Particularly in knowledge-intensive settings, large-scale change is fundamentally an issue of network integration. ONA, done before a change initiative, can help inform the change process as well as central people within the network that a sponsor might want to engage in design because of their ability to convey information to others. ONA can also be done as a follow-up 6 to 9 months after implementation. Quite often these assessments reveal significant issues that leaders need to address for the initiative to be successful.
Challenge: A consulting firm we worked with had invested substantially in changing its structure from one in which profit and loss responsibility lay with offices in each major city to one that consolidated these offices into four regions throughout the United States. The firm’s leaders initiated the reorganization to increase the depth and breadth of expertise that could be brought to client projects and competitive sales situations. Eighteen months after the restructuring, we were asked to conduct a series of organizationa network analyses to assess collaboration in the newly formed regions.
Key Findings: We mapped several practices in different regions and found that the firm was enjoying mixed success. For example, the network map of one practice clearly showed a fragmentation into three subgroups reflecting the major cities in that region (above left). In another region, we mapped a group with almost identical characteristics in terms of size, work, and geographic dispersion. As seen in network picture on the right, here we found a very different pattern of collaboration across the three primary cities in this region.
Changes: To better understand why one practice had become integrated and the other hadn’t we conducted numerous interviews with people in the different practices. We found differences in management that were having a strong influence on network integration and the comparative performance of the practices. For example, except for the partners, who had periodic face-to-face meetings, the group in the more fragmented region had no forum to come together, meet each other, and learn about colleagues’ skills and expertise. In the cohesive network, employees indicated that other people in the region became viable sources of information only after they had met face-to-face and had an opportunity to understand one another’s strengths. Just as important, staffing practices were different in the two groups. Rather than focusing exclusively on efficiency and billable hours, the more cohesive group recognized that effective relationships developed during projects. As a result, staffing decisions were often made with an eye to integrating people from different locations, a decision that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Finally the two groups employed different human resource practices despite a common, firm wide HR policy and procedure manual. For example, although both groups used a critical incident interviewing technique, the cohesive group looked for evidence of collaborative behavior in job candidates whereas the fragmented group was much more focused on past individual achievement such as sales ability or technical skills.