Rebel Diaries

Gerry McGovern - Management Egos, the Lonely Customer Champion and Digital Waste

April 25, 2022 Gerry McGovern Season 1 Episode 2
Rebel Diaries
Gerry McGovern - Management Egos, the Lonely Customer Champion and Digital Waste
Show Notes Transcript

Gerry McGovern @gerrymcgovern, has been described as one of five visionaries who have had a major impact on the development of the Web.  He developed the Top Tasks research method which helps identify what truly matters to people.  He is the author of eight books,  his latest, World Wide Waste, examines the impact digital is having on the environment.

What we discuss with Gery McGovern

  • How the vanity and ego of managers cause employees to suffer as well as impact customer service. 
  • How decisions are often based on what will get someone promoted or will sound good on their CV, instead of the right thing to do for the company and its customers.
  • Finding the happy ground between customer obsessiveness like Amazon, with a detrimental impact on workers compared to reasonable work experience with a good experience for customers.  
  • How social media companies are first and foremost advertising companies. 
  • How customer champions are in the minority and how it can be lonely, but how to get support. 
  • And much more...

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Intro teaser

[00:00:00] Gerry: I don't think really anyone comes in in the morning thinking, "how am I going to torture people today?" They're looking after themselves or their own careers and, you know, there's the ego "oh I installed a bot in my last organization." "Oh, great". "That's great to put on your CV."

[00:00:48] Gerry:  That's the management contempt for employees 'cause they don't feel their employees' time is worth anything you know, they're measured in other ways, but them having a terrible experience, booking a meeting room or doing whatever is no real concern to a lot of managers.

Main show

[00:01:20] Scott: Gerry thank you so much for coming on to my new podcast. I'm honoured to have you here. If we can start, maybe just give an introduction to yourself for the benefit of everyone on the show.

[00:01:30] Gerry: Scott. Great to be here. , I've been involved in the web since the mid-nineties or so, about 90, 94, 95, but I came from more of a journalist or publishing background rather than technology. I just knew a little bit about technology, but it was more content focused and more focused on information architecture and navigation and stuff like that.

[00:01:55] Gerry: A lot of my work has been around giving talks and workshops about best practice and content and I developed a research method called Top Tasks, about 15 plus years ago, which core objective is to help you prioritize and really help you identify what really matters within a specific environment and what doesn't matter.

[00:02:20] Gerry: Up until the pandemic, I was travelling a lot I've been in a lot of countries and worked in a lot of mainly larger organizations. Because the type of work I've done has been more large scale information architecture or navigation or content management type issues.

[00:02:38] Gerry: And currently I'm now focused on the more environmental impacts, which I kind of discovered that a lot of the work I was doing was about cleaning up big websites, and making them smaller and simpler. That, it was an easy transition over to a more environmentally focused way of digital design.

[00:02:58] Gerry: Because a lot of the best practice environmental design is less design and having as little as possible.

[00:03:07] Scott: I've seen some of your talks online and I've, I've made sure plenty of my previous team watched them and, other people looking after content. , I think I coined the term from you vanity content. I've seen that a lot in the organizations I worked in do you think that organizations are starting to learn to not do that. Cause I see a lot of ego content like we want to put all this stuff on about how great our department is. Are you, breaking the back of that or you're still seeing that still it's humans. Right?

[00:03:33] Gerry: Yeah. It's humans. I think I think it's, I think it's back and forth scott. To some extent, well, to a large extent, it depends on the manager. And a lot, a lot of progress can be made within a department or, within a web team. And then a new marketing manager a new comms manager comes in and it seems it's very much the nature of humans to be vein so, you know, it's not as if the new manager comes in and knows all this stuff, they know all of the vanity stuff usually. And then, it's a torturously slow process again, of showing them evidence and trying to convince them that no, this is not the right way. So, you know, yeah.

[00:04:18] Gerry: There's definitely some progress. And then in some other areas, there's a retrenchment of some degree, I think because I think we're producing a lot more content than we did 20 years. And there's sometimes I find less focus or less skills around structure around information architecture or metadata.

[00:04:42] Gerry: As has always been the case, this magical belief that technology will solve everything. So now the latest crazes are chatbots or artificial intelligence while they have their uses, in particular environments. A lot of times they're being used to actually make the experience really, really horrible for people.

[00:05:08] Gerry: But according to management, they're saving money and they're cool. And they're innovative. So yeah, humans are, humans are a challenge.

