Fortune magazine recently released its 2011 "100 Best Companies to Work For in America" list which highlights companies with enviable perks, great work atmospheres and job satisfaction, yet we still strive to understand the "So What? Factor." What does it mean to be on the list? Outside of the flood of résumés flowing in to the HR departments of companies on the list (that will require screening) because some people want to take advantage of perks such as wine bars or Botox injections does it really matter about the list?
First we have to take a look at the underpinnings of how companies make the list...Fortune magazine states the following and you can read it here...
"Most of a company's score (two-thirds) is based on the results of the Institute's Trust Index survey, which is sent to a random sample of employees from each company. The survey asks questions related to their attitudes about management's credibility, job satisfaction, and camaraderie. The other third of the scoring is based on the company's responses to the Institute's Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs, and a series of open-ended questions about hiring practices, internal communication, training, recognition programs, and diversity efforts."
So it would appear that this revolves around an organization's leadership, employee engagement, and employee value proposition that drive talent attraction and commitment. To a rational person, these are important factors to consider unless you are Paul Hebert of the blog Incentive Intelligence and the edgy Fistful of Talent posse. He writes in a recent blog titled "You Don't Need to Measure Employee Engagement" that while we continue to measure elements of employee engagement...we may not need to so. He does reference that there is plenty of research that shows that employee engagement is a probable driver of business performance, but he does raise concerns about causality and correlation.
So back to original question...what is the "So What? Factor" of being on the list? Now enter Professor Alex Edmans, a finance professor at Wharton Business School, and his scholarly article titled "Doe the Stock Market Fully Value Intangibles? Employee Satisfaction and Equity Prices." The abstract gives the big picture of the paper and why you should read it...
"This paper analyzes the relationship between employee satisfaction and long-run stock returns. A value-weighted portfolio of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America earned an annual four-factor alpha of 3.5% from 1984-2009, and 2.1% above industry benchmarks. The results are robust to controls for firm characteristics, different weighting methodologies and the removal of outliers. Best Companies also exhibited significantly more positive earnings surprises and announcement returns. These findings have three main implications. First, consistent with human capital-centered theories of the firm, employee satisfaction is positively correlated with shareholder returns and need not represent managerial slack. Second, the stock market does not fully value intangibles, even when independently verified by a highly public survey on large firms." (Yes it says three implications...I didn't find the third relevant to this thought piece though...)
The nature of human capital capabilities on firm performance and stock price is historically difficult to quantify as a tangible aspect of stock price. For this reason, intangibles are historically not considered. But in Professor's Edmans' research between stock price and inclusion on the 100 Best Place to Work For...there is reason to want to be included on that list. Proactively seeking to apply and obtain recognition by placement on the list is significant from the stock price valuation and opportunity to quantify intangible areas like employee satisfaction, but it also leads to enhanced attraction and commitment of talent. Edmans admits that while there is a correlation between employee satisfaction and stock price, he cannot make strong claims of causality because of the number of variables involved (So Paul Hebert's warnings are valid here as well).
While there has been and continues to be an interest in measuring intangibles like human capital capabilities and their impact on organizational performance...it continues to be difficult, but also a necessity. As Arie de Geus stated:"The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."
If you agree with de Geus, then our ability to create organizations that are learning organizations, engaged, and great places to work - and to be able to measure their impact - is critical. In a recent blog post on my DNA of Human Capital blog, I discussed the concept of measurable leadership capability on Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). If you are going to invest in a company wouldn't you want to know what the intangibles of the human capital are just like the tangibles of the financials?
J. Keith Dunbar is a Fearless Transformational Global Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter: @JKeithDunbar | Blog: DNA of Human Capital | LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar