Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Matt Tee communicates

I find this 30 minute talk by Matt Tee unbelievably irritating, and have been wondering whether my adverse reaction is really warranted, and whether it actually says more about me than about him. What do you think? The talk is here.

It is a 30 minute talk by Matt Tee, the current Permanent Secretary for Government Communications. Tee earns in excess of £160,000 per year. He is a communications professional who seems to have had a very successful career.

My problem with this talk is, I think:

1. Tee reminds me of David Brent. This is not his fault, and not a legitimate reason to criticise what he says.

2. He has little to say, surely? Strip out the “successful behavioural outcomes”, “partnership”, "stakeholder”, “co-creation”, “we’re on a journey” jargon and rhetoric, and his message boils down to:

• The public used to be seen by Government as passive recipients of information, not as customers to engage with, which they now are, ‘cos of the internet, twitter, etc. Citizens can now provide feedback on services.

• There should be more effective working together between government departments.

• Government needs to apply psychological research if Government wants to affect behaviour, not just make ads saying: “stop smoking”, “eat less fat”, “do more exercise”, “get a job”, etc.

Now, surely, all of this is pretty trite and obvious, not cutting edge insight? Won't everyone in the audience already know this? Most of us know it, surely. It’s platitudinous.

3. Much of what Tee says seems to serve primarily as a device for reminding us of how successful he has been. The talk is in large part a puff for himself and his career.

4. Is Tee himself a good communicator? I found this presentation dull, uninformative, and I suspect it’s unlikely to motivate his audience to do anything different. The one concrete bit of advice he gives them is: think of how your next communication might be tweeted.

As I say, Tee earns over £160,000 per year of taxpayer's money (equivalent to, say, the combined salaries of three university professors). Maybe he’s very good at managing. But I’d say he’s a rather poor communicator and, on the basis of this performance, a bit light on ideas.

But perhaps I am being jealous and unfair? Wouldn't be the first time...

POSTSCRIPT. Perhaps one way of bringing out the sheer inanity of what Tee has to see is to apply the denial test. Who might conceivably say, "Matt, I disagree with you: let's not listen to to the public but just treat them as passive receivers of information, let's not have more effective working together between departments, and let's not apply psychological research to produce more effective communications."

Also note the zeitgeist, buzzword flavour of the ideas. He's following the common formula of offering obvious suggestions of the sort any reasonably intelligent person given five minutes to think about the subject might come up with, but dressed up as "synergy", "joined-up-thinking", "stake-holding", "partnership" and "co-creation", or whatever the current vocabulary is, etc. At times it seems to me to come close to pseudo-profundity.

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