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People Pickers in SharePoint Workflows

If you are scratching your head as to how to get people pickers to work the way you think they should, you are not alone. On the surface, People Pickers in SharePoint are great. They allow you to lookup people from your company’s directory in an intuitive manner.

But what happens if you want to use them in a lookup? Or how about sending a value to a people picker through automation. Not so easy… to the point you are probably wondering if you need a SharePoint programmer to do so.

For more on people picker quirks, click here.

A Closer Look at the SharePoint People Picker

To really understand the People Picker, you have to know what it is made up of. If you were to look at a People Picker in Microsoft InfoPath, you may think “it is made up of a ‘Display Name’, ‘Account ID’ and ‘Account Type’. Close, but not close enough as InfoPath does not show all the fields that make up a SharePoint People Picker.


A better representation is SharePoint Designer. If you try to set a field to a people picker, you will see 4 options:

  • Display Name
  • Email Address
  • Login Name
  • User ID Number


What do all these fields mean? It means that when you are trying to display a People Picker in a SharePoint lookup, SharePoint has a bit of difficulty knowing which of these fields to display. Similarly, if you are trying to send a value to a People Picker by using a workflow, there are a lot of fields that need to be considered.

Getting a People Picker to Work with a SharePoint Lookup

You will quickly see a common theme on getting people pickers to work: SharePoint needs an in between “breather” to work really well with People Pickers. To make a SharePoint Lookup display people picker values, you must create a text field and set it to one of the 4 field options. SharePoint Designer allows you to set fields manually, on creation or during modification. The frequency of the updates depends on your business process and when you want to see people picker values which, in turn, adds even more flexibility than just a conventional People Picker.

Getting a People Picker to Work with Workflow Automation

Similar to working with Lookups, you should create a text field for people peoples to be used for workflow automation as an ‘in between’. First set the text field to the people picker value and subsequently pass that value to the receiving people picker to have it show up properly in SharePoint. This ‘in between’ step allows the rest of the workflow to run properly since the people picker is not trying to update 3-4 fields, depending if you doing InfoPath or SharePoint business automation. This ‘in between’ text field has other great implications for business automation, especially around formatting and driving actions as more options become available with 1 field instead of 3-4 combined fields. Finally, another nice benefit of this approach, as you being to master it, are performance improvements can be fine-tuned with text boxes over people pickers. The “in between” automation is relying on plain text and not synchronizations back to your company’s directory.

If you would like eSoftware Associates to help with your business automation needs using the SharePoint People Picker, contact us as (800) 682-0882 and we will gladly work with you to get you all set up!