Lately we’ve seen a lot of really smart folks talking about Wikis on HR blogs (read some here, here & here). For all the talk there haven’t been a lot of specific ways offered on how we might use Wikis in recruiting and management of human capital. There’s a good reason for that and it might not be what you think.
Let’s start by saying what needs to be said. By in large, people don’t know how to use Wikis in the recruitment space because they haven’t started using them yet. Guess what? That’s how Wikis are for pretty much everyone – even our beloved freaks and geeks in the tech sector where Wikis originated. Wikis are hard to ‘get’ from a distance. If you start using a Wiki you will begin learning why they’re useful and soon you’ll have five or ten new ideas about ways to use them for your efforts. Why should people in the recruiting space use Wikis? Because they add communication channels to human interaction and provide a perspective of your work that you won’t likely find in another venue. Since our world is all about information, any means we have to open up communication channels and gain context between people is critical.
Before I get any further you may want to just understand some of the basics about Wikis and what you can do with them. Here’s a good resource. If you find yourself looking at the list of functionality, scratching your head and wondering out loud why these Wikis are any different than web sites you’ve used before, don’t be surprised. Many parts of a Wikis functionality, say a forum page, aren’t any different than a web forum like we’ve been using for years on the web. Yes, Wikis are not that different in simple functionality from regular web sites but their subtle differences have great significance.
A couple of years ago I was talking with an employee who worked on my Advertising Operations team at Knight Ridder Digital and we were exchanging ideas about some of the challenges our team had with communication and certain types of work falling through the cracks. Our team members were located in Miami and San Jose and in turn supported internal and external clients in a a few dozen locations in every U.S. time zone. We had routine meetings, production systems to track work, Webex webinars, conference calls, a crack like addiction to IM and blackberries and exchanged tens of hundreds of e-mails every day about our work. Somewhere in all that Internet scramble things weren’t working. Big shock right. My employee, Erik Andreasen, suggested that a Wiki might be the trick. I said to Erik ‘a whati?’ He smiled in the knowing way of any good geek and took a few minutes to introduce Wikis to me. I was pretty excited as he explained the concept.
It wasn’t long before I was talking regularly on the phone with Ross Mayfield, founder of Socialtext, and learning more about Wikis. Ross is a great guide for all things Wiki and especially business Wiki usage and I’d highly recommend his product. Ross was the first person I heard that used the term ‘occupational spam’ to define how people had begun seeing productivity losses because all they did was answer e-mail. Worse, people who were using e-mail to manage critical work, even small pieces of it (and yes we all are), were constantly stressing over missing important information burried in their inbox and then having to deal with the consequences. Ross coached me through various things I could do with Wikis and how to use them with my team but he told me the secret to ‘getting’ Wikis was just to use them. He told me to build some piece of regular workflow or daily team habit into a Wiki and watch what happened organically. That worked. Sure, he gave me concrete and subjective benefits of Wikis but he kept reinforcing the point that I had to figure it out myself. Far from a sales pitch without backbone I found Ross to be right on the money.
I’d like to say that we went on to use our Wiki for a multitude of things but budgets at the time were such that $200 a month was too much! Ross did give us a lot of latitude in our ‘trial’ and we did use Socialtext enough to see that it would have really helped us. Of course, it wasn’t really too much money but at the time no one understood Wikis and I had a difficult time just explaining the concept to my VP of Technology during a budget crunch. Today, it wouldn’t be so hard to convince him since everyone is implementing a Wiki because they’re ‘it’ right now.
As I mentioned before, Wikis don’t necessarily add functionality beyond what you can do with other web based tools but they do add depth and richness to your work in a way that other tools simply don’t. That’s how I’d summarize my experience with getting work done using Wikis – they add another dimension. In information work – adding dimensions to your work isn’t a small thing, subtle perhaps, but not small.
Speaking of small. I’ll close with a slight twist on Wikis that you really need to know about. There’s a chap named Jeremy Ruston who took the Wiki concept and adapted it to what he defines as ‘microcontent.’ In the same way that you don’t always write a full story on a blog, or a full letter in an e-mail you have microcontent. So he shaped a Wiki in a fashion that would best help him corral microcontent and called it a TiddlyWiki. See, you thought Wiki was the worst name you’d ever heard of and now we have TiddlyWiki. When I heard about TiddlyWikis I was twice as excited about them as I was when I learned of Wikis. Almost everything we do in our information economy jobs is about microcontent. We don’t write papers in business anymore, we don’t do full research studies, we guestimate 95% of the time, we don’t often run fully integrated advertising campaigns, and we don’t watch all of the TV show. We don’t usually digest much of anything these days in huge gulps other than stress. Instead we take sips from a thousand different wine glasses each day and swirl the wine around in our mouths trying to identify the ingredients so we can understand them, appreciate them, and find out which ones are worth swallowing.
Start using Wikis to collaborate with peers, manage a project, keep group meeting notes, track customer service, or edit documents together. Pick something that you’ll use often and just follow the discipline of using it and soon your Wiki will be growing like a Chia pet.