote diversity. While traditional D&I metrics have been effective in the level of DEI initiatives, they fail to measure the impact. Using passive ONA tools allows organisations to measure gender differences in networking behaviour(Fig. 11) , measure inclusion of diverse groups, identify hidden stars and detect unconscious bias.


Fig. 11 :  Gender differences in Networking Behaviour . Source: Trustsphere.

10. Provides insights into change initiatives like the ongoing process of a Culture or Digital Transformation

By identifying key influencers and the flow of information in an organisation, culture change initiative can yield better results. ONA Tools like OrgMapper can pinpoint highly connected employees or influencers in the network. These influencers can be trained to work on a peer-to-peer basis in spreading the desired culture across the organisation.

Case study of an Irish Health care provider reveals the value and impact of engaging peer nominated colleagues

Fig. 12: Irish Healthcare Provider Case study. Source: OrgMapper




Professor Rob Cross lists 5 steps for Conducting an Organizational Network Analysis

  1. Identify a strategically important group.
  2. Assess meaningful and actionable relationships.
  3. Visually and quantitatively analyze results.
  4. Create meaningful feedback sessions.
  5. Assess progress and effectiveness

Also, organisations or HR Teams should consider four key aspects before getting started

  1. Get a clear objective or hypothesis you would like to test or collect data on.
  2. Define the relationship and metrics, derive the data you need.
  3. Consider legal and ethical implications
  4. Communicate with your subjects early and often.





How work gets done inside an organization can be a mystery even in the best of times. When we add in the events of the year gone by to the mix -like the rapid move to remote work and virtual collaboration it only adds to the complexities.

ONA tools can help lift the curtain by helping Organisations and HR teams to understand and quantify certain areas- like TRUST, RELATIONSHIPS, COLLABORATION etc - which have traditionally been difficult to measure.

These tools also help uncover potential gaps in performance, boost productivity, promote innovation, improve communication & collaboration, identify influencers, support D&I initiatives and even contribute to employee wellbeing by detecting burn out.

To be successful and reap maximum benefits, like any other HR Tech tool implementation, when building out an ONA plan, it is important to “start with the WHY” or the hypothesis you are setting out to find more about. It is also important to think about how data can be leveraged to make data driven decisions for organisation-wide impact- for the people and the organisation as a whole.



At hrtech.sg we identified ONA as a key trending HRTech tool for 2021. Some other ONA related resources from hrtech.sg include:

  • ONA Demo Hour (April 2021): ONA solution providers Cognitive Talent Solutions, OrgMapper and Panalyt in this on-demand Demo Hour where they share cutting edge solutions and discuss how their tools can address the ever changing demands of HR teams.

  • ONA Infographic which gives a quick snapshot of ONA and the ways Enterprise HR Teams can leverage ONA tools.


Swechha Mohapatra (IHRP-CP, Associate CIPD) is a Principal Consultant – Digital HR at hrtech.sg and has over 7 years of global experience in various Talent functions. She is a passionate HRTech evangelist, a member of IHRP HRTech CoP Taskforce, and an avid learner who is certified Six Sigma-Green Belt with a background of MBA (Specialization in HR and IT) and Master’s in Labor Laws and Labor Welfare. 


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