[00:05:19] Scott: And yeah, the chatbots are quite interesting to me. I resisted them in the previous organization I worked for and someone actually said to me that they're designed to slow people down, a bit like the QWERTY keyboard you probably know is it was designed to slow down so the keystrokes on the typewriters didn't clash, but how can that be right from a customer-centric perspective it's like, let's slow people down with technology.

[00:05:40] Scott: No, no, no. We want to help them achieve their task. It just seems bonkers to me.

[00:05:45] Gerry: Yeah. Yeah, that's a that's a new one I've heard now. I mean, if you were, considering a divorce or buying a house, or making a really critical purchase that was going to affect their lives for the next 10 or 20 years. Yeah. You'd want to try and create a process that would really make them think about the decision that they're about to make, but the idea that you should deliberately slow someone down with a crappy chatbot and annoy the hell out of them and that's somehow a good thing is it's, it's part of the perversity of, of organizational thinking and, I was reading something today somebody was asking why is it in government departments so horrendously difficult to claim expenses and, there's a reason that, the department heads or the HR people, or whatever, actually believe that if you make it horrendously difficult to claim expenses, less people will claim expenses, maybe there's some. Maybe there is some truth, in it that you just give up because it has been deliberately designed to be torturous.

[00:06:57] Gerry: So, there are certain cultures and ways of thinking that yeah, we'll put a chatbot in front of people and it will be such a torturous thing for people that they won't get in touch they'll just give up. 

[00:07:13] Gerry: So yeah, if, that's your objective for your chatbot, it's probably quite successful in really turning your customers off.

[00:07:22] Scott: What do you think's behind that, cause I know you're passionate about it and I've become passionate about it as well. This customer-centricity and how can an organization think it's a good thing to annoy their customers? How could it just doesn't make sense to me that they are accidentally doing it, let alone intentionally doing it?

[00:07:39] Gerry: Yeah a lot of people push this to extremes. You go from. Let's say at one end of the spectrum, an organization that has absolute contempt to its customers, and you go maybe to the other extreme angle of the spectrum, to an organization that is absolutely obsessed with its customers.

[00:08:03] Gerry: And you could say that an obsessive organization is Amazon and there is often a line between the more customer-centric you are, the more difficult life becomes for the internal workers. You know, so you look at the horrendous way Amazon treats its warehouse workers and how injuries are far more common in Amazon warehouses than are common in, other cause they're obsessed with getting that package out in the fastest, possible time, So they put an awful lot of stress on their workers in order to deliver this amazing experience, for their customers. 

[00:08:45] Gerry: There's probably some happy ground. There is no question there's some happy ground where there's a balance between, a reasonable work experience for the workers and a pretty good experience for the actual, consumer user within the environment. 

[00:09:03] Gerry: So there's a line there, you can invariably find people making those decisions in order to make life easier for themselves, so you save it as a PDF because it's easier, if you had to lay it out as an HTML webpage, it would be far faster, easier to find, better for the environment, all sorts of things, but it's just a couple of seconds or 30 seconds to save it as a PDF and just, dump it up.

[00:09:33] Gerry: So a lot of the decisions you will see are either convenience decisions, or else ego, you know, or else " Here's stuff I want to shove down your throat whether you want to read it or not". There's either an ego decision for some manager or somebody within the organization, or there's a convenience decision for some employee or, otherwise or, a cost it's more, cost-effective not to review your pages even though it seems that way. " Oh, we're not going to spend on this we're just going to do it in the cheapest possible way we can". 

[00:10:16] Gerry: So there are always reasons and I don't think really anyone comes in in the morning, thinking, "how am I going to torture people today?"

[00:10:25] Gerry: Yeah, "how am I going to create the most appalling search experience?" You know, people don't have that philosophy, but they're basically, they're looking after themselves or their own careers and, , there's the ego or "I, I installed a bot in my last organization." 

[00:10:45] Gerry: "Oh, great, that's great to put on your CV."

[00:10:48] Scott: It's the shiny technology thing.

[00:10:50] Gerry: Yeah, it helps you move up because you're telling a story that is impressive within the world that we live within, unfortunately.

[00:11:02] Scott: Yeah. Yeah, it's frustrating. And it's that hidden cost of damage to the workforce or the employees or the customers that I guess is quite hidden. People don't see it. , I know you've done a lot of work on intranets and, I've said to people a few times that it almost seems to be accepted that the intranet is crap and we focus on the website cause that's where the customers are.

