The role of People Analytics and ONA in Enterprise Collaboration

In my article ‘ The role of Organisational Network Analysis in People Analytics ‘, I described that the way companies function is shifting from the dominant 20th century architype of bureaucracy towards an agile enterprise model founded upon teams and networks of teams.

Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) provides a fresh lens on relationships and behaviours both within and between teams, and how work really gets done in a business. The fact ONA is one of the fastest growing and most fascinating areas of people analytics is not surprising. It enables social capital to become visible and offers people analytics teams a supplementary and powerful data set to really understand productivity and performance within their companies.

In the third part of my series of interviews with Arun Sundar, Chief Strategy Officer of TrustSphere and Founder, The Social Capital Institute, we analyse how “Social Capital” can be leveraged to enhance collaboration within organisations and consequently drive improvements in business performance and team cohesion as well as a better employee experience.

As with Part 1 and Part 2 of the series, our article provides a specific lens on Asia-Pacific and includes contributions from senior HR leaders who live and work in the region, namely:

  • Puneet Swani, Partner, Talent & Rewards Business Leader, International Region, Mercer

  • Joydeep Bose, President & Global Head of Human Resources, Olam International

  • Nicole Scoble-Williams, Director, Future of Work CoE, Deloitte

  • Tina Sharma, Senior Vice-President & Head of Human Resources, State Bank of India

1. Arun, the topic of “Enterprise Collaboration” is an area of growing interest. In our previous interviews you emphasised the value of Social Capital as a lens to understanding organisations. How can that be used in the space of Collaboration?

In an organisation work gets done by ‘Social Capital’ and not ‘Human Capital’.

‘Enterprise collaboration’ as a concept itself stems from an implicit understanding of the premise that the value of human capital is in the collective and not the individual. In simple terms this collective power of human capital is what is termed as ‘Social Capital’. The basic ingredients of Social Capital are relationships and networks that individuals forge with each other in an organisation, which is a by-product of collaboration. In-short measuring social capital is best possible proxy to understand the ‘real collaboration’ that happens in an organisation.

Understanding this is more relevant in today’s business climate because workplaces are increasingly changing from rigid reporting hierarchies to more fluid networks of informal or transitory teams that cut across functions, hierarchies, and business units. One of the biggest HR challenges is to understand how the business actually works and get a clear picture of what collaboration looks like within the organisation.

Figure 2 below illustrates this point:

2. How can organisations leverage “Social Capital” thinking to enhance collaboration within their businesses?

What gets measured, drives behaviours! As organisations appreciate that the measure of the true value of an employee and team needs to be extended beyond the quantifiable human capital vectors (like skills, experience, qualifications etc) to include measuring their ‘social capital’ contributions, the dynamics of the workplace starts to change positively.

The traditional HR thinking, despite acknowledging the value of Social Capital, never bothered to measure it and make it part of established HR processes. Partly, this was due to the inability of organisations to measure this intangible vector. However, the technological advances in People Analytics can now definitely help organisations leverage Social Capital thinking to enhance collaboration.

The basic components of Social Capital in an organisation are the networks and relationships at three levels, these are: micro, meso and macro social capital, this translates to the social capital of an individual, team & organisation.

To be successful, whether you are an entrepreneur, a CEO, a middle level manager or a graduate hire, the importance of building a rich social capital cannot be over emphasised. When we observe high performers in today’s world we see key behavioural characteristics at play such as proactive and deliberate socialising, influencing and being supportive. At an organisation level too, social capital has become equally important as the other two capitals – economic and environmental. In talent development, given the advent of social media and other platforms of communication, our key challenge continues to be the identification, measurement and development of social capital. We clearly have to leverage the digital world to help us on this journey”

Joydeep Bose, President & Global Head, Human Resources at Olam International

3. Where does Asia stand with regards to the thinking and practice of Social Capital?

Asia traditionally believes that human capital is a subset of social capital. In our previous article, I described the difference in Eastern and Western cultures and how this impacts the way leadership and talent is perceived. Both the people and the systems are vastly different in the East and the West. In the East, ‘the individual is a subset of the system’ whereas in the West ‘a system is a collection of individuals’. This difference, though subtle, is very profound. In the West, the primary focus is on ‘individual empowerment and human capital optimisation’ while the East leans towards ‘group harmony, optimisation of the system and social capital expansion’, which in turn trickles down to the individual. Hence, people management in Asia requires achieving an optimal balance between Social Capital as a super set and Human Capital as a subset.

“People analytics, is not completely new but many large businesses in Asia are still unfamiliar with the way to use it as an effective management tool to understand and enhance collaboration. However, analytics can have a quick and measurable impact. In Asia there is a strong need to upskill HR in data literacy, and in creating an analytical mindset that shifts HR from its traditional, model-based footing to one that is data-driven and evidentiary. While the market is still maturing, an understanding and appreciation of the concept of social capital and its role to drive enterprise collaboration will provide direction and contribute towards the future ready organisation”.

Tina Sharma, Senior Vice President & Head, Human Resource at State Bank of India, Singapore

4. How can People Analytics be leveraged in this context; can you give examples of organisations and leaders who have done this.

