Using Social Network Analysis to Measure Leadership Coaching Effectiveness and Assist with Change Management

At Cape Group’s recent OD Forum in Sydney, we were fortunate to have Sean O’Conner from Sydney University present on the use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) in leadership coaching and change management.

What is Social Network Analysis?

The term SNA should not be confused with social platforms such as Facebook, Linked In etc. Rather, SNA is a technique concerned with understanding networks within an organisation and how individuals connect and interact with each other. The science of SNA involves gathering relational data that measures the level of connectivity between members in the network. This data may include the degree of interaction or communication between a group of staff members (e.g. who may be working on specific projects together), level of trust, the level of influence (i.e. through leadership or friendship), and quality of friendships. It involves asking:

  • Who do you trust the most?
  • Where do you source information?
  • Who do you rely on to provide you with accurate information?

How can Social Network Analysis be used to Evaluate Coaching Effectiveness?

SNA can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of leadership coaching on the organisation as a whole. Traditionally coaching is evaluated by measuring the change in relationship between the coach and those who directly interact with the coach. SNA can take this to another level as it can determine whether improved coaching skills in a leader has impacted the broader organisation. Sean’s research has seen that effective coaching improves the skills of those reporting directly to the leader, as well as increasing the staff wellbeing of those in the extended network.

How can Social Network Analysis be used to Assist Change Initiatives?

In implementing change, typically best practice involves identifying change champions. These are usually individuals who are well-connected or have major influences at an organisation. SNA offers a more thorough and/or objective approach to identifying a suitable change champion. Gathering relational data can help identify these people, but also pinpoint those individuals that are highly regarded and trusted by others.  It’s important to not automatically target the people with the most connections/friends, but target those with the most influence on their connections.

Additionally, SNA can used to understand why current change efforts maybe failing. For example,

  • Examination of why there has been a significantly negative engagement of staff could be due to the removal of one person who is highly trusted by staff
  • A change project that is not progressing well could be due to one individual who while nominated by management as a key communicator, is not actually trusted by others

For any stage of the change process, SNA can provide useful insight into how an organisation is working that at first glance may not be obvious. A good analogy is a spider’s web – if you take away one thread, the web may collapse completely or adapt to a new shape. Similar with organisations, making one small change can significantly alter the current systems and processes. SNA can help you predict the outcome of changes and assist in avoiding the “web collapsing”. By identifying how relationship work, you will be better placed to influence change.

Take Home Message?

While SNA may seem quite complicated, it can be extremely valuable in better understanding an organisation’s culture, current systems and processes. It can be used to assess leadership coaching effectiveness on an organisation as whole, as well as assist in change initiatives. By assessing the quality of the networks within an organisation and the impact these networks have on each other, implementing change will be significantly more effective. Remember not to underestimate the degree of connectivity between staff and the quality of these relationships.