A couple of weeks before starting work, each of Hugh Braithwaite's new hires receives an iPod loaded with greetings from some of the other 14 employees of Braithwaite Communications.
The unexpected gift energizes people new to the $3 million Philadelphia marketing communications firm. "They come in the door with much higher morale and positive energy," says Braithwaite, 46.
Podcasts, blogs, wikis and even video games can create, organize and disseminate internal training, says Anders Gronstedt, a training consultant in Broomfield, Colorado. The emerging channels address shortfalls of conventional training techniques and are more portable, flexible and fun than memos and lectures. Blogs, for instance, can be set up behind a company's firewall to encourage internal dialogues with employees. "A lot of companies are finding that tremendously valuable," Gronstedt says. Podcasts can deliver training during downtime. Video game-like simulations let workers experience customer interactions much more cheaply than on-the-job training. And wikis help companies create and organize knowledge about best practices. Gronstedt says smart cell phones are the next training frontier, as companies try putting databases for field personnel on BlackBerrys and similar devices.
The new tools do carry risks. For instance, iPods aren't secure. "We suggest you don't develop podcasts around proprietary information," Gronstedt warns. But costs are modest, even when companies hand out free players. For Braithwaite, giving out iPods with prerecorded orientations looks like an investment with long-term paybacks: "With the ones we've done, nobody's erased them."