The Power of Informal Networks behind the Orgchart – Part 2
Social network analysis – the management tool that helps you harness the power of social networks
In my previous post I wrote about the significance of managers understanding your own organisation’s informal network in order to make the right decisions.
But how can we draw the accurate map of the company’s social network?
Social network analysis is the method of collecting, visualising and analysing data about informal connections between employees of an organisation.
Managers can conduct a social network analysis by following these five steps.
- Determine the goal of the analysis. What do we want to find out?
Before any organisational diagnosis it is essential to identify the goal. After all you must have a reason why you are planning to invest your company’s time and money in a comprehensive network analysis. In all likelihood you have a business strategy to carry out, for which understanding informal networks is vital. Perhaps you are planning to step into a new market and you need your organisation to react more quickly to changes which brings the necessitates an impeccable flow of information. Perhaps you sense some internal conflicts in the organisation and you would like to look into it further.
Network analysis can focus on many different aspects of the company’s informal network. Several different approaches can be used. If your goal is clear, you can choose the best method and that in turn will provide you the most useful information about the social networks in your company.
- What is the source of data?
In order to identify informal connections between colleagues you need data. This can come from several different sources, but the most common ones are e-mail traffic analysis and the network-diagnostic questionnaire.
E-mail traffic analysis: All companies keep records of e-mail traffic between individuals, which show who exchanges e-mails whith whom, how often, how quick the reply is etc. By analysing this data (without having access to the actual content of the e-mails!) valuable information can be obtained about the internal communication patterns of the organisation. Even though e-mail traffic analysis can highlight some useful aspects of the social networks within the company, many managers are wary of using this approach for confidentiality reasons and they rather apply a questionaire to collect data about the social network.
Network-diagnostic questionnaire: By asking employees questions such as: „Which one of your colleagues would you turn to if you have a personal problem?” „Who do you usually turn to for professional advice?” network analysts can obtain all the necessary data for mapping the informal networks in the organisation. Using this method you can in fact draw several different types of informal networks depending on the type of the links between people. For example the network of ’friendship and trust’ highlights the personal connections between colleagues whereas the ’professional network’ represents who turns to whom when it comes to professional advice and problem solving. All of these different informal networks are releveant and each show a very different aspect of social connections within the company.
Let’s face it: a network-based diagnosis can be a scary prospect for employees if it is not communicated appropriately. Unlike in the case of other surveys employees have come across in the past (eg. employee engagement survey) this method in not anonymous. People might be worried about this aspect. They will want to know whether it is compulsory to fill in the questionnaire, how the data is going to be used, etc.
Therefore, even before starting the survey it is recommended to organise several open forums for the management and for the staff where everybody gets aquainted with the method. At these forums employees get an honest answer to all the questions they might have. In my experience the best way to decrease resistance is making people see how social network analysis would benefit the whole company.
Communication will be important throughout the process. As this method is relatively new to most employees – they tend to have many more questions and concerns compared to other surveys. Therefore the consultancy firm conducting the social network analysis for your company should provide a helpdesk service for employees and answer any questions promptly.
- Visualising and analysing the data
In my previous post I showed you Rob Cross’s case study to illustrate the richness of information management might gain by using social network analyis.
In reality a comprehensive social network survey can show much more than that. Management will be able to see several different types of networks: the networks of strong cooperation, the network of trust, the network of professional relationship, the network of information flow etc. These all show different aspects of the web of informal connections present in the organisation.
As well as seeing the webs of informal connections between colleagues and departments managers will also be curious about how their company compares to others. Questions such as ’Where are we compared to the optimum?’ ’Have we got too many informal connections? Or too few?’ will always come up. Benchmarks based on previous network analysis projects in other companies can help management to see in what aspects their own organisation’s social network is near the optimum and which aspects need improving.
- Sharing results and starting organisational development
What is the point of mapping out informal networks is you don’t use the results for the development of the organisation?
Therefore after the analysis, information has to be shared with a team of relevant stakeholders (eg. a team of managers and some key opinion leaders of the company). This ’change agent team’ will be able to interpret the results make decisions about necessary next steps and follow-up the changes.
Thus network information can be used to take the organisation to the next level.