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- Mirsad Capric, former Director of Digital Strategy and Platforms, Citi
While many are re-evaluating jobs and workplaces, former Citi executive Mirsad Capric has taken the step others only dream of – a sabbatical away from a successful career.
In this latest episode of Digital Workplace Impact, Nancy Goebel hosts an energizing conversation with the former Director of Digital Strategy and Platforms at global investment bank, Citi.
Having seized the moment to pause, Mirsad is now re-energizing, refocusing and rethinking what comes next; a journey he’s sharing on social media and which is resulting in some great discussions.
During this two-part tour, Nancy and Mirsad uncover the realities and adventures a career break can bring. They also share insights and expertise on search within a corporate digital context, and – drawing on his long career in digital communications – Mirsad offers some practical and actionable dos and don’ts to help digital workplace practitioners today.
So, listen now for more search tales from the digital workplace, and for ideas and experiences that will resonate with digital workplace practitioners and potential career-breakers everywhere.
[00:00:00.550] – Mirsad Capric
Going into this sabbatical, I thought I would have a lot of time. More specifically, I would have a lot of free time. No more commute, no more nine to five tethered to a desk. So I thought I would have more free time. I thought I would be reading a new book every two to three days. I thought I would potentially get in a Netflix binge here or there over the course of time. And what I discovered was that time was really at a premium still.
[00:00:27.280] – Nancy Goebel
Earlier today, I had a chance to catch up with Mirsad Capric, who was a long time sponsor for DWG membership at Citi. It’s hard to believe that Mirsad and I have known each other for well over eight years now, where for much of that time he was the Director of Digital Strategy and Platforms at Citi. This pod comes at an interesting time. Why, you might ask? Well, in March, Mirsad decided to take a worthy pause from a long and successful career as a digital workplace leader at Citi, Mirsad. Has since been chronicling his adventures, sharing a mix of personal, professional reflections and instigating some great discussions on social that includes LinkedIn and Twitter of course. Following his post prompted me to frame essentially a two part conversation entitled Search tales from a former Citi executive. The first tale dips into Mirsad’s personal search for what’s important during a sabbatical. He shares insights about time, reconnection, reflection, fitness and more, and it felt like a nice dovetail to Episode 102 of Digital Workplace Impact wherein Evan Sohn, CEO of Recruiter.com, talked to us about what the great reevaluation means for employee experiences, and the second tale was prompted by Mirsad’s LinkedIn post that talked about why search sucks and opens the door to conversation about what it takes to improve search experiences.
[00:02:04.710] – Nancy Goebel
And in just a few minutes you’ll hear some very concrete examples of what he and his team at Citi did there. And we know from within our membership and conversations with our wider circles that search as a perennial issue, and we had the privilege of bringing some members together for a recent DWG q and a session that turned up to be a very powerful conversation that unlocked quite a few breakthrough ideas on improving search from a mix of DWG member sharing and the DWG knowledge team. And no doubt those ideas will be a source of inspiration for DWG’s upcoming member research that will be centred around a findability playbook that is due out this fall. So search as a digital workplace topic is one that’s getting a lot of attention these days. So I hope you’ll join me now for what I would consider to be an energy packed, insightful and energising conversation with Mirsad Capric. Of course, Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by Digital Workplace Group. Happy listening.
[00:03:15.830] – Nancy Goebel
Hey Mirsad, it’s great to be reconnected with you and to have a chance to sit down and chat for a little bit. Thank you so much for coming into the studio.
[00:03:24.190] – Mirsad Capric
Yes, awesome. Thanks for having me, Nancy.
[00:03:26.190] – Nancy Goebel
So I know that you’ve been having lots of conversations within LinkedIn and lots of other circles off the heels of making a pretty significant decision earlier this year. In March, in fact, you took a worthy pause from a long and successful career within digital communications at Citi, and you’ve been chronicling your adventures, sharing a wide variety of personal and professional reflections and even interesting discussions that you’ve catalyzed there as well. And of course, we’ve been in touch for many years, but I’ve been following your recent posts with great interest to the point that it got me thinking about framing a conversation here in the studio, a two-part conversation themed around search tales from the digital workplace. And the first part is really about dipping into your personal search for what’s important during what I’ve been calling your sabbatical. It’s been really a time of reflection, reconnection, fitness, a whole host of other things. And of course, this conversation comes hot off the heels of a podcast episode with the CEO of Recruiter.com Evan Sohn, who shared some insights about the great re-evaluation. And of course, the intensity of the pandemic has prompted lots of people to take stock and their lifestyles, their approach to how work and life need to come together in more meaningful ways.
