How we do what we do: Introduction to Social Network Analysis (SNA)

How we do what we do: Introduction to Social Network Analysis (SNA)

Talent Sphere Mapping and Human Domain Mapping are both based on the developing and growing field of Social Network Analysis. In our quest to assist and advise our clients we are always looking for opportunities to help explain the science. For newcomers to the field it is important to understand that the large majority of social sciences and their applications, including human resource management, carry within them an inherent assumption that actors, or members, of any organizational or social system behave without being affected by other actors or members of the same system. This means that the dominant social sciences of the day concentrate heavily on analyzing the attributes of a member of a social system without regard to that member’s relationship to other members in the same system. We feel that this doesn’t describe the whole picture.

Network analysis, also known as social network analysis and organizational network analysis, focuses on measuring and analyzing the structural and relational connections between members of any given system. TSM and HDM use the fundamentals of that theory, combined with process metrics and analysis and business models to deliver results.

Network analysis is an interdisciplinary subject that combines a number of fields, that then draw upon a number of subjects such as anthropology, economics, organizational studies, epidemiology, human resources, business management, information science, communication, complexity, and chaos theory. Recently, social/organizational network analysis has enjoyed a research focus within sociology, psychology, and management theory, which is why it has piqued the interest of so many applied researchers from a variety of different backgrounds.

We’ll use either the term organizational network analysis (ONA), social network analysis (SNA), or network analysis (NA) to refer to the same thing. There is a distinguishable difference between organizational network analysis and social network analysis but we’ll ignore it for now- they both come from the same place. In reality, organizational network analysis is an adapted form of social network analysis, which is used mainly in business and applied organizational contexts.

The study of the network perspective began with Dr. Jacob L. Moreno when he attempted to map all the relationships within a New York City mental institution in the early 1930s (to determine why and how patients were escaping), but it was truly built on hundreds of years of social research in multiple disciplines. Over the past generation there has been considerable growth in business and academic interest in social networks. This is mainly due to ideas such as the 6 degrees of separation, globalization, and the increase in interconnectedness of the world (small world phenomenon). Even network analysis software has experienced a recent increase in demand, and there are tens of network analysis applications freely and widely available online; Many of which combine statistical analysis with the traditional methods of network analysis to provide a highly quantitative method of analyzing organizational dynamics.

The two integral parts of any social network are its actors and its actors’ relations with others. An actor is considered to be any entity ranging from a person, to a team, to an entire organization or even a country. A relation is defined as a particular connection between one actor and another (could also be called a diad). That connection is not a function only of one of the actors, but is subordinate to both actors simultaneously. Both actors that share a connection control the relationship in some dynamic that never truly allows one party to dominate the relationship. In other words, it is not a property or an attribute of only one entity in an organizational or social system (e.g. a person).

 The Business Case for Change-Based SNA

Traditional change management  purpose is to provide sustainable change for organizations that will allow them to face the challenges of their environments. However, once theory is applied to real world situations, it generally fails in being able to accomplish its goals of successful and effective change.

With the large majority of change initiatives ending in failure, social scientists and business practitioners are in need of more effective theories and applications that allow for the precise management and execution of successful change. Social Network Analysis (SNA) provides the change practitioner with the ability to map the organization and see its hidden structure and Talent Sphere Mapping takes that information and turns it into an action plan that delivers results.

The hidden structure of any organization is composed of communication connections between the members of the organization. Conducting an organizational network analysis to uncover those connections allows us to elicit many insights that improve the practitioners’ ability to create, promote, and develop successful change initiatives. The communication structure and content found by conducting a social network analysis  can also uncover organizational culture, trust, authority, inefficiency, collaboration, innovation and many others important organizational dynamics that are essential to successful change.

SNA is a powerful tool that should be used to greatly improve the practitioners’ ability to change their organizations.  Finally, in some studies network metrics outperformed human capital metrics in the prediction of employee high performance, which provides some evidence that SNA can be a powerful tool in day-to-day operational activities as well.