Jim Crocker –  founder and CEO of Boardroom Metrics

In 2012 I’ve attended two HR conferences. They couldn’t have been more different.

The 2nd Annual Talent Management Development Conference in July was classic HR. All HIPO’s, Blackberries and handwritten notes. A place where an HR leader could openly admit that her company ‘racks, stacks and chops’ it’s employees – and not find herself trending on Twitter.

The only racking and stacking going on at yesterday’s Impact99 was the clever ways that participants tweets were being broadcast and highlighted during the session. Participants so engaged they drove #impact99 to the number three trending spot on Twitter during the morning session.

If there was any overlap between the people that each conference attracted it wasn’t very obvious. However, the presence of Telus, TD Canada Trust and several other large, well known Canadian companies yesterday suggests that some large organizations ARE addressing HR issues in some very forward thinking ways.

Here are some of my take-aways from yesterday:

1. There was a refreshing focus on how, not what. It all felt a bit Gary Vaynerchuckish (in his most recent evolvement) – little talk any more about what is social media and whether it matters – and serious discussion about how to manage and implement it for maximum results.

2. The presentations by both Telus and TD were eye-opening. First, it’s always great to see ‘young’ corporate leaders who are articulate, passionate (a green dress!), and successful. But hearing that these two large organizations (TD now has 85,500 employees) have implemented essentially open, un-moderated access to social media tools that have driven their employee engagement levels out of the ballpark suggests the kinds of companies I’m glad I’m doing business with. Their message: by integrating social media into the workplace, not on top of it, social media has unleashed much of what is human in organizations – the desires to collaborate, question, learn, teach, help, support, etc.

3. Collaboration and agility are key pain points that social media is addressing in organizations. For years now, business has been moving at light speed and CEO’s have been lamenting the drag of organizational silo’s and the futility of planning for anything beyond tomorrow. Now, it turns out that social media is a key weapon in the fight to destroy silos – and connected organizations get all the insight they need to make on-the-fly tweaks to operating direction and priorities.

4. As someone tweeted yesterday, there was gold in getting a panel of CEO’s reactions to some current social media vendors and thought leaders talking about what they see. The CEO reactions ranged from ‘that’s nice, but how?’ through ‘you have my attention, I want to hear more’.  What got their attention? How to stop wasting money on training, and the massive importance of mobile (more people in the world have access to mobile than they do to running water!). And, if it hasn’t already, it sounds like ‘gamification’ is about to take over from ‘social media’ as the most hotly contested ‘new thing’ in organizations.

No question, Impact99 speaks to the converted. For those who already believe or are already there, it was a great rah!, rah! event and massive dose of encouragement to keep on keeping on.

However – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this – Impact99 doesn’t represent reality in terms of most businesses, CEO’s, and management consultants today. Many, if not most that I know still haven’t put much/any consideration into the role that social media could and will play in cementing culture and competitive advantage in their organizations – and in their competitors.

As Courtney Shelton Hunt pointed out in her closing keynote, not being right there on social media doesn’t mean going out of business tomorrow. And she’s right. It doesn’t.

But wow, when you see what the Telus’ and TD’s are doing, you have to think they are building themselves a substantial competitive advantage.  You get a strong sense that those still questioning social media and wondering what a twitter is had better wake up soon or risk being left WAY behind (it took Telus three years to get where they are now) in their quest for employees, customers – and perhaps/likely even their next job.

Congratulations to the organizers of yesterday’s event. Christine Mcleod and Pam Ross are passionate, intelligent, forward thinking and connected. They did a great job and staged a truly interactive, entertaining and thought-provoking event.