August 10, 2020

Virtual Roundtable: How can ONA drive businesses forward into the ‘New Normal’?

Darshan Baskaran
Darshan Baskaran Consulting Manager

Business challenge:

Organisational Network Analytics
People Insights
Remote working



Virtual Roundtable Review

At TrueCue, we have a strong heritage in People Analytics. In fact, our team works as one with our sister-company orgvue – who are now pioneers in “fearless” organisation design and modelling.  

More importantly, we are a team of innovators constantly experimenting and creating new solutions. One such experiment we explored actively at the start of the year was Organisational Network Analysis (ONA)

Our in-house data scientists, Mark O’Shea and Mingyang Tham, worked in collaboration with Gareth O’Reily from orgvue to develop an internal proof of concept. The POC was based on capturing information about individual competencies and who individuals approach for support or advice in relation to these competencies. Several tangible benefits came out of this exercise: 

  • The ability to visualise the informal knowledge network 
  • Identify drivers of collaboration and knowledge risks 
  • Build a knowledge directory to help with sourcing information  
  • A personal network report as a career development tool to motivate personal and professional growth 

And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe causing severe disruption to our ways of working. While scrambling to adapt, we came to a realisation that ONA could be a powerful tool to help organisations tackle this disruption.

So, we took action, and accomplished three things: 

  • Packaged up our ONA experiment and methodology into a solution offering 
  • Wrote a whitepaper about ONA – with information about how to get started, from practical tips and examples to learnings from the field 
  • Hosted a virtual roundtable, on 7th July, with HR leaders to discuss “How can ONA drive businesses forward into the ‘New Normal’?” 

The virtual roundtable was a great opportunity to engage with seasoned HR and People Analytics professionals and discuss ONA, it’s benefits and how it can be deployed. 

Below, I summarise key themes from the virtual roundtable: 

Maintaining Social Capital 

Social capital is the contribution to an organisation’s success that can be attributed to personal relationships and networks, both within the organisation and outside of it. With Covid-19, companies have had to suddenly go remote. The challenge now is how do you maintain Social Capital or create new Social Capital? ONA could be a powerful tool addressing this critical challenge by helping to draw up a picture of the current Social Capital within the organisation. This would be in terms of how people connect and their organic relationships. 

An interesting thought representative of the discussion was – “If you are comfortable, your Social Capital is better”. The issue is that “there could be staff that never steps into an office and we have to ask – how do we make virtual and online interactions as normal as physical interactions?”. While it is hard to replicate organic meetings virtually, ONA can help to support this by providing a detailed network map or knowledge directory that can be leveraged by employees and new joiners to more easily navigate the organisation and make connections. This combined with tried and tested methods of remote working deployed by globally distributed organisations (that work without an office), such as Automattic and InVision, will help employees build their Social Capital in the “new normal”. 

Driving Cultural Shifts 

Another related topic that was discussed during the roundtable was around cultural shifts in the workplace. Two interesting perspectives were highlighted: 

  • Organisations are working to disrupt cultural norms that have developed over decades (if not centuries). For example, measuring performance – there is a desire to move away from exclusively measuring what is being produced to measuring how it’s being produced – i.e. how individuals are collaborating. 
  • Covid-19 is serving as a catalyst to imagine a workplace of the future. Working from home has become a temporary necessity – however, it’s likely that when normality returns, there will be a hybrid of working from home and in the office. But this raises several questions. How are teams going to work and collaborate? What is going to be the consequence for office politics? Does the office become a position of privilege for some teams and not others? Will this create cliques or sources of power where decisions are made or are people still engaging in the same way? How do these changes in working conditions affect the work being done? 

ONA helps quantify an organisation’s culture. A practitioner of ONA at the roundtable highlighted that “once people grasp the concepts of how networks and interactions work, they are amazed when they see under the covers of the sheet… It is eye opening from a talent management perspective to see how teams are and aren’t working effectively. ONA helps identify break downs and bottlenecks and shows how functional groups and people interact”. It was highlighted that this kind of analysis would become especially useful with multiple modalities of working (home working, office, travelling etc). 

Another important culture related theme that was briefly touched was ONA for quantifying diversity and inclusion and driving initiatives in the space. This topic deserves more attention than a brief mention here – so I strongly recommend reading the blog written by my colleague, Mark O’Shea, about the “Role of data in achieving Diversity, Equality & Inclusion in the workplace”

Popular vote: Main benefit of ONA and most important element for execution 

We had circa 40 HR and Talent professionals participate in the virtual roundtable. It was a good opportunity to run some polls – which is exactly what we did. The results are presented below: 

Over two-thirds of the participants felt that the main benefit of ONA was that it could help create collaboration and innovation. It’s consistent with the concept of “Adaptive Space” proposed by Michael Arena. The thinking is that successful entrepreneurial companies (such as Netflix) have free “trade zones” where ideas can be pulled out of entrepreneurial pockets and pushed into a state where they can generate new value (i.e. the ideas get operationalised). According to Michael, organisations need to be discovering ideas that require Brokers, developing ideas with Connectors, diffusing ideas with Energisers and disrupting the status quo with Challengers. Brokers, Connectors, Energisers and Challengers are network roles that can be both identified and developed using ONA. 

The last topic discussed at the roundtable was “executing ONA”. Almost half of the participants (45%) felt that stakeholder buy-in was the most critical or fundamental element. This was both in terms of buy-in from senior management as well employees. Senior management may resist ONA as it could be perceived as an intrusive or creeping form of management. Getting leadership buy-in is imperative as they need to convincingly communicate any ONA initiative and its benefits to the organisation. Employees may feel uneasy with ONA as it could be perceived as another instrument focussed on assessing or comparing individual performance, productivity and efficiency. What’s interesting is that deploying ONA in the public sector may require engaging with Trade Unions to ensure they are on-board with the initiative. 

Given that ONA would be a powerful tool to create collaboration and innovation, we’re confident it will become a valuable addition to an organisations People Analytics toolkit.  

I’d like to thank all the participants of the virtual roundtable for their participation – it was a truly engaging conversation.  

To learn about how to get started with ONA, download our whitepaper which showcases the insight ONA can generate. 

Business challenge:

Organisational Network Analytics
People Insights
Remote working


Darshan Baskaran
Written by Darshan Baskaran Consulting Manager

Data is in Darshan’s DNA – both literally and figuratively. Data story-telling is his passion. He obtained a DPhil. (Ph.D.) in “Molecular Cell Biology of Health and Disease” at the University of Oxford prior to joining Concentra's Analytical Consulting Team - now TrueCue Services. As Analytics Lead and Consulting Manager, he manages the delivery of analytics projects, develops analytics solutions and oversees the operational running of the Analytics Consulting Team. When on holiday, he can be found globetrotting, snowboarding, diving or taking a nap.

Case Study: Fighting COVID-19 with Data

Learn about how we’re helping the largest Sustainability and Transformation Partnership in the NHS, to use data analytics to improve their response to COVID-19 and save lives.

Download Case Study