[00:05:13.820] – Nancy Goebel
So I’m going to pause there and say, with that backdrop in place, can you tell us a little bit about how your sabbatical came into being and what you’ve discovered so far?
[00:05:25.730] – Mirsad Capric
Yeah. No. Thanks for raising it, Nancy. It’s been a fun and interesting adventure, even though it’s only been two and a half months into my sabbatical career break. And I want to preface this all by saying that I want to acknowledge how blessed, fortunate and lucky I am to be able to take this sabbatical and career break. It’s not lost on me that not many get this opportunity, so I view myself as blessed and fortunate to be able to do it and to have a support network by way of my wife, my kids, my friends, my family, my family and my former colleagues to do this. I would say that my wife has been my strongest supporter, of course, throughout this whole thing. Val has been a champion of me throughout this whole endeavour, and she’s not only an amazing, supportive wife, but also a brilliant financial adviser. So we were able to see very early on that we were financially secure to do this and this journey really to kind of create a little bit more of a backdrop to it. My career started at Citi in 2005 and I enjoyed an amazing run at Citi.
[00:06:33.120] – Mirsad Capric
I’m incredibly grateful to that organization and the experiences and the growth opportunities I had there. I was able to lead a fantastic team, partner with many smart colleagues at that organization. So I am forever indebted to that organization for the opportunities it afforded me. And a little bit of for folks that are listening to this, head to citigroup.com. Check out the career section. You would not regret a career at Citi should you be looking to explore a new career opportunity. So my wife and I have really been having this conversation for the last two or three years and as I headed into my 16th year at the organization, we kind of took a momentary pause and said, this seems like the best time to do it. 16 years to us. It’s signify the end of a first act of my career and there was no better time to do it to take a momentary pause. Spend more time with family, do some things that I’m more passionate about in terms of reading and writing fitness, doing some part-time consulting work just to keep my mind fresh, but really just kind of spend time re-energising and refocusing and thinking what I may want to do next in my career.
[00:07:46.500] – Nancy Goebel
Well, that’s quite a lot of change and I’m sure that as much as it was well timed and well planned for, there’s emotion tied to it. After investing 16 years with a group of fantastic colleagues inside of a wonderful organization, believe it or not, and I share this for the wider benefit of our audience. I had a similar moment when I decided to leave JPMorgan Chase after 20 years. So we’re kindred spirits in more ways than one. And my first act was being corporate staff. More than half of my career, JPMorgan was in human resources and then I took what was an EHR agenda and helped elevate it to work that needed to happen in digitising the corporate sector and ultimately moved into IT to manage that function. And after a few rounds of big M and A deals, decided that I needed to do something else because there was going to be yet the next big consolidation with another organization. So just before the Washington Mutual acquisition, I decided to take mine and it ended up that I came to reconnect with Paul Miller and based on a brainstorm idea from my late husband, ended up starting to do some consulting work.
[00:09:24.130] – Nancy Goebel
Early days with Paul to stand up, then IBF intranet Benchmarking Forum in North America and then the rest is history. Here we are today, a number of years later and I’m in a senior leadership role within DWG, so you just never know where that career trajectory is going to take you Mirsad.
[00:09:47.690] – Mirsad Capric
That is fantastic to hear. Incredibly encouraging for someone who’s now in the midst of it. So I look forward to what this does for me and then where my journey heads from here
[00:09:57.500] – Nancy Goebel
For sure and so we’ll have lots to talk about now after this session and can have some fun brainstorming as well. So we’ll tee that up but in the meantime, I know I have lots of questions for you, the first of which is really why chronicle this stage of your life on social media.
