How taxonomy drives an effective employee skills inventory (2022)

April 15, 20226 min read


How can the use of common terminology, often referred to as taxonomy, help improve search? How can taxonomy help employee profile tools? We will answer these and other related questions in this article, especially as they relate to the adoption of an employee profile tool or solution.

What is a taxonomy?

A taxonomy is a structured set of names and descriptions used to organise information and documents in consistent way. It provides a common language to describe business processes. It is used to categorise content in a way that makes it intuitive for users to find.

  • A hierarchical classification of entities of interest to an enterprise or organisation, enabling users to browser and search via the paths in the hierarchy, e.g. folder structure of a website;
  • A faceted taxonomy provides multiple perspectives or characteristics as metadata for tagging documents, enabling users to search and navigate along multiple paths.

Developing a Skills Taxonomy as part of a broader Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) is a manifestation of how relevant information assets that exist in your organisation are made available to people to help them do their job. The key word here is relevant.

A good taxonomy will support the wider information architecture to allow platform capabilities more effectively deliver relevant content to people. This is the case whether you are dealing with digital content like files, images, rich media assets like video or people’s skill profiles in an employee profile tool or solution.

Additional challenges in defining and managing a useful skills taxonomy as part of the broader information architecture also include the following:

Strategy & Governance

A taxonomy will evolve over time and this evolution needs to be both manageable and managed.

Aligned with Business Objectives

Information policies must be aligned with known business objectives in order to support these business objectives. This is especially important when developing a relevant, effective and authoritative taxonomies for use in an employee profile tool.

Implementing an Employee Profile Tool

It is important that any employee profile tool can be maintained by people who are subject matter experts in the core operations of the business. These subject matter experts will intuitively develop a common vocabulary for the organisation that is relevant and will be recognised by other users of the system.

Familiarity and relevance are two key factors that will ensure any employee profile tool is actually used. To understand the other key considerations for uncovering your organisation’s hidden skills and expertise, take a look at our article on How to create an effective employee skills inventory (2021).

User Adoption

Different people need to access an organisation’s information assets in different ways in order for the information to provide value to that person’s role

Continual Improvement

How do you effectively measure how valuable an existing information architecture is for use in an employee profile tool? Value doesn’t necessarily come only from use.

When working with an organisation’s electronic document information, we work with files. When these files moved from the physical world to the digital world, we adopted the same base metaphor of filing cabinets that contained separate drawers and sections in the drawers for sorting and storing the files in an ordered manner.

This approach – either in the physical or in the digital world, achieves two key objectives:

  1. The person storing the files will know where the file should (probably) be stored;
  2. Anyone looking for the file after it has been stored will (probably) know where to look.

The concept of a “file” and a “file folder” as a way of storing digital data has become so ingrained, that we think of it as natural, but it’s not: It was invented in 1983 by Apple (wikipedia).

Taxonomy Development

During the initial planning stage it is important that you identify all major skills and expertise groupings. These groupings will help lay the foundation term sets or concepts, as they are referred to in a taxonomic structure.

  • Understand who is going to do what in the short term;
  • Define a base set of terms to describe the skills, experience and expertise specific to your organisation;
  • Scope the first usable view of taxonomy driven skills content.

To Buy or to Build a taxonomy?

The reality is that all organisational taxonomies will ultimately be built but many start off by using pre-built or foundation taxonomies.

There are a number of different sources available for foundation taxonomies. These sources can be inside as well as outside your organisation. Common internal sources for taxonomies, or sets of terms that can be organised into taxonomies, might include:

  • Existing IT systems and databases used to manage:
    • Projects undertaken by the organisation
    • HR systems that include look up tables for different types of certification or continuing professional development
    • Learning management systems
    • Product information systems – these may include lists of assets and or their components that may be useful for people to share their experience with
    • Geographical locations, like offices, factories, mines, airfields, Customer project sites, etc.
  • Content, either digital assets or physical documentation
  • People
    • experienced employees can often provide a wealth of information relating to organisation specific terminology
    • Information Management Consultants
    • New employees
    • Alumni

As mentioned before, these foundation taxonomies will inevitably grow and change over time. We look at taxonomy governance later, but know that you do NOT need to create the perfect, complete taxonomy from the start!

Here are some useful links that show options for getting started with taxonomy:

Next Steps

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