Now is the time to really understand how your own organisation works


By Richard Badley

You don’t need to look far to stumble across predictions, forecasts or (sometimes daunting) research outputs painting a picture of what the future of the economy will look like.

Personally, I made a choice very early on during lockdown not to digest a huge amount of content. Instead, I limit the volume (time I spend digesting), the sources (trusted, not speculative), and the tone (factual and informative, not judgemental or overly negative).

As time passes; my interest in the macro situation is becoming more diluted. But my interest in the micro is peaking. I am becoming fascinated with exploring our own organisation.

Initially, I would say we passed through some pretty clearly defined behavioural phases:

The working harder stage. We were catapulted into what seemed like a poker game. But instead of raising the financial stakes, we were competing on the volumes of calls we were all on. It was understandable that communication increased. Of course it would. We had to communicate to plan. We had to communicate for our own wellbeing. And to heighten the feeling, all of our communication was funnelled through a single (relatively intense) medium. A pinhole into a soles (and homes) of our colleagues. Were we working ‘harder’? I’m not sure we really were. But we were definitely communicating more.

Flexibility became a necessity, not a benefit. Whether it was families, shattered routines or just the situation in which we were thrust; we were forced to genuinely work flexibly. While some embraced this for themselves and their colleagues, it was harder for others. In the ‘old office environment‘, it was the office itself that set so much of our routine. In our current situation, our own private situations dictate our work routines. The life work balance has reversed.

Communication methods changed. Email volumes were down for the first time in 24 years, and unsurprisingly, all of the Office365 (and other collaboration) apps you would expect were up. By substantial amounts. The adoption and use of these technologies was no longer spearheaded by a few early adopters or enthusiastic tech lovers, we experienced mass migration. Which in itself was a challenge for some.

The unconscious bias stage. As time passed, and the light at the end of the tunnel remained somewhat out of focus, it felt like all novelty completely disappeared. Under stress and pressure it’s very natural to default to our unconscious behavioural habits. Patience, interest, and engagement can all feel like harder work. Challenge, frustrations and judgements can quickly become default. We can feel more exposed. More sensitive. More vulnerable. All understandable in the situation.

The eventual calm. As time passes, we are starting to find our rhythm. We are discovering what works for ourselves, and others. We are learning to call things our more honestly. And we are learning that not everything needs a stage or a defined badge. People are accepting that it is what it is. Have we nailed how we work? No. Are we getting better all the time? Yes.

But these are all just personal observations. They aren’t specific answers to any of the more detailed question I had about our organisation. And certainly not helpful for understanding (and changing) our business for the better.

The sorts of questions I had were basic. First and foremost, how were all my colleagues doing? Not superficially, but how were they really doing? Then I became more operationally curious; how were we communicating, and what had changed for us all? I wanted to understand which technologies were being used, and for what purpose? And at the heart of it all, how was work getting done in this surprisingly old, but what felt like new, way of working?

My natural go-to for any question is research and data. So I started to explore our passive, quantitative data. I played with and built tableau and PowerBI dashboards. These ingested Microsoft and HR data. They helped us to understand platform usage, volumes, and variance by teams. We could see changes from linear, structured comms such as emails, to more dynamic, personable (and personal) formats such as video and chat. We went from single author, to collaborative outputs. All positive (in my opinion).

But I also noticed a huge variance in volumes of engagement. Some individuals were highly active (and likely suffering collaboration overload), while others were experiencing very little in terms of engagement (and potentially feeling the effects of isolation and exclusion).

There should never be a judgement made on data like this without careful consideration and understanding. There will always be a valid explanation (and no two people should ever be the same!). But the initial analysis really highlighted the variance across our business.

It also led to further exploration and at this point we started doing ’proper’ organisational network analysis (ONA).

Why? Because ONA allows organisations to understand the natural networks that exist between their people. To understand how individuals are actually connected to one another. And how dense and broad the networks of influence are.

It allows us to understand who our natural influencers and ambassadors are, but also identify those who might be impacted most by the current situation.

And especially in times like these, it’s more important than ever to understand where the blockages might be, and where people are under increased pressure.

We take for granted how much we can read into people’s emotions we are physically together – and right now – we are almost blind to that.

ONA allows us to understand far more than we ever have – at a time that matters most.

It‘s of course worth noting (and reminding ourselves) that outputs of any research in their raw format aren’t change making. In the same way data isn’t magic, ONA isn’t either. But it does give a far deeper and relevant understanding of the people within a business.

The change that comes from work such as this will be down to the person with which it lands. And the decisions they choose to make (or not) in light of their deeper understanding.

This is the start of a journey for SMRS. With this insight, we are already able to understand infinitely more about our own organisation. And start to consider, with confidence, how we strive to design the best business we can be. For our colleagues, our clients, and the society in which we operate.

There has never been a better time to understand how your own organisation works, and critically, how the people in it make it what it is.

I am not closing with a sales call to action, but I am keen to keep exploring. If you want to have a conversation about a pilot / partnership project, get in touch. The more we can explore and understand, the better equipped we are to change futures for the better.