Communication is vital to success in business, but not everybody is great at it. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, it’s among the most in-demand soft skills in today’s business climate. General wisdom has it that technology is eroding this essential skill, making it harder and harder for people to understand each other, but CorpU CEO Alan Todd believes that it has the power to do just the opposite.

Todd, founder of a Philadelphia-based company that has developed a digital leadership-development platform, writes in that companies can—and should—leverage data produced by natural language processing technology to better understand their employees.

The process is rooted in the advent of natural language processing technology, also referred to as ‘discourse analysis,’ which is the study of relationships between naturally occurring connected sentences, spoken or written.

By assessing patterns in digital traces of peer-to-peer interactions or structured dialogue, executives can spot unintended consequences of new initiatives, gauge employee sentiment, understand leadership dynamics and company culture, and more.

This isn't about listening in on private conversations or identifying individuals by name, but over time, patterns emerge, helping executives to spot unintended consequence, and make more informed decisions. It can help executives to unearth sentiment that shows how their communications are perceived by cohorts (e.g., segmented anonymously by role or geography) within their company. And with over 84 percent of companies embracing the importance of ‘people analytics,’ it's more important than ever to understand natural language processing and how it works.

One of the key features of natural language process technology is that it mines data from interactions that employees are already having, meaning that it does not absorb valuable employee time. Its use of AI also fosters transparency; the technology creates a transparent feedback loop that gleans information from everyone, including introverts who may otherwise go overlooked in promotion processes. Perhaps more importantly than anything, it eliminates bias.

Communications within and across organizations often reflect implicit and structural bias, resulting in processes that are more subjective than they are meritocratic. Leaders often pick who they want to promote based on unconscious biases. By implementing tools that derive insight from the interactions of employees using natural language processing, leaders can generate a blind view of who is contributing the most creative ideas, who casts the largest net of network influence and who has the ability to inspire their teams. The insights gleaned can help them engage and retain the best employees, regardless of gender, race or culture, to avoid lousy morale and expensive turnover