By Ian Gee
We now live in a world with so much data readily available that I sometimes think it is hard to know where to start! Little Data can be intimidating let alone what do we now do with Big Data! My last blog post ‘Making the Soft Stuff Hard’ was an exploration of the challenges this places on our practice. Your comments have really stimulated my thinking. I want to take this exploration a bit further and look at how the web and social media might offer us some new opportunities and possibilities as well as raise some challenges, in terms of data gathering and its use.
In particular, I want to explore the use of sentiment analysis in OD and how it can potentially help us to understand what is going on inside and outside the organisation. Sentiment analysis can be best described as ‘opinion mining’. It’s a software driven process that analyses text and identifies feelings, reflections, likes and dislikes. At its most sophisticated it can give you a very good temperature reading and a good sense of what peoples attitudes are to particular issues. It provides you with an understanding of the judgements people are making, their inclinations, passions and opinions.
Sentiment analysis in OD is nothing new. As practitioners we have always done it through reviewing the data we gather from interviews, observations, focus groups and surveys. Trying to make sense of the data, above and beyond the literal content we search for opinions, similarities and differences. We then make, what we hope, are skilful understandings and interpretations. These ‘data bubbles’ as I like to think of them, have been of immense benefit to me in my career and I hope to my clients as well. Now though, with the proliferation of social media and the web, data is everywhere and not just what we choose to focus on and systematically gather.
Most company intranets have the facility for employees to comment and contribute. In progressive companies, discussion and even dissent are actively encouraged. This generates masses of data and information. But what do we do with it other than watch it pass by like a news ticker? As an OD practitioner, challenged with developing large company interventions, my question is how can we make best use of this rich source of what is on the surface can seem to be random data or chitchat? I don’t believe we can simply ignore it and carry on as we have; we do this at our peril. At the same time, the sheer volume of data can be daunting. It is usually made up of long threads of comments covering multiple issues and usually across numerous platforms. To start to analyse it manually can seem to be bit like trying to read the Internet! This is where I think sentiment analysis provides an answer.
Here is a personal example of where I used a sentiment analysis tool to good effect. I was recently working on a global project where I was not at all sure whether or not some of the key players were truly supporting the changes or not. I am sure you recognise this as a classic issue of stakeholder alignment. Most of us have faced this at some time in a transformation project. As an experiment, I used a very simple and free web tool to analyse a large number of emails I had received from the team and was very interested in the results. By looking at the words and strings of sentences the tool highlighted the fact that the majority of the statements were indicative of people sitting on the fence and waiting. My intuition told me we had alignment issues, the sentiment analysis gave me the data I needed to have conversations with the team and find out what was needed to get them fully on board. Now you could argue I might just as well have trusted my intuition and ‘held up the mirror’ based on what I was feeling. However in a ‘High Tech’ environment, being able to share the results of the sentiment analysis made for a much more fruitful, useful and interesting discussion.
Apparently there are even more sophisticated tools that will analyse anything from tweets, blog posts and discussions both on the company intranet and also the web generally. I think for my own practice, when I am next asked to get involved with a company wide change programme, I am going to recommend that we use both internal and external sentiment analysis as part of the initial diagnosis and continue to use it, at given periods, to see how sentiment shifts (hopefully I a positive way!) as the transformation progresses.
On a final note I am assuming you are all familiar with http://www.glassdoor.com and other similar ‘trip advisor’ type-sites for business? Have you ever used these sites to help you build a case for change?
I would be very interested to get your thoughts on the use of tools like sentiment analysis as a support to change and transformation. I am wondering if this is this one of the ways in which our practice of OD can be advanced and made more relevant and interesting? If you have any websites demonstrating tools to share that would be great. See below, for a couple of them from my friends Tim and Matthew. Over to you all now!