Keith Urban

The other day my flight was delayed and there were no seats in the gate area so I stepped onto the moving walkway, spied a Brookstone, got off, and wandered in.  There’s no place to hide in these mini airport mall stores. As my eyes rested briefly on a pair of wireless Bluetooth speakers, the smiling store clerk was at my side. “These are amazing.  My husband just bought them for our house.  We had a party on our deck,” she gushed. “The sound is incredible.”

Of course I was sucked in. “What else do you have?” Turns out that Bluetooth wireless sound now comes packaged in all shapes and sizes, like kids’ toys. Studio Wireless, Mobile Minis, and my new personal favorites, Bops, which look like little round, soft plastic door knobs, and come in purple, orange, pink, blue, and gray.

As most readers are aware, back in the day, speakers were built to IMPRESS. The standard for sound then was amplification first, quality second.  It was all about big, bad and booming.  You scored major points with guests when the speaker towers took up a quarter of your living space, shook the walls and made everybody’s teeth vibrate.

Our standards have changed for the better.  Loud never goes out of style, but the “partay” is no longer tethered to your apartment living room with spider plants hanging by macramé  in the window and Cheetos in the snack bowl. Yet somehow, the standards for communicating at work seem frozen in time.

I was talking with a communications VP the other day about how they get company news to employees.  She mused about the fact that they are doing things pretty much the way they always have.  There’s the company-wide newsletter, which although distributed globally on four continents, is English only.  It features sizzling announcements about promotions of people most never have and never will meet, and riveting ribbon cuttings for the new warehouse facilities in cities most will never visit. Like spider plants and vintage Dynaco A25s or Braun ADS 710s, the format and content are so, well…so 30 years ago.

In contrast, a few weeks ago I was talking with Ron Utterbeck, CIO at GE, whose team has launched a company version of a Facebook-style program for employees called Colab.  Their folks can log on, chat, post project notes, find expertise they need, and do so on their time.  Highly interactive, relevant, and on demand. Interestingly this wasn’t initially a big ticket item. A small band of innovative folks in IT had an idea.  They found funding. Now almost half of GE’s global workforce is using it.

In my travels, GE is the exception. Most companies still use the equivalent of the same big, bad, booming blah, blah blah, corporate talk-at-you style of communication they always have.  When Bates Communications surveys employees or conducts internal stakeholder interviews, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that most people aren’t paying very much attention.  This isn’t just about whether you have a cool, Bop-like delivery system comparable to Colab.  It’s also about whether your leaders are communicating in a fresh voice with a relevant sound.  The “playlist” of the corporate message has to beyond “My First, My Last, My Everything.” Barry White is a classic, but guess what?  People would like to hear some Keith Urban, for heaven’s sake.

Like the Bop speakers, which amazingly retail at only $29.99, the price of entry in this new world of communication is low, and the pleasure of the experience is high.  When communication is on demand and convenient, more people are reading, watching, listening.  When the tone is personal and conversational, they are appreciative. When the content is timely and relevant, they start talking.  The best investment is in style first, whatever set of “speakers” you currently own.  Be creative in your approach. Dump the corporate speak.  Make the message meaningful.

I didn’t buy the speakers yet.  Still deciding between the orange and the grey.