SumTotal Blog

Alison Cooley (19 Posts)

Alison Cooley

Alison is responsible for SumTotal's inbound marketing. When she's not searching for the perfect guacamole recipe, Alison is busy interacting and engaging with customers and influencers on our social media accounts.

Top 10 List for TotalConnection 2014

It’s the final countdown! In less than two weeks TotalConnection descends upon the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach. At TotalConnection (and in Miami in general!) you are never in danger of running out of things to do. This year’s agenda is packed full of high-quality sessions, fantastic speakers, ample networking opportunities, and, of course, over-the-top customer appreciation events.

Pack your sunscreen and get ready for some sunshine!Miami Beach

Here are the top 10 things I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing at TotalConnection (in no particular order):

  1. Welcome Reception
    We’re kicking off TotalConnection in style with a Magic City reception inspired by the glamour of the late 1950’s Rat Pack-era. The evening will be filled with amazing music, delicious food and some Cuban-themed entertainment and surprises!
  2. Customer case studies (75% of the agenda!)
    The proof is in the pudding, right? Hearing customer case studies is one of the most fulfilling parts of attending any user conference. These are in no short supply! Customers are excited to share solutions to their business challenges and how they’re using SumTotal technologies to achieve their goals. It will be difficult for attendees to choose which session to attend; but, don’t worry, everyone will get the sessions slides after the event in our customer community, SumTotal Connect. If you haven’t signed up for SumTotal Connect, stop reading and sign up now!
  3. Peter Cappelli and Dave Barry’s Keynote Presentations
    Seeking inspiration and vision? Trying to find the meaning in the world? Looking for a good laugh? Our two keynote speakers offer all of the above! Peter Cappelli, Wharton professor and industry expert, will examine the changes in employment relations in the U.S. and their implications. During the keynote, he will discuss his book, Talent in an Age of Uncertainty, which outlines the strategies that employers should consider in developing and managing talent. Dave Barry, humorist and best-selling author, will be giving his thoughts, insights and unique take on today’s workforce, family and everyday life.
  4. Fistful of Talent Guest Panel
    If you had a chance to watch our recent #HRHangout series, you know exactly who I’m talking about. The always funny and very insightful members of the Fistful of Talent crew – Kris Dunn, Steve Boese, Laurie Ruettimann, and Tim Sackett – are joining us live and in person for a panel discussion on the five faces (or heroes) you need in your HR department. You are guaranteed to walk away with some great career advice  and a few laughs.
  5. TotalConnection Clubhouse – Our Social Hub
    Disclaimer, I am biased on this one, but for good reason: Social networking extends and enhances your TotalConnection experience. Throughout the event, you’ll have chance to live tweet sessions, participate in our virtual on-site social games, connect with attendees, meet our Secret Hostess Veronica, and compete to be the social leader of #SumTotalTC14. If you’re new to social, visit the TC clubhouse during the event and someone will show you how to get involved!
  6. Cuban coffee
    Let’s be honest, conferences can be tiring. Long days filled with great sessions, conversations and events is a big shift from the typical 9:00-5:00 workdays. So for all the coffee enthusiasts attending TotalConnection, rest assured knowing there’s a delicious cup of Cuban Coffee ready and waiting to give you the extra boost of energy you need.  
  7. Partner Pavilion and Expo
    There’s no better place to connect with SumTotal partners than TotalConnection. Attendees can enjoy light food and refreshments while learning more about our partners newest product innovations. And, be sure to stop by the Skillsoft booth to meet the team and get the details on Skillsoft’s acquisition of SumTotal! 
  8. Subject Matter Expert 1:1’s
    If you have questions or have current challenges that need our attention, be sure to schedule some time with the SumTotal SMEs during TotalConnection. They will be on site all week to answer questions, provide insights, offer strategy advice and share ways to enhance your applications. Be sure to schedule your one-on-one time before it runs out!  
  9. Customer Awards
    You can’t be in the HR business and not understand the importance of recognizing a job well done! We are thrilled to celebrate our customers’ success over the past year during the SumTotal Innovation Awards.  Join us as we celebrate your peers in Best Overall Use of Product, Best Launch to Organization, and Best Business solution!
  10. SumTotal Connect – Get Involved!
    The networking opportunities and relationships you build at TotalConnection don’t end when the conference is over. SumTotal Connect, our online customer community, is your one-stop resource center for information about SumTotal products and services. If you’re already involved in the community, stop by the TC clubhouse to meet up with other members! If you’re not involved, get connected! Kate Merrick, SumTotal’s dedicated customer community manager, will be there all week to answer questions and help you get started!

