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Being an A-list Company Pays

Wine bars, Botox injections and free food are just some of the benefits employees can expect at companies that make up Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. While these kinds of benefits get attention from the media, the contributions from learning leaders who position their organizations on this list should not be underestimated.

A comparison of organizations on Chief Learning Officer magazine’s 2012 LearningElite and the 2012 100 Best Companies to Work For shows some familiar names on both, including General Mills, Qualcomm, Accenture, Deloitte and NetApp. Learning leaders in these and other organizations understand not only the impact that inclusion on these lists has for their teams in terms of an enhanced sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, but also the impact it can have on the business through improved organizational performance and employee engagement. The key questions are why should you want to be an A-list company, and what can you do to get there?

A-list companies get a bump in their efforts to acquire talent. They get more highly qualified applicants for their opportunities because great people want to work for great companies. And if a company is on the A-list and its competitors are not, this serves as a key retention tool.

Learning leaders contribute to their organization’s ability to attract and retain talent because of the learning and development programs they put in place to build differentiating business capabilities. But beyond that, they also reap the windfall by attracting more highly qualified candidates who allow them to focus on impactful learning.

Despite these talent benefits, the connection between learning, being an A-list company and business impact has been elusive. If your company’s leadership is like most, soft numbers from intangible assets such as learning meet skepticism and doubt because they aren’t easily tied to hard numbers such as revenue and profit.

Alex Edmans, a finance professor at Wharton Business School, sheds some light on the subject in a study titled “Does the Stock Market Fully Value Intangibles? Employee Satisfaction and Equity Prices.” Edmans examined the connection between employee satisfaction and long-run stock returns by looking at a portfolio of companies from the 100 Best Companies to Work For list from 1984 to 2009. Within that period, the portfolio earned 2.1 to 3.5 percent above industry benchmarks, after controlling for firm characteristics, different weighting methodologies and removal of outliers. Additionally, companies on the list exhibited more positive earnings surprises and announcement returns.

What to do to get on the A-list varies, but because being an A-list company has tangible implications for stock equity, it is helpful to see what things 2012 LearningElite organizations have in common that has positioned them for success. Two things jump out that you can easily implement.

Be an advocate and driver for an integrated approach to talent management: As learning leaders, you are responsible for one specific area of talent management, but companies get on the A-list because of their collective capabilities in the talent space, not because of silos of excellence. Learning leaders know how their teams and initiatives support the overall talent management process within their organizations and contribute to other areas such as talent acquisition and performance management to support the collective organization.

Business alignment and agility: While it may seem like a broken record, it never grows old. Successful learning leaders know the business and how to support it with development initiatives that drive and contribute to growth. They stay engaged with business leaders and proactively position their teams to meet evolving business conditions with agility.

It takes a lot of collaboration and influence to get on these lists. Convincing senior executives of the benefits can be accomplished by understanding the business impact these awards provide beyond engagement and retention data. While we sometimes focus on individual learning initiatives, taking a more holistic view of how we can drive growth in other tangible ways by positioning our organizations as A-list companies has merit. Now, get on the list and move to the head of the line.

J. Keith Dunbar is vice president of learning and talent development at SAIC and a doctoral student in the PennCLO Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.