Organizing with Purpose Conference Session:


Applying ONA to Align How Work Really Gets Done to the Organization’s Design and Purpose

Steve Garcia

Keynote Presentation 

Steve is a Managing Partner at Contemporary Leadership Advisors (CLA) where he helps clients build and lead faster, higher-impact, and more adaptive organizations in rapidly-changing, complex environments. Prior to co-founding CLA, Steve served on the Senior Leadership Team in AlixPartners’ Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness practice and was the Partner in charge of Human Capital Consulting at Philosophy IB (since acquired by Heidrick & Struggles). At Philosophy IB, Steve built the firm’s first predictive people analytics applications, including SYNAPP, an organizational network analysis platform that was accepted into DreamIt Venture’s selective Accelerator Program. Previously, Steve served as Director of Product Marketing for Nortel Networks’ digital switching, optical Ethernet, and voice-over-IP portfolios and worked on Capitol Hill for the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment.

Steve holds an M.B.A. from The University of Virginia and an Ed.D. in Adult Learning from N.C. State University where his research focused on how organizational networks affect learning, change and innovation. Steve is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters and a frequent presenter at professional conferences. He is a Board Member at the Institute for Contemporary Leadership and The Hawthorne Park Cub. When he’s not working, Steve likes to spend time with his family in Millburn, NJ, catch up on pop culture, or fall down mountains on his bike. 

Explore how to apply insights learned from organizational network analysis (ONA) and the informal networks it can uncover that are giving employees a way of adapting to rapidly changing market conditions. These insights can be applied to uncover and tap into employees’ sense of purpose, enhance collaboration, eliminate decision-making bottlenecks, expand leadership capacity, and foster innovation.


Most organizations are designed with a goal of maximizing efficiency vs. generating learning. This is likely the right decision in stable environments, where optimal ways of working can be defined and hard coded in standard operating procedures, reporting relationships, and decision rights. However, in today’s more turbulent business environment, learning and innovation become equally, if not more, important than efficiency. Only through learning and innovation can organizations adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. (i.e., environmental disasters, political upheaval, social unrest, supply chain disruptions, and geopolitical conflict, to name but a few of the issues many organizations must currently navigate.)

Employees are therefore left in a bind. Their organization’s design pre-defines how they must work but changing market conditions demand flexibility and adaptation. To manage this dilemma, employees ‘hack’ the system; they build informal networks that operate outside their organization’s formal structure and defined processes. The good news is that these informal networks give employees a way of adapting to changing conditions. The bad news is that this means the real-world practice of how work gets done (i.e., informal networks) increasingly diverges from the theory of how work gets done (i.e., organization design). As a result, leaders lose sight into how their organization really functions; they end up making decisions with blinders on and don’t benefit from employees’ insight into what’s needed to succeed in a changing marketplace.

In this session, we will explore the use of organizational network analysis (ONA) to reconcile this conflict. Leaders and organization design experts can use ONA to illuminate how employees truly work and discern the purpose behind it. We will use case studies to show how these insights can be applied to uncover and tap into employees sense of purpose, enhance collaboration, eliminate decision-making bottlenecks, expand leadership capacity, foster innovation, and pinpoint critical influencers. Finally, during this session, participants will have the opportunity to consider and discuss how they might apply ONA to their own organizational design challenges.