[00:11:24] Scott: But you know, if the cust, if the employees aren't having a good experience, how can they offer the best experience? to the customer.

[00:11:30] Gerry: Yeah, it's amazing. Yeah. . I've talked to people recently about, you know, a really large intranet. I mean, the very idea of trying to structure it, they found almost incredible. 

[00:11:43] Gerry: Like, "what? I mean, you couldn't do that?". It's extraordinary. It's inherently crap, you're just not going to fix it. And that's the way, people think because that's the management contempt for employees cause they don't feel their employees' time is, worth anything. They're measured in other ways, but them having a terrible experience, booking a meeting room or doing whatever is of no real concern to a lot of managers.

[00:12:12] Scott: And it's just that hidden damage is so frustrating and it becomes like Stockholm syndrome. Doesn't it? I heard many times when I rolled out the previous internet. "Oh, I just phone someone to find out where this page is on the intranet and they email me the link" and a senior manager was having that three or four times a day, but it's just accepted.

[00:12:29] Scott: That was how it was. It's just bonkers.

[00:12:32] Gerry: Yeah. 

[00:12:32] Scott: It's quite dysfunctional.

[00:12:35] Gerry: It's like you've created. Uh, a new world, but you're living in the old world, you know? So you've, you've built a new house, but you live in the caravan because the new house, you can't even find the door of it when you go to it, so, so you end up living in the caravan because at least, you know, your way around the caravan, and you just say, "oh, that new house didn't quite you know, nobody can find the. door to get into that house". 

[00:13:05] Gerry: We would never do one 50th of the things we do in digital, in the physical world. But because as you say, it seems hidden, we make these crazy decisions and, we just accept the terribleness of the decisions that we've made. 

[00:13:22] Scott: Yeah and do you think that because a lot of this is about evidence-based thinking and actually seeing what works and testing, what works and all that good stuff that requires effort from people. And, people are busy and don't, I guess a lot of people haven't got time for that. , do you think that some of that I know is really important to you now around the actual environmental impact of, of this wastage, is that starting to make people sit up and think actually it's not just about hidden damage to employees, it's damage to the Are you finding that's starting to get attention?

[00:13:53] Gerry: Yeah, a little bit, it helps the overall argument. Definitely, just it doesn't hinder it because a lot of organizations are making commitments to, better environmental practices. So, it definitely helps as part of, the overall argumentation. 

[00:14:11] Gerry: It's an extra element but it's still early days on, the environmental side. I certainly find any way that while people will, say they agree with all this in practice they still struggle to get interested enough to implement good practice from an environmental design point of view.

[00:14:33] Scott: And do you think that's partly because of the whole busy-ness culture and, we hear people are spending a majority of times in pointless meetings and inbox overload. It's that kind of, do you think they're just too you think it's, they're just too busy?

[00:14:49] Gerry: There's a lot of, that. This sort of technology was supposed to make our lives easier and in many ways, it's made it worse. 

[00:14:56] Gerry: It's made us busier and you know we're very bad at anything approaching medium-term or long term thinking and, management is driven by very short-term objectives.

[00:15:10] Gerry: I mean, if the role of management is anything it should be to think for the term, yet we don't see that. So we're driven by short term agendas. And it's hard to get out of that where busy-ness is the metric because it's also, how you show off by being so busy. 

[00:15:31] Scott: I've seen people want to make their mark because they know they're in post for a short amount of time as well. So it's like, "well, I just want to do a redesign" or 

[00:15:39] Scott: a new branding, just because no other reason than I want to say I did it. They wouldn't admit to that, but you know, that, that kind of behaviour as well, that short term approach. 

[00:15:49] Gerry: Yeah, 

[00:15:49] Scott: It's not the right thing for the organization or the customer is it?

[00:15:51] Scott: It's just.

[00:15:52] Gerry: No we could be having this conversation Scott back in, 2012 or 2002 or 1996 we'd still be talking about the same basic things. This is the irony of what we're constantly being told that everything is changing so quickly and everything is on on.

[00:16:13] Gerry: Everything is moving. Oh yeah, we got to but really the core things are not changing that much at all. And the core problems and challenges have not really changed, substantially. In some ways, they've got bigger because there's more content out there. There are more formats, but vanity and the manager chasing the next shiny new thing that they can add to their CV is unfortunately what still drives so much decision making.