What are you looking forward to seeing and experiencing at TotalConnection this year? Leave a comment below! See you in Miami! 



6 Traits of Exceptional Managers

It’s true, if it wasn’t for Facebook or Hallmark (or my colleague who asked me if I was doing anything special for my manager) I would not have known that October 16, 2014 is National Boss’s Day in the United States. It looks like this holiday wasn’t on my radar. That being said, I am sure many of us out there are left scratching our heads thinking, “What?! Does my boss really need a day?”

6 Traits of Exceptional Managers

Exceptional managers and truly great leaders share many common similarities. As Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

In celebration of National Boss’ Day, here are 6 traits of exceptional managers:

  1. Motivators: “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” John C. Maxwell
    Great leaders don’t suck the energy away from others. They put people first and find new and interesting ways to energize and motivate their team. They are relatable. They are passionate. They know that acknowledgement for a job well done is more than just a pat on the back.
  2. Mentors“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter
    Great leaders are mentors who are not afraid to push people outside their comfort zone. They are open, honest and invested in your potential and future. Having a manger that doubles as a mentor will boost your confidence and help shape your professional (and maybe even personal) development. If you don’t have a good mentor, I urge you to go out and look for one. My colleague, Jody, has some good advice on mentors in this blog post.
  3. Assertive“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”  Tony Blair
    Often it is difficult to say no. It’s even more difficult to be assertive without being aggressive. Great leaders understand the difference between the two. They are able to overcome adversary and resistance without ruffling too many feathers.
  4. Trustworthy“There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.” Klaus Balkenhol
    When I imagine a boss, I think of Gary Cole’s character, Bill Lumbergh, from Office Space. The term “boss” gets a bad rap. Probably because it’s associated with distrust, micromanagement and bad communication. It’s easier to trust an exceptional leader because they are transparent and they care. They hold themselves accountable to the same standards and expectations they set for their employees.
  5. Passionate“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” – Steve Jobs
    Passion is contagious, disinterest is destructive. It is painfully obvious when leaders do not stand behind their organization or its goals. Great leaders have a desire to continuously cultivate creativity, change, innovation and collaboration across their teams and organization.
  6. Not Sociopaths“The internal management application of this is that it’s always a bad idea to set one’s employees too much against one another. You want to find ways to differentiate people’s roles. Frame it this way: If you were a sociopathic boss who wanted to create trouble for your employees, the formula you would follow would be to tell two people to do the exact same thing. That’s a guaranteed formula for creating conflict. If you’re not a sociopath, you want to be very careful to avoid this.” Peter Thiel
    Peter’s quote from a recent WSJ article pretty much speaks for itself. Creating conflict in the workplace isn’t going to get you anywhere in life. Great managers know how to avoid and resolve frustration. Conflict resolution is a simple concept that sadly enough, is not at the forefront of every ordinary manager’s mind.

What do you think? Do you have any to add? Leave a comment below!



The Fear of Paid Time Off (FOPTO)

Is the fear of missing out (FOMO) becoming a workplace epidemic? If the newest research from the U.S. Travel Association is any indication, it just might be. According to the survey, 41% of American workers do not plan to use all their paid time off (PTO) in 2014, despite it being part of their compensation plan. Yet, the bulk of people surveyed (96%) recognize the importance of using PTO.