[00:10:21.630] – Mirsad Capric
So it’s a bit of a two-parter. One is I always enjoy reading others’ journeys, whether it’s through books, through online publications, through social media posts. It’s something that I look to for inspiration, guidance or advice as far as what I could apply to my own life. So I thought, other than consuming it, is that something I could help put back into the world as a part of this journey myself. So hopefully someone somewhere is reading my content, whether it’s through a Medium post or a tweet or a post on LinkedIn. And there’s something that they’re able to glean from it. And I’ll be quite honest, I’ve been very surprised at the support and comments I’ve gotten from a lot of the content that I’ve posted. Even this morning I was meeting with someone from a not for profit and they were mentioning to me that they had just read my Medium post and they were thinking about their career and where that may head, and it offered them some thought of their own to start thinking about. So hearing those kind of comments has been very rewarding for me. The other reason I’ve done it somewhat a bit self servingly or selfishly, is I like to do research and writing.
[00:11:36.470] – Mirsad Capric
It’s a passion of mine. I get to do a lot more of it now that I have the time to do it and to just oppose the love I have for writing. I find it incredibly daunting to actually publicly post and promote my own writing. So it’s a little bit of a growth opportunity for me to overcome that challenge. And as somebody who is a father to an almost six year old daughter who my words of encouragement to her is to always face a challenge or fear head on. Dad’s taking a little bit of his own medicine by taking something that he finds pretty daunting and just doing it to learn something and to grow out of it and to overcome that challenge.
[00:12:19.670] – Nancy Goebel
That’s my definition of courage. When you take a fear and you lean into it and do something positive with it, you end up with courage.
[00:12:30.210] – Mirsad Capric
[00:12:31.350] – Nancy Goebel
Have you had any sort of surprising insights that have shown through your writing or the experience of a sabbatical so far?
[00:12:44.250] – Mirsad Capric
I would say one of the things that have really come to mind most recently is going into this sabbatical. I thought I would have a lot of time. More specifically, I would have a lot of free time. No more commute, no more nine to five tethered to a desk. So I thought I would have more free time. I thought I would be reading a new book every two to three days. I thought I would potentially get in a Netflix binge here or there over the course of time. And what I discovered was that time was really at a premium. Still, the good thing is I get to invest my time the way that I see fit. So it’s all good things like spending time with my daughters, going to the park with them, doing more writing, et cetera. But again, I don’t have the free time that I thought I was going to have going into this. But again, it’s not a lot of free time, but the stress levels are way down relative to where it was prior to March.
[00:13:43.650] – Nancy Goebel
Understood. Well, time is a precious gift, and it sounds like you’re utilising it well, and it will be interesting to see what new adventures spring up as part of this journey. I’m keen to make sure that we have enough time to explore search tale number two. And that really ties back to a post that you shared around enterprise search. And I wanted to make sure that we could draw out some of your insights and experiences from your time at Citi. And we know that search has been a perennial issue for digital workplace teams as long as we’ve been operating in these circles. So for those of us who started in the intranet world and then blossomed into the wider digital workplace, the issue remains the same. It’s challenging. And so as someone who’s managed search experiences as part of a wider set of channels, you share that the phrase make it work like Google is something that was painful for you in years past and tell us why that is and how you debunked that myth.
[00:15:06.210] – Mirsad Capric
Yeah. So make it like Google was especially at the onset of my time, managing our search experience at Citi, was an incredibly frustrating and painful thing to hear. And I think I learned over time why it was at the same time, Nancy, a fair and unfair thing to say. As a recipient of it, it was unfair because my initial reaction, especially at the onset, was, well, if you gave me a thousand of 1% of Google’s resources, I can deliver you the greatest search experience of all time. But of course, that’s not rooted in any kind of reality or practicality. So saying that really didn’t do anything for anybody. What I learned in terms of the fairness of that comment makes it more like Google was really peeling back what that meant, really what people meant when they said that was I’m having a hard time finding something. It’s happening to me consistently, and I need this to work. And I remember this really kind of codified for me when I was having a conversation with someone on my team who was managing our search experience day to day, and they were receiving this feedback pretty often.