[00:16:49] Scott: And what are your thoughts on, , social media and the impact that's had? Because obviously, you've been in this game a long time, before social media and the waste of people's time and obviously the waste and the environment. Have you got any thoughts on the impact of social media?

[00:17:04] Gerry: It has all sorts of potentials, but we see because of the metrics. Anything, I think that's free is dodgy. Any product that's free is, is never good for the environment. And it's rarely good for people because as many have said, you know, when it's free, you're the product.

[00:17:25] Gerry: So, so in essence, they're not social media companies, they're not search engine companies they're advertising companies that their loss leader is the search engine or the Facebook profile or whatever, that's their loss leader and they make money through the ads so advertising is probably the most disruptive force that has emerged in modern civilization in the last 50 or 70 years, certainly from an environmental point of view, because it is, you know, it's just driven up consumption at an unprecedented exponential level. 

[00:18:09] Gerry: So wherever you are in an environment where the primary revenue is advertising, and the primary objective is advertising you're not going to see good things happen. Whereas social media could be, and in certain circumstances is a good environment to share views and collaborate and hear other opinions. That is not what drives clicks. What drives clicks and eyeballs, and doom scrolling, etc. That's what feeds the advertising monster. 

[00:18:44] Gerry: So controversy, conflict, nastiness spectacular things happening. So in essence, social media is an advertising engine and everything becomes advertising and all the thinking becomes the framework and the way they build and the way they wear their design now.

[00:19:04] Gerry: But unfortunately we were too cheap to pay for things anymore, we used to pay for things that we used now we're too cheap. You know, so we won't, we will, we wouldn't pay 5 Euro a month or, you know, or 10 Euro a month, but some of us would for sure, but unfortunately the people who pay are not a good target for advertising anyway. The better educated you are, the more you ignore that advertising advertising is essentially preying on poor people, and getting them, most directed advertising is about squeezing more spending out of poor people. So those poor people are not going to be able to pay for this stuff anyway. So that's what happens to social media it's corrupted by its business model. 

[00:20:00] Scott: And an incredibly wasteful, I can't remember the stats, but the click-through rate for adverts is significantly low isn't it? It's like in nought point per cent. So all that, the rest of that percentage of time is hitting people with animations and banners and, you know, that's just impacting on the environment again, isn't it?

[00:20:18] Gerry: Hugely wasteful as they say, from an advertising perspective, the amount of shit you've got to throw against a wall is enormous. You know, you're going to get one click, you know, so it is an incredibly wasteful and you see the tracking a typical website, a media website today might be let's say five megabytes easily four megabytes, if not four and a half megabytes could be tracking and ad-related stuff, so the underlying hidden architecture, of advertising is absolutely enormous.

[00:20:54] Gerry: But the weight of web pages and how, how heavy they need to be to carry all this, tracking architecture, is also a tremendous stress.

[00:21:09] Scott: And of course, people have got faster connections. So they're not going to notice that that load time 

[00:21:13] Gerry: To load those faster pages, we need more intense processors, bigger data centres, and now they're telling us we need 5G instead of 4G we're always going up a G you know, when 1G was here, 2G was going to be amazing it's going to change the world. When 2G was here, 3G was going to change the world, so we're constantly building these bigger infrastructures that have huge demands, again, but they're the cloud, uh, you know, we don't even see them. 

[00:21:47] Gerry: We're just constantly creating these bigger infrastructures to deal with, surveillance capitalism as it's called, that more and more, it's not what we want to do or our data, it's the data about us. That is being transferred. 

[00:22:06] Gerry: Someone was saying reading, on Kindle, more data is consumed, tracking your reading behaviour than you reading that page.

[00:22:16] Scott: Wow. I didn't know that

[00:22:18] Gerry: And that's what they really want more for so they can actually track us more.

[00:22:23] Scott: How long you spent on a page and how quickly did you get through the book 

[00:22:26] Gerry: All sorts of stuff.

[00:22:27] Scott: It's crazy. It's quite scary how much these platforms know about us. Isn't it?

[00:22:31] Gerry: And how little we know about them.

[00:22:34] Scott: Yeah. , 

[00:22:35] Gerry: I remember visiting Google once and you might as well be going into Fort Knox or an airport. You know, it was security, security, security. They're extraordinary in their ability to tell you nothing about themselves and hide everything about how their data centres work, etc. etc.