So, where’s the rub? Why are we opting out of leisurely paid time off with families and friends?

Doggy Vacation

Why do we have FOPTO?

As mentioned above, I think a lot of it comes down to our fear of missing out. Here are a few examples from the study that back my argument.

  • Too much work, not enough time.
    According to the study, 40% of American workers say the heavy workload awaiting them upon return to the office is a top challenge in taking paid time off. I understand. The pre-and post-vacation frenzy is not something to look forward to. In the past, I have found myself scrambling to get everything done in order to take a few days off. The stress of a big workload should not prevent us from taking the time off we deserve. Don’t just plan for a vacation, plan for your absence at work. Get up to speed on deliverables at activities a few weeks before you head out of town, not the day before. Constantly remind your colleagues and managers that you’re taking time off so you don’t have to worry about the last minute requests.
  • No one else can do it.
    An astonishing 35% of employees will not use their time off because they believe “nobody else can do the work while I’m away.” To me, this either comes down to one of two things: 1. poor planning and communication, or 2. knowledge and information hoarding. The “no one else can do it” excuse is easily avoidable. Managers and other team members should be able to step in and cover during times of need. Proactive planning, supported by good learning and training programs, will help fill the void and lift the burden off the people feeling bad about taking PTO.
  • Fear of being replaced.
    More one-fifth of the respondents said they didn’t want others to see them as “replaceable.” One could argue that the “fear of being replaced” is what started off the vicious cycle of not being able to take vacation. Out of sight, out of mind, isn’t necessarily a good thing. Good leadership and communication can help people overcome the anxiety of being replaceable.

Why you should take PTO:
It’s time to put our fears aside, PTO is vital to our overall well-being. Time away from the office gives you the chance to reflect, relax and recharge. People who take time off have increased focus, productivity, energy and happiness. It allows you to experience new things, gain new perspectives and reconnect with friends and family.

Plus, studies have shown that people who miss one year’s vacation have higher risk of heart disease.

It’s time we reclaim the work-life balance.

What do you think?


#HRHangout: Our Worst Jobs

We all remember (and often talk about) the worst jobs we’ve ever had. We’re all guilty of swapping stories about bad bosses and bizarre workplace experiences.

This week was no exception.

I sat down with the funny and insightful folks over at Fistful of Talent to discuss some of the worst jobs they have had both inside and outside of HR. Joking and complaining about our shared experiences is always fun, but learning from the past is what keeps us moving forward.

Kris Dunn, Kelly Dingee and R.J. Morris dive right into stories about their worst jobs and what they learned from them during this week’s HR Hangout.

Have something else to add? Tweet your experiences and advice to @SumTotalSystems using the hashtag #HRHangout to join the conversation! And, check out the past #HRHangout videos and conversations on our HR Hangout Storify!

Also, don’t forget to join us for our next #HRHangout: HARDBALL – Lessons in HR Intimidation, on Wednesday, September 24 at 2:00 pm ET.


How to Drive Employee Engagement

Almost every business report, article, blog (and maybe even tweet) you read today has one common thread: driving employee engagement is paramount to your success as a manager and an organization.

Empowering and engaging your employees is not a complex topic. It’s actually quite simple. However, there is still a huge population of managers out there struggling with the concept. Layer by layer organizations continue to pile on new technologies designed to engage, develop, train and retain top talent. But organizations often lose sight of the one commonality that we can all agree on – we are all human beings who desire constructive and meaningful face-to-face conversations.

That’s what it’s all about, right?

Earlier this week we sat down with the always insightful and very funny Fistful of Talent crew members, Kris Dunn, Paul Hebert, Holland Dombeck, and RJ Morris, to discuss the truths of driving employee engagement.  I could go on and on reiterating what they said, but the proof is in the pudding. Take 22 minutes out of your day and watch the video. I promise you that you’ll enjoy it, and in the event you don’t let me know, I am all for constructive criticism.

