Posted by: Nancy | May 2, 2009

Tale of two directories…

There once was a company with a large technology organization, and the group’s leaders were smart enough to recognize that they didn’t know enough about the individuals in the group.

They came up with an idea: let each individual identify their own capabilities, skills and interests. The business leaders could then use this directory to find people with the right skills for the right jobs. A side benefit could be to understand what key skill sets are lacking, and then provide training.

A good idea. But it never came to pass.

On further discussion, the leaders decided they’d need some form of verification over what the individuals cited as their skills. What if people lied about their certifications or experience? Then there was the whole matter of capabilities — they’d need specific definitions for each level: interested, novice, apprentice, skilled, expert, etc. Who would judge? And just think of all the people who would certainly list inappropriate or non-business interests — why would we want to know that you coach a pre-teen baseball team?

The project fell apart under the added weight. It could have worked — if leaders had been willing to demonstrate trust. Trust was lacking in this organization.

Employee surveys later proved this: employees didn’t feel they were treated fairly, given enough information or valued for their contributions.

I remembered this story when I recently heard Brad Whitworth, senior communications manager at San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc. He was a guest at a recent meeting of the Kansas City chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Brad told about the employee directory at Cisco. The company had the idea to set up an open directory like a wiki: let employees describe themselves and be accountable for themselves.

This time, a different culture nurtured the concept. Cisco, a worldwide technology giant, promotes the “Human Network Effect” and uses slogans like “Knowledge is Power” to describe benefits of collaboration.cisco-ceo

To kick it off, Chairman and CEO John Chambers listed his own areas of interest … including globalization, collaboration, TelePresence, Duke basketball and Diet Coke. (Folks around him say he’s practically a Diet Coke addict; he was willing to admit it and show 65,000 co-workers a human face.)

As others entered their info, the directory provided the link to individuals’ assets that were previously invisible. Communities started to form across the organization around business topics. These groups started sharing their collective wisdom on intranet pages that they “owned” as part of a user-built Ciscopedia.

Pretty soon, the wealth of knowledge paid off.  A sales team needed help finding a systems engineer in home networking who was fluent in Mandarin. Using those search terms in the directory, they found a colleague who was able to answer a customer’s questions and seal a deal.

It’s all about trust.

Open up with the people you work with, and you can find common ground. Show trust if you want others to trust you. Share information if you want others to share with you.

Collaboration wins over fear of risk every time.cisco

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