Download (PDF) Managers don’t need pictures of hierarchy; they need visualizations of the wide-ranging connections that make up companies’ learning systems. Rather than charts showing who reports to whom, they need charts to show who knows what and whom, and who works most often with whom. That’s the purpose of organizational-network analysis (ONA), the application of social-network theory to organizations. ONA paints a much more accurate picture of how
a company actually works, shares knowledge, and completes processes. By collecting and analyzing quantitative information, ONA can reveal how much informal networks differ from the official reporting charts. A person thought to be a key player may actually be surprisingly isolated, while anonymous workers may be shown to hold powerful influence. The technique maps knowledge networks that uncover interactions within and across the boundaries of the organization. The roots of social-network analysis go back some five decades, but only in the past five years or so have automated data-collection tools and techniques emerged to make ONA a viable and increasingly common approach to redefining and improving corporate culture. ONA is now in transition from exotic scientific theory to solid management practice, with some 200 companies and public-sector entities using the method. IBM, Merrill Lynch, the Ohio Department of Education, Rubbermaid, and Steelcase are among those that have used ONA to better understand their organizations and to make them more adaptive.