Investing in the Extended Enterprise

The level and quality of customer experience you provide as a business, or lack thereof, can make or break your success. Customers  want it all – innovative products, impeccable customer service, quick delivery and stress free support. This isn’t a secret. Everyone has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to customer experience. And these experiences always leaves us wondering – what more could that organization have done to deliver on its promise?SumTotal Blog Extended Enterprise

Gone are the days where organizations can rely solely on internal stakeholders to grow their bottom line and achieve business goals. Surviving and thriving in today’s business climate requires leaders to look beyond their enterprise to the people who interact with and support the brand day-by-day, the very ones who in fact now have more influence over brand perception than anyone else.

These external audiences – AKA, The Extended Enterprise – are made up of a dynamic and diversified set of customers, partners, contingent workers, brokers, dealers, channel sales and other external sales and service providers. The Extended Enterprise is often found at the front lines of your business. They are interacting with customers, providing support and reselling your products and solutions.

The non-employee constituents who make up the Extended Enterprise represent underdeveloped potential (and dare I say risk!) to organizations if they’re experience isn’t optimal, or if they’re not set up for success.

How can you capitalize on this untapped potential?
It’s simple. Extend your learning and training programs to all business stakeholders – not just the internal folks. Companies that use their learning management system (LMS) to deliver training and information to external audiences generate nine times more annual revenue growth per full-time employee than organizations that do not. Those same companies also experience a 33% increase in customer retention.¹

How can you get started?
We’ve done the work for you! Join SumTotal for our upcoming Extended Enterprise webinar series, aimed at helping organizations understand the benefits of expanding the scope of learning and training across their entire value chains, from vendors and suppliers to channel partners, distributors, subcontractors, resellers and customers.

Hear best practices, tips and guidance from leading industry experts on everything from how to get started, to in-depth strategies and case studies.

Register now for our three-part webinar series:

  • It Takes a Village: Extending Learning to Your Customers and Partners |September 10, 2014 at 11 a.m. EDT
  • Building a Business Case: How Extending the Reach of Your Learning Program Can Pay Off Big | September 23 at 2 p.m. EDT
  • Turning Knowledge into Profit: Smart Business Strategies for Your LMS | October 23, 2014 at 2 p.m. EDT

Stay tuned for more upcoming resources, including getting started guides and case studies, highlighting the value of expanding your learning programs beyond the walls of your organization.

¹Aberdeen Group. Customers and Learning: Extending the Boundaries, October 2013

Social and Recruiting Apps that Really Work

Business apps, gadgets and tools are in no short supply. We are constantly bombarded with the newest trend, trick or tool to make us more social, productive, organized and efficient.

From hoax apps like Yo (which texts “Yo!” to communicate to your contacts), to document sharing apps like Google Docs and DropBox that we can’t live without – there are a lot of resources at your disposal.

Apps are designed to make your lives easier, but sometimes they don’t deliver on their promise.

So, to narrow down your must-have shortlist and tell you what really works, we sat down with the folks over at Fistful of Talent to see what they had to say about their favorite social, business and, of course, recruiting apps.

If you’re trying to step up your social game, Feedly and Buffer will help expand your social footprint without the extra time spent. Users can browse content in Feedly and with a click of a button synch and schedule it to go out on various social platforms. In 5 minutes you can generate all of your social content for the day. (skip to video clip) 

If you’re trying to get organized, Evernote will help you keep track of ideas, meeting notes and research. You can capture images and bookmark websites, and tag and organize those files in specific folders that you can reference in the future. (skip to video clip)

If you’re trying to find the perfect candidate, Connectifier, 360 Social and Vibe will give you a person’s email address and allow you to see a their digital footprint. The digital footprint gives you a clear picture of people’s skills, interests and personalities that may not be listed on their LinkedIn profile. (skip to video clip) 

Still want to know more? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @SumTotalSystems! We’re happy to share more resources with you. And be sure to catch next week’s #HRHangout: Whistle While You Work — How to Drive Employee Engagement

20 Inspirational Learning Quotes

As summer winds down, another new school year is right around the corner. You can feel the energy shift all around us. Whether it is shopping for supplies for the first day of school, or just battling the jitters of going into a new school year, a sense of change is upon us.


