Knowledge Management - Creating a Sustainable Yellow Pages System

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How can I "know who knows" None of us can personally know more than around 250 people, yet we want our companies to be smart, learning organisations where it's easy to find the right person to talk to. This is why many organisations create "yellow pages" applications, which enable employees to find and contact other staff with particular expertise and skills. However, these systems can be fraught with difficulty in their implementation, and often end up as out-of-date, glorified intranet telephone directories. This article, drawn from a best-selling knowledge management fieldbook by its author, identifies ten key steps involved in creating and sustaining a successful, employee-owned yellow pages system.

The guidelines below are drawn from the book "Learning to Fly - Practical knowledge management from leading and learning organisations" (Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell), and sets out ten key steps to creating a yellow pages systems which really works, and has the positive buy-in of its user community - that is to say, its customers.

1 Maintain a clear and distinctive vision. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and avoid compromise. Beware of becoming "all things to all men" - particularly those in the HR and IT departments! Everyone will want a slice of the action - don't lose sight of the overarching aim of your system - making it easy to find people that you don't already know.

2 Strive for personal ownership and maintenance. Create a process whereby only the individuals concerned can create and update their entries. This will drive a far deeper sense of ownership across the population.

3 Strike a balance between informal and formal content. Encourage people to share non-work information about themselves in addition to valuable business information. Consider prompting for this with "fun" questions such as: "what was the first single that you bought?", "what is your favourite film?", or even "what makes you happy?".

4 Support the photographs wherever possible. Nothing is more powerful and personal than a photograph. It speaks volumes about the person, raises the interest levels of others and generates personal ownership of the content. If possible encourage people to include an informal photograph. The security-pass-rabbit-in-the-headlights shots rarely show people in their best light! Better to have a photograph which says more about the person and what motivates them.

5 Ensure that your product design is flexible and inclusive. Recognize that different people relate to templates, prompts and structure in different ways. Use focus groups to test opinion.

6 Start with a customer-facing pilot. Critical mass is all important, so start with a group of people who have a natural need to be visible to internal customers. This might include supporting functions, existing networks or communities, or even business areas with new leadership.

7 Deliver through local enthusiasts. Centrally-driven push isn?t always the best way to engage the workforce. Tap into local enthusiasts and champions if possible ? they will know how best to "sell" the concept locally.

8 Use success stories as a marketing tool. Reinforce the usefulness of the knowledge directory at every opportunity. Publicize any examples or successes widely, and early, to reinforce your project. This is a culture change project, and culture change happens one story at a time!

9 Encourage use, but lead by example rather than edict. Avoid mandating the population and use of the knowledge directory. People will provide better quality content if they feel that they are volunteering the information. At the end of the day, you can?t ever conscript knowledge - you can only ever volunteer it. And let?s face it, there's little point in finding the one person with expertise or experience that you need, if when you call them on the phone, they're unwilling to talk!

10 Embed into people processes. Look for process and intranet "hooks" that could initiate and sustain the use of your knowledge directory (e.g. recruitment or induction of new staff, the launch of new networks, any reference on an intranet site which mentions a person's name can become link to their personal page.


Creating and marketing a yellow pages system inside an organisation is a highly rewarding project - seize the opportunity with both hands. You'll need a network of champions, the cooperation of the IT and HR functions, tenacity and some marketng flair. The steps outlined above should help you on your way. Bon voyage!

About the author:

Chris Collison Chris Collison is a renowned expert in knowledge management and an experienced practitioner in the leadership and implementation of organisational change from a people perspective.

As a best-selling author, he has presented to audiences at business schools and at conferences around the world, and is a regular contributor to specialist knowledge management publications. Chris has worked with leaders at the highest levels of many public and private-sector organizations, sharing the practical experiences he gained whilst working in BP's knowledge management team, and his deep understanding of the human dynamics of major change programmes.

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