[00:16:24.360] – Mirsad Capric
And so the way that I phrased it to them was when a client or stakeholder tells you something is broken, they’re usually right. But when they tell you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong. So again, saying that search was broken in some cases was probably right and fair, saying to make it more like Google was wrong and probably unfair in terms of how we debunked it. I’ll be honest with you, Nancy. I don’t think we ever really debunked it. I think we got better at search. So we heard less and less make it more like Google over time. Of course, we would hear it sporadically in some cases at the end of my time at Citi, but certainly not to the frequency that we did at the outset.
[00:17:09.960] – Nancy Goebel
What were the different avenues that you used to try to help make things better, whether it was from an experience point of view, a content point of view, other things?
[00:17:25.290] – Mirsad Capric
Yeah, I guess I’ll take this question a little bit, if you don’t mind, and maybe I’ll delve it a little bit more into the Google part of this and trying to relate a Google search experience over to a digital workplace search experience. So I’ll take that a step further in terms of why does a digital workplace experience maybe not work as well as when you see it on a Google search experience? So to start with Google search, just to give folks that are listening right now a bit of a primer on Google’s search experience. Google search experience is obviously miraculous, right? You put something in as a keyword and you almost all the time find what you’re looking for. And there are a number of factors that go into a Google search experience or signals, if you will, that tried to find the right content and give you an answer relative to your keyword. One of the things that really underscores Google’s signals, if you will, is page rank. And what page rank is is that once Google has gone out and scoured the Internet, recorded all the content off of a web page, including the content of the text on it, the images on it, and most importantly, you’ll see why in a moment the hyperlinks on it and then starts doing some real magic.
[00:18:49.190] – Mirsad Capric
Because what it does is it looks at all those hyperlinks across the Internet and it looks to where it’s actually pointing to. And Google then starts making decisions that say if this web page receives a lot of links to it across the Internet, that must be a really good piece of content. It must be accurate and must be authoritative. So when someone searches for this keyword, we’re going to promote this piece of content because essentially the Internet is telling us this is good. It’s almost like the best voting system or popularity contest in the world because that’s essentially what the web is doing. It’s voting on what is a good piece of content. So this is what Google does really well. And again, this is just one factor or one signal amongst hundreds and potentially thousands of other signals that they may use, like site performance of a website on page, factors like the title or H1 tags, personalization in terms of what Google may know about you because you use Google Chrome or historical searches that you’ve done through Google. So all of this content just gives Google the benefit of being able to really hone in on what you’re looking for.
[00:20:01.230] – Mirsad Capric
Now try to tie that to a digital workplace search experience. Google page rank works and does really well in the Internet because it does it at scale. It has a lot of content to work with, and so it has a lot of information to be able to say this is the content you’re looking for. That scale doesn’t exist on a digital workplace experience. As much as we may see a lot of content and digital workplace experiences, it’s not enough for a page rank to work effectively there. So what we end up doing is using other signals which individually may not work well, but in the aggregate can work pretty well. You look at things like keyword density or frequency. You look at things like content freshness trying to potentially air in the favour of newer content versus older content. You look at content types, you may look at things like where it sits in the hierarchy of your digital workplace. You look at certain metadata, and again, in the whole, these signals can deliver pretty good search results for your digital workplace search experience. Probably not as good as page rank on the Internet, but still pretty good for a digital workplace experience.
[00:21:17.010] – Mirsad Capric
And you kind of touched on content a little bit. Nancy, in your question before, content is the other key factor here. So we talk a little bit about the platforms and the algorithms with page rank and other signals that can be used to identify relevant content. But as often said, in kind of marketing and comms, content is king and content quality certainly is queen when it comes to search relevancy. And what we need to keep in mind sometimes is that Google has essentially established a whole industry around search engine optimization, which is folks who look at content and create content based off of keyword research or optimise content based off of keyword research so that they can make that content more findable in Internet search experiences. There are people who dedicate their careers to this, their large teams and big organizations that do this. There are agencies that specifically focus in on this. And while I’ve seen content quality get better at organizations in terms of the internal content that they create, it is nowhere near pristine compared to what you see on the Internet. And again, that content quality goes a long way in terms of making content findable.
[00:22:41.990] – Mirsad Capric
And the last thing I will say to underscore all of this that sometimes people do forget is Google had an enterprise search experience or search product. I should say that they sunset it in 2019. And I’m sure there are a lot of technology folks and digital marketers or communications or HR professionals that thought that Google was going to come into their organization and fix all these problems miraculously. And I think what they saw as I shared over the course of my monologue here, is that it didn’t apply neatly. What Google does on the Internet to what you may see in an enterprise.
