ON HOW TO MAP OUT IDEATION ACTIVITY WITHIN THE FIRM…
“Innovation always is about individuals and their formal and informal relationships”
Companies that want to sail a different wind, typically have an improvement in mind. And whether this improvement is now a bare necessity – things do not go well, things must change – or rather originates from an ambition to innovate, in both cases, it comes down to rendering ideas to make things work for the better. Only if you know where and whom those ideas within the organization originate from and how they spread, management can actually redeem their potential. An analysis of the organizational network can help to show if ‘something’ or ‘nothing’ happens to unearth new insights to the benefit of the company, and also when it comes to getting these ideas dispersed in and adapted by the company.
Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a systematic approach and set of techniques for studying the connections and resource flows between people, teams, departments and even whole organizations. The underlying idea is that employees and their interactions can be seen as nodes and links that allow for both visual and mathematical illustration. Organizations can be approached as a set of communication networks as much as they are a bundle of resources or contracts, and people in a firm exchange information and knowledge of many different kinds with each other. Some of it may be irrelevant to the firm’s performance, but even so communication can help people form closer connections which can help them get their job done.
Through organizational network analytics, managers can gain a bird’s-eye view of existing network structures and communication patterns, which are often in stark contrast to what they believe them to be or how they would like them to function. Who are connected to each other? How often do they interact? About what?
“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us
to notice what we never expected to see.”
– John Tukey, 1977
In management settings, organizational network analysis has been effective at providing leaders with insights to help diagnose and solve the problems that often hamper important collective-process outcomes such as organizational structure, decision making, performance and innovation.
The degree to which organizations are able to reap the benefits of the social capital represented by the networks, depends to a large extent to the degree to which resources can be accessed and mobilized through them. While the potential of leveraging an organization’s networks to render innovative activity can be substantial, the barriers faced within the organization to do so can be equally large. Organizational boundaries, such as organizational divides between different functional or operational domains, business units, are hurdles for the free flow of knowledge inside the organization. Management can and must understand the connections present in a firm before it starts any form of intervention to boost innovative activity within or across a business unit, for instance. Actual innovation contacts can be more difficult to find. The formal contacts are most visible, and the informal ones can be relatively easily uncovered. The latter two also help management find and nourish the innovation sweet spot. Insights in individual differences, and the rationale behind these differences are a first step in assessing the ideation climate of an organization.
Connections among people and the overall network configuration should be what a manager who minds a company’s long-run success keeps in view. Organization network analysis can be of help to identify idea connectors, for instance: those individuals that are core to getting others together around a new idea, establishing a buzz around new ideas and to attracting genuine managerial attention. The underlying analytics can help to assess if there are parts of the internal network to which their ties do not extend, for instance. Knowing of such omissions, management as well as employees themselves, can take the necessary steps to remedy them.
Ongoing ideation is a necessity. So are the analytics to take pulse of its presence.