Yellow Pages/Expertise Locator Systems/Staff Directories

Brief Description:

Consider the expression "we know more than we can tell." An important way of tapping into organizational knowledge is to know whom to contact to learn what they know, particularly their contextual and tacit knowledge. One way to accomplish this within an organization is by use of a staff Yellow Pages or directory. These also are known as "White Pages," "Expertise Locator Systems" or "Staff Directories."

The ODI Toolkit describes them in this way: "Organisational Staff Profile Pages systems are electronic directories which store information about staff in a given organisation. In addition to providing information such as names, job titles, groups and contact details, staff pages include details about knowledge, skills, experience and interests, and even hobbies. As these systems are electronic, they are especially valuable in organisations that have geographical or other barriers to personal connections. For this reason, they are often used as the cornerstone point of systematic knowledge and learning initiatives in development and humanitarian organisations. At their most useful, staff pages have the potential systematically to facilitate connections that might otherwise happen only randomly, leading to valuable new collaboration opportunities. On a day-to-day level, effective staff pages enable and improve the brief, fluid connections across an organisation that are at the heart of the learning organisation."


When to use:

  • Indicating people geographic, topical or skill expertise.
  • Mobilizing people in emergency response.
  • Finding mentors and coaches within the organization.

How to use:

From the NHS Toolkit:

Be clear about your aims

Using a “white pages” (the name NHS uses for Yellow Pages)to find people is a means to an end, not an end in itself. How do you intend people to use it? For what purposes do you envisage them using the system to find people? How will they approach and use the system? It is vital to be clear on this before you begin designing any system. Talk to people in your organisation to find out their needs and views. Talk to people in other organisations who have already implemented a “white pages” to discover what you can learn from their experiences.

Ownership and onus

Opinions vary on whether to make individuals’ inclusion in a “white pages” [white or Yellow?] compulsory or voluntary, and similarly whether to create and manage entries centrally or provide a template for individuals to create and update their own entries. Organisations such as BP-Amoco and Texaco who have implemented successful “white pages” strongly favour the voluntary approach in which individuals create their own entries if they so choose. Their experience would seem to show that ownership needs to lie with the people contributing to, and using, the system. This has a number of advantages. First, it creates a sense of personal responsibility for the system, which in turn fosters support; second, it allows people to present their entries in a way that reflects how they want to be known rather than how the organisation sees them; and hence third, it helps to create a ‘living’ system that reflects real personalities and therefore encourages personal relationships.

Balance formal with informal information

While the purpose of a “white pages” is to help people find others with relevant knowledge and expertise, the chances of them actually acting on that information and calling that person will be greatly increased if they feel they ‘know’ them. This sense of ‘knowing’ or familiarity can be created to some extent by including some personal information and a photograph in the entries. Allow people to be creative in how they present themselves. For example, at BP people are encouraged up upload photographs of themselves at home or at play – perhaps with their children or enjoying their favourite sport– rather than using a more sterile passport-style photograph.

What to include

Common fields found in a ““white pages” include:
  • Name.
  • Job title.
  • Department or team.
  • A brief job description and/or description of what is currently being worked on and what has been worked on in the past.
  • Relevant professional qualifications.
  • An uploaded CV.
  • Areas of knowledge and expertise (selected from a pre-defined list of subjects/terms; people might also rank their knowledge, for example from ‘extensive’ to ‘working knowledge’ to ‘basic’).
  • Main areas of interest.
  • Key contacts – both internal and external.
  • Membership of communities of practice or other knowledge networks.
  • Personal profile.
  • Photograph.
  • Contact information.

Organising entries for ease of loading and retrieval

In order to encourage users to create entries, you will need to make it easy for them. Most organisations use a simple template into which users enter their information. In creating a template, think not only about ease of entry, but also about how users will search the system to retrieve information. You will need a common language or taxonomy to describe information in the essential fields, in particular those relating to knowledge, expertise, areas of work and interests. You might like to create fixed terms and options for these fields that users can select from a menu or a selection of tick-boxes. This could also be supplemented with a box for users to enter free text, perhaps with some suggested terms alongside it to guide their use of language.
In contrast, personal information can, of course, be relatively unstructured – leave scope for more creativity and free expression!

Keeping it current

A “white pages” must be maintained and kept up to date. People are constantly moving locations, changing jobs, and adding to their knowledge and skills. If your “white pages” is linked with your human resources system, then job details and contact information can be automatically updated. Alternatively, if individuals have sole responsibility for their entries, you might build a reminder process into your system, whereby an automated e-mail is periodically sent to remind users who haven’t updated their entries in a certain time period, such as three to six months. Similarly, be sure to build information about the “white pages” into processes for new joiners and leavers, so that new joiners know about the system and are encouraged add their entries, while leavers remember to either delete their entry or delegate it to someone else to ‘own’ (assuming they still wish to be contacted after they have left).

Encouraging use

You will need to actively market your “white pages.” Don’t assume that if you create it, people will automatically use it. Your marketing efforts will need to encourage both participation and use; the two are inextricably linked as you need a certain volume of submissions for people to see the “white pages” as being worth using. Possible ideas might include posters, presence at events such as learning fairs, nominating champions to promote the “white pages” in various parts of the organisation, or competitions that award prizes to the first departments in which everyone is uploaded, or for those with the best success stories of how using the “white pages” has helped them in their jobs. Be sure to focus on the benefits in your marketing efforts – people will want to know ‘what’s in it for me?’.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

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Examples and Stories

Manuel Flury, SDC
“The Yellow Pages assist us in making better use of the SDC's wealth of assorted knowledge.”
The competence profiles on SDC’s IntraWeb indicate those person(s) at SDC capable of providing information on a subject or a key experience. The domains of competence indicated represent those in which the person is ready to provide a relay, i.e., guide one to the appropriate source of information if unable to reply immediately. The individual staff member is the sole person enabled – at any given moment – to alter his profile. In the course of the annual individual performance talks, it is being discussed whether any modifications should be made.
  • A major lesson: As with any working tool, be it even the Internet: Yellow Pages require an invitation to participate, an introduction, some sort of assistance to enter. A proposal to organise a formal introduction is under way.
  • Experiences from others: Yellow Pages only deliver value when they are in wide and frequent use. That only happens if people find them attractive, easy to use both when putting data in and when getting it out – and above all rewarding. That in turn means they need to be a rich and up-to-date source of contacts, and support the social aspects of conversation as well as provide factual information.

(Source: SDC Learning&Networking)

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