Tips for using a wiki as an employee manual

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By Jill Pyle

Starting a new job is never easy. As the new person in the office, there’s always an overwhelming amount of information to absorb. If you’re hired by an organization with a formal and thorough orientation process, consider yourself lucky. I’ve had some employers that expected me to learn by osmosis. Others have been kind enough to hand off a stack of dusty binders or offer a computer where I can navigate the depths of the company web site. I’ve come to the conclusion that orientation processes are often reflective of how organizations manage and share knowledge.

Typically, when I enter a new work place, I spend the first week getting to know my colleagues and volunteering for all the dreadful jobs they’ve been putting off, like “washing through” a list of 10,000 contacts. When I joined inmedia, I was assigned a unique introductory task. They asked me to write the employee manual.

I bet you’re thinking, as I was then, they must be crazy. Well, not exactly.

As a long-standing and close-knit team, they were too entrenched in the inmedia process to convey it to a newbie in any orderly or efficient fashion. Everything that was new to me was second nature to them. I had to become an observer.

inmedia, like many organizations, needed someone new and unbiased to take a fresh look at their process, collect information and transfer it somewhere safe. The task seemed daunting at first but with the help of a wiki, I created a home for our explicit and tacit knowledge.

Our wiki-based employee manual will always be a work in progress; that’s the beauty of a wiki. For the overwhelmed new hire assigned the role of wiki editor, here are my best practices:

Store now, share later
It’s important to review and evaluate the many wiki options that are available but don’t underestimate the value of storing information locally in the interim. Keep a notebook, create a Word document, send yourself emails, do whatever is necessary to create a comprehensive list of things that need to be included in the wiki. You learn a lot in the first few days; don’t let it escape you.

EVERYTHING goes in the wiki
If you have to ask someone a question, the answer should be in the wiki. It’s safe to assume that if you have a question about something, the next hire will too.

Create the foundation
Wikis may be structured for multiple contributors but that doesn’t mean your colleagues will jump at the chance to write wiki entries. Create the structure for the wiki: the index, headings and subheadings. Write notes about what should be included in each section. With a skeleton in place, it will be a lot easier for your colleagues to help flesh things out.

Know when to link externally
Don’t attempt to rewrite the Microsoft outlook handbook but do include directions for commonly used features like setting an out-of-office message or creating a signature block. To help those with more general questions, link to online manuals and include information about where hard copies are stored in the office.

Take care of your baby
A wiki will quickly be rendered useless if it’s not kept up to date. Every month or so, take the time to revisit some of the pages that haven’t been edited recently and update them as necessary. When your colleagues start contributing, be sure to review all new entries for accuracy.

I hope these tips help. If you’re inspired to start a wiki, let me know how it goes. If you’ve been running one for a while, consider sharing some of your best practices.

/// COMMENTS

No Comments »
  • Howard Lalli

    November 10, 2007 12:08 pm

    I’m interested in using wiki technology for public relations messaging. Can you point me in the right direction of a provider?

  • Jill

    November 12, 2007 10:12 am

    The best free option I’ve come across is http://pbwiki.com/

  • Lauren Oostveen

    November 14, 2007 7:00 pm

    I am finding that ScrewTurn Wiki is a great tool. I’m setting it up as part of an internal communications effort and haven’t experienced any kinks yet. The labour-intensive part is a) getting the content up and b) creating a “how-to” guide for those who aren’t as techy.

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