[00:23:25.470] – Nancy Goebel
I certainly think just to tie a little bow around this part of the conversation, people used to assume that if you plugged in Google search internally that it would flick a switch and solve the problem. But the reality is it surfaced all of the issues that existed all along in terms of people not thinking about content quality or all of the tagging that’s needed. Plus, plus, plus. We often see practitioners like yourself working with teams to achieve some breakthrough moments. It doesn’t mean you solve it all at once. And so when you look back on your efforts in the land of enterprise search, what would you say are your top dos and don’ts for digital workplace practitioners who are still challenged in this space, perhaps even more so now because of the mix of structured content or corporate content, social content and all the rest?
[00:24:29.830] – Mirsad Capric
Sure. So I have a few do’s. I have one fairly significant don’t. So I’ll start off with the dos.
[00:24:36.670] – Nancy Goebel
[00:24:38.950] – Mirsad Capric
The first one being to establish a methodology to test out any tweaks you may make to your search engine relevancy algorithm. Through my own experience and through conversations I’ve had with peers across the industry, I don’t see this happening a lot. I hear a lot of people who always make tweaks and changes to customise their search experiences, but I don’t hear a lot about how do they actually test those changes prior to them going live on their search experience? And there’s a lot of interesting methodologies you could apply to test out any tweets you may make to your algorithm in terms of tweaking things like content freshness or looking at metadata. And you can do things in terms of testing top keywords versus longtail keywords and how they appear organically on the search relevancy page. But whatever methodology you may come up with in your organization, come up with one and make sure you practice it every time. You’re going to make at least a significant change to your search environment. That’s do number one. Do number two is establish metrics to evaluate your search performance or your search results performance. There’s a lot of popular ones out there.
[00:25:54.770] – Mirsad Capric
My two favourite are looking at successful searches, which at Citi, we had looked at the number of clicks to a specific keyword relative to the number of times that keyword was searched. So if someone searched performance management 100 times and they had clicked on a search result 99 times, we can look at that with pretty relative confidence to say that they found what they were looking for most of the time. When that search happened. Another popular one is no search results. So if you have a keyword that’s being typed in frequently, but no search results are coming relative to that keyword, there’s obviously something you have to look at in terms of potentially creating new content or looking for existing content that meets the needs of that keyword. The other thing that I would say certainly helped us at Citi in terms of making the whole make it like Google phrase be heard far less frequently, is manage your top search keywords very closely. I would venture to say in the conversations I’ve had with peers in the industry that your top 200, 300 or 400 keywords, which sounds like a lot, but those probably make up 80% of your search volume over the course of a month or over the course of the year.
[00:27:15.680] – Mirsad Capric
And if you really hone in on those top X amount of search keywords, you can make a lot of people happy that 80% of the time they’re going to find the perfect result that they’re looking for because you are purposefully creating a featured result that ties a keyword over to the specific content that they’re looking for. In terms of my big don’t, I would say don’t just take any content sources for your search experience. You should be incredibly critical of every content source you plan on indexing or ingesting into your search experience. And make sure that the content is that of quality, has the appropriate metadata, because to fix it after the fact, after you ingested it is terribly difficult and just worsens the search experience once you’ve introduced it.
[00:28:07.310] – Nancy Goebel
So that’s a lot to think about, and it’s formulating a nice little checklist of dos and don’ts for us to share with our practitioners. Is there anything you want to share with content creators or the content creators that Digital Workplace teams are liaising with directly?
[00:28:30.730] – Mirsad Capric
I would say the key thing is, just as you’re creating content to think about, how would somebody look for this content, or what are the words that they would think about to use to search for it? And are there any synonyms, or are there any acronyms that people may use to find that content? I know it’s a little bit painful to sometimes do that, and you’re not going to hit the mark every time, but it is incredibly important. You’re creating the content, you’re putting all this effort into it, and you certainly want to make sure that people can find it and use it for the utility that you’re putting it out there for.
