Our experience using NLP to identify internal company trends in Slack over the last 6 years

A long time ago, our CEO used to have one-to-one discussions with every single Futuricean over the span of a calendar year. He did it to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the company and what people are thinking about. It was a great way to maintain an understanding of whether our autonomous organization was really sailing in the same direction and aligned behind a shared strategy. As organizations grow, we need to look for ways to scale the appropriate level of control and understanding. Our old tools are no longer effective.

That brings us to the question of following how organisational strategy progresses, which usually means pre-set KPIs and initiative reporting. It works, but we lose some of the value face-to-face discussions provide. They have a hard time answering questions like: are people talking about our strategy? Are they excited about it? Are they aligned on the topics in everyday life?

Together with Aalto University, we tackled this challenge with the help of data & AI and asked, “How might we use the digital footprint of employees’ daily online discussions to understand how our strategy is diffusing across the company?”.

Three (not very easy) steps:

  1. Understand the data and the culture that generates it
  2. Analyze topics that are representative of your organization
  3. Create an action plan by first understanding what’s hindering your strategy progression and alignment

Let’s look at this through a case example — our very own Futurice Group!

Since 2017, building up capabilities in data & AI has been an important focal point in our strategy. We wanted to understand the role of this aspect of our strategy in the daily lives of our employees. Is it a topic for data scientists alone? Or are we as a company engaged with the idea that data & AI will fundamentally change the way companies operate and create value in the future — regardless of background or position?

Understand your data and the culture that generates it

Analyze topics that are representative of your organization

Create an action plan by first understanding what’s hindering your strategy progression and alignment.

Network of topics in Futurice discussion

We can also clearly identify an increase in the amount of discussion around this topic in recent years — as well as some evolution in how it’s talked about. As the discussion evolves, the set of vocabulary becomes more diverse and you can see more detailed topic areas arise from the same high-level theme. For example, one topic around data & AI can become three separate but related discussions: data management & privacy, artificial intelligence and machine learning & algorithm and data training.

Very few people participate in both AI and strategy discussions. In the figure above, each dot represents a person at Futurice connected (i.e. taking part in discussions related) to the AI or the strategy topic, or both.

One of the most interesting insights we gained was the fact that there’s a lack of connection between AI and strategy as topics of discussion, as we can see below. A deeper look shows that most people discussing “strategy” are not participating in discussions about data & AI — and vice versa. In fact, based on our data only a handful of our management is fluent in both topics. To truly drive change, we need to get the management on board, too — not just our domain experts.

So what does all this change for our future?

As a company grows, the easy thing to do is to create control mechanisms based on hierarchy, structures and processes to ensure the company is sailing in the same direction. But what if we created increased visibility into our thinking, even at a scale of +1500 people, could we avoid employing control mechanisms and instead ride the wave of trust and transparency?

That’s one of the things we aim to find out.

We are on a journey to identify how we can evolve and transform the way we lead companies with the help of data & AI. We believe the future belongs to connected companies.

Stay tuned if you want to learn more!

If you’re interested in our thinking and work in this area, we are running a series of webinars around this subject, Amplify strategy execution with data & AI episode coming up already 3rd of June, and you can take a look at some of the concrete work we do here.

Originally published at https://futurice.com, written by Anni Harju, Mickaël Buffart, Mia Leppälä.

Cloud consultant at Futurice GmbH. Ex-Firebase, Ex-Google Cloud.

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