Video and email have their place in the business world, but Richard Rierson thinks the sound of a human voice is hard to beat when it comes to important internal company communications.
Rierson heads up Verum Communications, which allows businesses to deliver audio messages to employees via a mobile app. His usual recommendation is for CEOs or other executives to make the recordings themselves.
When they do, he said, employees “see them as human beings. I think that’s extremely powerful.”
“It’s hard not to be sterile and impersonal in an email blast,” he added.
The broadcasts are designed to be played whenever employees have time to listen – for instance, while driving or working out. They can take several forms. For some clients, Rierson might produce a kind of radio show, with him interviewing a company executive, high-performing employee or satisfied customer.
Another might simply be an executive talking about an issue important to the company.
Verum isn’t targeted toward all types of businesses, but rather those that are fairly large, with employees spread out over a large geographic area – say, a fast-food restaurant or hotel chain.
Rierson is a Wichita native whose career has taken a couple of twists. A computer science major at Wichita State University, he signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps as a sophomore when a friend on the rowing team told him he could qualify to become a Marine pilot.
“I’m like, ‘The Marines have planes?’ I’d always thought about wanting to be a pilot,” Rierson said.
Rierson was commissioned as an officer in 1991, qualified for flight school, and eventually “flew all over the world” piloting a KC-130.
Rierson was hired by American Airlines and moved back to Wichita in 2001. After training with American, his first workday with the company fell on Sept. 11 of that year, when flights were grounded because of the terrorist attacks.
Rierson made a half-dozen flights for American before being laid off as a result of the downturn that followed those attacks.
“It was a shock to the system,” he said. “I was like, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’ It was a difficult process because I had so much of my identity wrapped up in that.
“I realized that I don’t have to rely necessarily on a tactical or technical skill. The leadership I learned in the Marine Corps and flying multi-crew aircraft, so much of that skill set translates into the corporate arena.”
Not that he was done flying. After working several years in non-aviation jobs for Value Place hotels, Rierson went to work at Bombardier Aerospace in 2008 as part of a flight test team and corporate shuttle pilot.
In 2013, Rierson started two side businesses – executive coaching and hosting a series of podcasts called “Dose of Leadership,” in which he interviewed Steve Forbes and other well-known guests.
The podcasts weren’t designed to be moneymakers, but rather to “help me build my brand and build my tribe,” Rierson said. Recorded in Rierson’s basement studio, the podcasts have been downloaded over 1 million times in 161 countries, according to the Verum website.
Rierson started Verum Communications last fall and recently left Bombardier to focus on it full-time.
Rierson said studies show that on average, about a third of all employees are “engaged” or fully committed to their workplace, leaving “a huge opportunity to drive the needle to more production, more safety, less turnover.”
“The No. 1 driver of engagement is consistently hearing from senior leadership,” he said. “The second driver is if I know how my role feeds into that. And the third biggest is consistent recognition for high performers.”