[00:29:06.470] – Nancy Goebel
That’s some great advice, and you dropped a little teaser into the end of that same post about search. And so it sounds like you’re working on a follow on about enterprise search. Can you give us a little sneak preview of what it might cover?
[00:29:25.870] – Mirsad Capric
Yeah. So it’s going to be a bit of what we’ve been talking about today in this episode, Nancy, talking maybe just more in depth so look at the difference between Google Search and a digital workplace search experience. Talk about a little bit about the signals that you could use in the digital workplace experience. Talk a bit about the different metrics or key performance indicators to keep an eye on that helps measure how well your search experience is performing. And then finally talk a little bit about the content aspect of it. So what do you need to put in front of content creators to get them to think more like someone who does search engine optimization? Because once again, I feel like content creation is maturing when it comes to HR, internal comms, colleagues within the organization, or just general content creators. But certainly there’s a bit of training that could go a long way to help people think about how to create content to make it more findable in a search experience.
[00:30:29.880] – Nancy Goebel
Well, we’ll certainly keep an eye out for that follow on post, and then we’ll make sure we add it to the show notes once all is said and done in our final moments together. Is there a question you were hoping I’d asked and didn’t?
[00:30:46.990] – Mirsad Capric
Well, I wasn’t hoping that you would ask me, Nancy, but I’ll ask you, based on your experience with the Digital Workplace Group, who should own a Digital Workplace search experience?
[00:30:57.380] – Nancy Goebel
Well, I think it’s something that requires collective ownership. It’s one of those things where the Digital Workplace team may steward the cause. But because everyone produces content in some shape or form, especially when you include wider capabilities like social content, collaborative content and knowledge, we all have to take a level of responsibility to make sure that the things that we’re putting out there are quality content and follow the same rules that you were just describing. I think it’s the role of the Digital Workplace teams to provide the framework, the education, the controls, the support system, but also to share the benefits of the progress that’s being made. So the wider collective feels the progress that’s been made because there’s always what’s in it for you to invest the time. And we have to be clear about what that is in the beginning, the middle, and the end of this journey together.
[00:32:06.190] – Mirsad Capric
Agree. Totally agree.
[00:32:09.010] – Nancy Goebel
And so any final thoughts or reflections before we cap off our time together?
[00:32:15.550] – Mirsad Capric
I’ll take this in a couple of parts. So going back to sabbaticals and career breaks to offer if I could offer any guidance two and a half months in, I would say that for those who are considering it, make sure if you do take a sabbatical or career break, make sure it’s a purposeful one. Plan in advance, because you certainly don’t want to enter one without a thoroughly thought out plan. Because I can certainly see getting into a bit of a malaise if you don’t have a plan during a sabbatical or career break. When it comes to search, as we talked about content quality is key, so make sure that you’re taking great care of the content that’s in your search experience. Make sure that you’re removing any old content, make sure that you’re updating an existing content that’s still relevant, but just may need a few tweaks relative to keywords being used. And make sure you’re training your content creators to think like a search engine optimization specialist. And then lastly, we’ve been talking a lot about my experience and my experience managing search engines. Certainly couldn’t do it alone. Had a lot of great colleagues who worked on my team at Citi that were a part of this journey with me.
[00:33:34.590] – Mirsad Capric
I can’t name them all because then you’ll start rolling the music on me like it’s the Oscars, but certainly want to give a specific shout out to Raj Singh, Tanzila Ahad, and Jana Temu at the team at Citi that manages the search experience or has managed parts of that search experience in the past. They’ve done a phenomenal job over the last number of years and they are really the reason why we hadn’t heard make it like Google very frequently at the end of my tenure.
[00:34:04.880] – Nancy Goebel
Well, it’s always wonderful to recognise the circle of stars, so to speak, that work behind the scenes on something that sometimes feels like a thankless task, but in the end is a real productivity booster inside of the organization and frankly, reduces risk when it’s done well because people are finding the path to the right content when searches being optimized appropriately by stakeholders direct and indirect. So nice way to cap off the conversation, Mirsad.
[00:34:36.430] – Mirsad Capric
Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate the time.
[00:34:37.980] – Nancy Goebel
Today Digital Workplace Impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry not only through membership but also benchmarking and boutique consulting services. For more information, visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
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