The value of People Analytics technologies comes from its ability to shed light on erstwhile invisible drivers and deterrents in talent management. The role of People Analytics in the context of social capital is not different. There are a growing number of examples, of which a personal favourite was the one where TrustSphere was engaged by a global management consultancy to use our ONA technology to measure the impact of a leadership development program for the Asian business of a global Fortune 50 FMCG organisation. By extracting and processing the meta-data from corporate communications systems such as email, TrustSphere used passive ONA to map and analyse the networking activity of 18 managers and their 200 direct reports. These insights were used to baseline their leadership behaviour at the start of the programme.

As the programme progressed, TrustSphere measured changes in the network of the participants of the leadership development program periodically, which saw some dramatic changes in their behaviour including:

  • 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 organisational hierarchy

  • 40% improvement in their team’s levels of collaboration

This demonstrates how ONA and people analytics technologies can be extremely powerful in helping to understand, leverage and promote Social Capital

“One of the key challenges often reported by HR leaders in Asia is the lack of integration among their workforce data sources. The data that provides insights into some of the most interesting talent questions like: Who do peers and leaders trust? Who do people go to for critical information? Who is known for developing others? How do demographics influence the collaboration dynamic? – is not available in the HRIS systems. Instead, companies are gathering real-time insights to answer these questions from sources like business intelligence tools and cloud-based collaboration apps. They are also analysing their social networks, along with activity data using passive technologies that are now becoming more easily available to gain insight into the value of informal structures, sentiments across the firm, and what levers might most improve productivity”

Puneet Swani Partner, Talent & Rewards Business Leader, International Region at Mercer

5. Do you have any specific advice for HR leaders looking at enhancing collaboration (in the context of Asia)?

To re-emphasise, the power of people analytics is in shedding light on the invisible drivers and deterrents of talent. However, the relevance of these insights also requires a cultural context. To be precise there is no one size fits all. The assumption that a lack of collaboration is bad and a high level of collaboration is good is not true for all. As I explained in our previous article on People Analytics in Leadership, Asia is different to the West in its perception of leadership styles and collaboration mindsets.

In the article, I described power distance (which as you know is the opposite of collaboration) and how it is viewed differently in the East and the West. For example, in cultures like Japan, power distance is an essential lever to how work gets done, while in libertarian western cultures power distance is a hindrance to get work done.

So, the key bit of advice is when looking at how to enhance collaboration be aware of the cultural context and how this differs not only between regions, but also countries within regions.

“The leaders of today must be inclusive orchestrators of a hyperconnected and collaborative ecosystem in order to unlock the unprecedented opportunities that the future of work presents. At the heart of this orchestration must be an understanding of the cultural levers at play that determine the nature and extent of connectivity and collaboration that is required to activate and energise collective action across the ecosystem. The Asia Pacific Region is represented by an extraordinarily rich and diverse set of cultures which presents leaders with exciting possibilities if they can master the art of orchestrating this connectivity and collaboration through a respectful and harmonious understanding of the societal and economic context impacting the operation of those cultural levers”

Nicole Scoble-Williams, Director of Deloitte’s Centre of Excellence for Future of Work

Final Thoughts

In a recent article, Michael Arena (Chief Talent Officer at General Motors, and author of Adaptive Space who also serves as an Evangelist with The Social Capital Institute) wrote that a better understanding of social capital will enable HR to unleash hidden potential within their organisations. Companies are only just beginning to understand the critical role social capital plays in enterprise collaboration. The burgeoning space of ONA is helping a growing number of firms to gain insights into their social capital that is helping them to enhance productivity, improve performance, increase innovation and drive collaboration and inclusiveness. As the contributions from Arun, Tina, Puneet and Joydeep demonstrate, Asia is at the forefront of this thinking and given the continued growth within the region, is set to benefit significantly in the years to come.

Thank You

Thanks once again to Arun for his reflections, as well as Tina, Puneet, Nicole and Joydeep for sharing their knowledge and observations in this article. Also, a special thank you to Dipti Gulati for supporting Arun and me with research, insights and project management.

Read the other articles in the series

Part 1: People Analytics in Asia Pacific: Why is it different?

Part 2: Leadership and People Analytics – How is it different in the East?

Arun Sundar builds and drives the strategic road map, and business ecosystem for TrustSphere across the globe. He also leads initiatives for enhancing visibility of the technology with industry visionaries, customers, partners, academics and futurists worldwide. Arun is a regular speaker and opinion leader in the Asia Pacific technology space. He has built, led and advised many technology businesses both in the region and world-wide. In his personal capacity, Arun is an eminent champion of and commentator on the trending subjects of People Analytics and Machine Learning. He also serves as the Founding Chairman of The Social Capital Institute, Chairman of Asia Analytics Alliance, a Board Member with Asia Cloud Computing Association, an executive committee member of Singapore IT Federation, a Charter Member of TiE (Singapore Chapter) and an advisor to multiple technology ventures and Governments including the Government of Kerala, India. Connect with Arun on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

David Green is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222 and taking up a board advisor role at TrustSphere, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys. You can follow David on LinkedIn and Twitter and also subscribe to The Digital HR Leader weekly newsletter.


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