It’s a well established fact the a key element to a successful digital transformation, or adaptation as we prefer to say, is corporate culture. Specifically, how it is addressed and managed through the process. In our experience, this usually starts with being handed an organizational chart. While these are valuable and necessary, org charts tell a hierarchical story boded on ideals and role definitions. They don’t help when it comes to corporate culture. So what does?

The best approach we’ve found is an ONA or Organizational Network Analysis. No, not the IT network, but rather the social networks that exist within all organizations. An ONA is a visual map of how an organization tends to actually be. You know, the person who knows the most about say, an ERP tool like SAP or Oracle, who isn’t an IT person but a power user that people go to instead of IT. Or perhaps someone in the organisation who’s been there a long time and has a lot of knowledge of different aspects on how the company works.

There are some tools out there that claim to provide an Ona with a nice visual map. Most use email or tools like Slack or Jira to create the visual map. They are quite helpful and work fairly well, but it’s often an attempt to scale something based on an IT infrastructure or email app, rather than human interaction.

The best way to build a more reliable and accurate ONA is through the ethnographic process, which is specifically designed to understand cultures and connections. ONA software that allows manual input is much better. As we conduct an ethnographic study at the start of a digital transformation (adaptation), we also build an ONA.

The benefits of an Organizational Network Analysis in a digital transformation

There are several key benefits that are realized through conducting an ONA for a digital adaptation. It is critical however, that they be done bottom-up versus top-down. Management always has a different idea of company culture and people than those on the frontline. The best results are talking with those on the frontlines first and working upwards from there.

  • HR gains new insights into how people are actually connecting in the organisation
  • Senior management will find insights into the culture they’d not seen before
  • Better insights are gained in understanding how frontline people actually use the technologies they are provided
  • The ONA better informs the subsequent digital strategy
  • Provides greater insight when assessing the technology stack
  • Can indicate potential roadblocks prior to developing and implementing a digital transformation
  • Informs the subsequent communications to a transformation project

There are additional benefits, but you get the idea. There are different approaches to conducting and completing an ONA, but the end results can be incredibly valuable. An ONA can then be used in HR planning, corporate strategy and re-aligning roles within an organisation. They can also identify weak spots and areas that need attention.

An ethnographic approach to understanding corporate culture at the start of a transformation/adaptation project is much more human centric and far better at gaining employee buy-in. Add an ONA and you’ve got a head start to a successful project.

You might also be interested in: Check out this article on the benefits of design thinking in a digital transformation.

What are your thoughts?

About the Author Giles W. Crouch

Giles Crouch is a digital anthropologist and CDO/CIO. He spent over 20 years in globally-focussed marketing communications for technology products and services, but his roots are anthropology in a modern sense. He uniquely ties his deep knowledge of technology, marketing, design thinking and design anthropology as a polymath to help clients seeking digital advantage in today’s complex world. Giles has been regularly interviewed by international news media on topics such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence and it’s impacts on society. He is a passionate practitioner of design thinking and anthropology. Giles is prolific writer and public speaker, lecturer and keynote. He has also completed over 250 netnographic research projects since 2009. His secondary activity is as Group Publisher with Human Media Inc.

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