Think Before You Assess: Tips for Your First Network Analysis

Wild Horses. Image by cone_dmn on flickr

Wild Horses. Image by cone_dmn on flickr

Jazzed about doing your first network analysis? Hold your horses! It’s important to do no harm when conducting a network analysis. Make sure to read these important caveats before you begin.

Identify Your Goal

Determine what you want to learn as a result of conducting a network analysis. Do you want to identify influencers (critical connectors) in order to engage them in change initiatives? Do you want to understand how information flows through the organization? Do you want to create a plan to help new employees build their networks during the on-boarding process? The questions you choose will shape the results you receive, so be clear up front.

Determine What Kind of Help You Need

It is possible to do a simple project yourself, especially if you’re working with a small group (fewer than 25 participants) and using the analysis for discussion about team collaboration. If you’re using the analysis for assessment or succession planning, I highly recommend getting help. That could take the form of phone coaching, survey development and analysis outsourcing, or consulting.

Plan How to Manage Data

Think through how you’re going to share and act on the data with the project team before you begin. One option is to explain that the entire process will be open. You’ll gather the information, share it with everyone, and interpret it together. A second option is to explain that the entire process will be anonymous and confidential. You will be the only one who will see the results. You will report on what you learned from the data (without mentioning names) and what you plan to do as a result of the data. A great resource on the ethics of conducting a network analysis is this article by Steve Borgatti.

Help People Interpret Accurately

Your job is to ask questions that help people make meaning out of the data collected. You’ll also need to educate them. Remember that if someone has few connections, it does not mean that the person is anti-social, unliked, or incompetent. Be sure to stress this since people can misinterpret the results. Most often, people with few connections have recently joined the team, work in another location or functional area, have a job that doesn’t require interaction, or are quiet innovators busy on skunk works that they don’t want to get shut down.

What other advice would you give to people beginning their first network analysis?

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