[00:22:57] Gerry: But, but they know everything about you, or they know a lot about us. 

[00:23:00] Gerry: I would not have thought that this was the world that would have emerged in 94, 95 when I thought, about the web I thought it would be a much more democratic environment, but it's really increasingly an environment controlled by five or six white men.

[00:23:18] Scott: Interesting. Quite depressing really.

[00:23:22] Gerry: Well, yeah, 

[00:23:23] Scott: There's got to be hope!

[00:23:24] Gerry: The world today is, is not, you know, not in the most fantastic state and, what can you do? Try to try the best you can, maybe maybe enough people will start waking up, I don't know, you know, but I keep talking about it.

[00:23:41] Scott: Is that what drives you then? We talked a bit about the customer champion and I feel that people like that are in the minority. I don't know if that's fair because I would be frustrated in the last organization being that customer champion. And to the point, I know I've heard you talk about it at one of your talks about they're the hero, but the organization thinks they're just being difficult.

[00:24:02] Scott: And that's frustrating. You feel you're trying to do the right thing.

[00:24:05] Gerry: Well, it is, yeah in Ireland, at the moment, the most hated political party is the green party everybody hates them the right hate because they just want to burn all the fossil fuels they want and do exactly whatever they want and the left hate them because they're not pure enough.

[00:24:26] Gerry: So, the Greens are practically no friends the only party actually trying to do something positive to create an Ireland that will actually be livable in in a hundred years, are hated on both sides of the spectrums and that's a bit like the good web manager or web person, as well that, doing the right thing is rarely rewarded.

[00:24:50] Gerry: It's a lonely journey often, trying to really do something, positive and that really is not pushing forward somebody else's career, so to speak, even though, you know, the rewards of really building well structured can really push forward somebody's career because you'll reduce calls and all sorts of good metrics are there, but it's sad to see, how we behave in so many situations and yet, what can you do? 

[00:25:27] Gerry: You just have to keep, you have to keep at it you have to block that out and figure out in your own personal world, is this the right thing to do and then try and do it and create a network. Cause you gotta work within a network. You can't do this alone then you'd totally go mad but you got to find your network, even if it's, even if it's not within your organization to try and, you know, do work with other people outside to do other things that help.

[00:26:00] Gerry: You know sometimes we have to pay the mortgage. And our framework of decision-making is quite limited for periods in our lives, but I'm at a time where I've less need to, you know earn a lot of revenue and stuff like that so can, I can be even more annoying.

[00:26:23] Scott: You answered the question I was going to ask, which was, what advice would you give to those customer champions who are struggling and frustrated and you've answered it before I even asked it. So thank you for that. 

[00:26:33] Scott: It's been brilliant going through this. Thank you so much. How can people find out more and work with you?

[00:26:38] Gerry: Gerry is my website, I still do the Top Tasks work that has been my basic career for 20 years implementing these Top Tasks projects. And that it's gone really well. I've been very lucky. But the new area that I'm building up now is around digital environmental design and how to design better digital products and services, particularly, from a web point of view and for, you know, data and manage data better, stuff like that in a, in a more environmentally sound way. 

[00:27:16] Gerry: I know we're talking about social media, but I try it. I hope to use it, a, in a positive way, constantly publishing stats about, PDFs versus HTML pages, etc. So I'm Gerry just Gerry McGovern on Twitter so even if you just want to get in touch and ask a question I'm more than happy to try and answer it.

[00:27:37] Scott: Thanks, Gerry. And I'll make sure we put all those links in the show notes for listeners as well. 

[00:27:42] Scott: One final question. What is the one book you'd recommend for the listeners? And it can be your own book If you want.

[00:27:46] Gerry: Well, World Wide Waste is my last book a number of people have said it's a bit of an eye-opener for these issues. So maybe I'd say World Wide Waste and actually, I've made it freely available for those who can't afford, you know, I know I was giving out about free, but, I think in this there's, there's a positive reason behind it, but, they can buy it as well.

[00:28:09] Gerry: And I think that's a good starter for the issues of the environmental challenges that digital has and how to overcome them.

[00:28:19] Scott: Thank you so much for being on the show. It's been great to have you and to meet you even though not physically in person, but virtually it's been great.

[00:28:25] Gerry: It's been great to chat with you Scott.

[00:28:27] Scott: Likewise. Thanks Gerry.

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