Business Intelligence

Elite Organizations Come in All Shapes and Sizes
The best learning organizations are doing a lot with a little.
By Ashley St. John

rganizations ranging from a couple hundred to hundreds of thousands of employees are represented each year among Chief Learning Officer’s LearningElite, the magazine’s annual list of high-performing learning organizations. The companies span industries and the globe itself, and each year is a reminder that there is no one formula for becoming an elite learning function.

A look back at several years of data shows organization type, size and budget vary, but many critical learning priorities are shared — specifically, supporting engagement, reskilling efforts and developing a use case for all tech initiatives.

Since 2011, the LearningElite has ranked and benchmarked organizations that employ effective workforce development strategies with demonstrable business results. Developed by Chief Learning Officer editors and members of the LearningElite Advisory Board, the program evaluates organizations based on learning strategy, leadership commitment, learning execution, learning impact and business performance results.

Figure 1: Organization Size

LearningElite data show an increase in representation of companies with less than 10,000 employees — in fact, as of 2018, they comprised nearly half of all LearningElite organizations (Figure 1), their greatest representation since the program’s inception. Companies with between 100,000 and 200,000 employees continue to trend downward in representation and saw their lowest percentage in 2018.

Figure 2: Percentage of Operational Budget

The cost of learning varies among LearningElite organizations, as well, though it has remained fairly consistent historically. At more than half of all organizations, L&D makes up less than 1 percent of the total operational budget, which is consistent from year to year (Figure 2).

Figure 3: Spend Per Learner

When it comes to average spend per learner, the majority of organizations (66 percent) spent less than $1,000 in 2018, and nearly 50 percent of those organizations spent less than $500 (Figure 3). Only 20 percent spent more than $2,000 per learner, which was a slight drop from closer to 25 percent in the past few years. Clearly, budgets are tight, and learning leaders are being asked to do more with less.

Figure 4: Learner Type (A)
Figure 5: Learner Type (B)

Case in point: For the second year in a row, LearningElite organizations reported offering learning to 100 percent of their internal employees (Figure 4). Additionally, while the number of organizations offering learning to customers remained similar to 2017, there was a big boost in those offering learning to clients (Figure 5). In fact, this segment has doubled since 2016, the first year this question was benchmarked. However, other worker segments saw their representation dwindle.

This all ties back to the critical learning priorities mentioned earlier of supporting engagement, reskilling and making a case for tech initiatives, particularly the latter two. Unemployment is low and the war for talent is real — reskilling current employees to fit new roles solves many business objectives and reduces onboarding costs. Additionally, tech shouldn’t be used simply for its own sake. Costs must be considered, and it’s not necessary for organizations to constantly reinvent the wheel when it comes to their learning programs.

Figures’ source: LearningElite 2018 “Best Practices and Benchmarking” report.

Ashley St. John is Chief Learning Officer’s managing editor. She can be reached at