This is the time we set new goals about things we want to learn, accomplish and change in the upcoming year. So, let’s gather our supplies and harness that energy as we are all students of the classroom of life.

Here are some of my favorite quotes to get you in the learning state of mind.

  1. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. – John F. Kennedy
  2. “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing
  3.  “The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King
  4. “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” – Winston Churchill
  5. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  6. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr.  Seus
  7.  “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
  8.  “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein
  9. “Change is the end result of all true learning.” ― Leo Buscaglia
  10. “Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci
  11.  “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” – Bruce Lee
  12.  “He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” – Confucius
  13. “The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realizes, the less I know.” – Michel Legrand
  14. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford
  15. “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” – Thomas H. Huxley
  16. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats
  17. “Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.” – Brain Tracy
  18.  “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended with diligence.” – Abigail Adams
  19.  “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
  20.  “Learn as though you would never be able to master it; hold it as though you would be in fear of losing it.” – Confucius

What’s your favorite quote? Do you have any to add? Feel free to leave a comment below!

#HRHangout: The DNA of Great HR Pros

There are a lot of stereotypes out there defining the way HR professionals should and shouldn’t act. Just because you’re in HR doesn’t mean you need to fit into these stereotypes.

Several different characteristics make up savvy HR professional – likeability, wit and confidence are just a few.

Today we had the chance to sit down with the always funny and very informative members of Fistful of Talent – Tim Sackett, Laurie Rutterman, and Dawn Burke – to discuss the different components of great HR pros during our first #HRHangout.

Watch the video to get some insight about the characteristic traits of today’s top HR professionals and hear some great advice our panelists have learned along the way.

Join us next week for our second installment of the SumTotal #HRHangout series: HR Confidential, where Fistful of Talent team members will share crazy stories from past experiences in human resources, on Wednesday, August 20 at 2:00 p.m. ET.

8 Tips to Help Sharpen Focus

The dog days of summer are upon us. Vacation mode has set in and staying focused proves harder and harder. Whether you’re bored and unmotivated due to an empty office, or attempting to tame your pre-and-post vacation workload frenzy, the struggle is real. Concentrating on the task at hand isn’t easy – especially when Friday afternoon rolls around!SumTotal Focus

Positive energy, ongoing mindfulness and proper organization can help you shift gears and get your work done.

Here are 8 ways to sharpen your focus and improve concentration that might come in handy during the final weeks of summer.


  1. Create the right environment. Changing up your workstation can give you a fresh perspective. Spend 10 minutes reorganizing your messy workspace. Go to a local coffee shop to finish up a big project. Work from home to avoid office distractions. Ask colleagues to join you in a conference room if you prefer a more open work environment. Figure out where you feel comfortable and productive and try to work there more often.
  2. Cut the noise. There, I said it, power off your email and step away from your phone for a few minutes. A recent study by the University of California-Irvine revealed that regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes. It’s important to step away from the blue screen and manage your distractions. Since I started drafting this blog post, I’ve already been distracted by five emails and a slew of social alerts. Shut it down for 20 minutes and allow yourself to focus on the task at hand. I do it all the time and I can promise you, the email will still be there when you’re done.
  3. Snack smart. Brain foods like blueberries, nuts, avocados and whole grains are packed full of mental and physical benefits. If you’re struggling with that 2:30 p.m. feeling, take some snack trips from my colleague Amber’s recent blog, Brain Food Rx.
  4. Hydrate. A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration, so minor that you might not even know about it, can lead to attention loss. It’s tempting to refill your coffee mug when you’re thirsty – just don’t forget about water. Not to mention, the other amazing benefits of hydration, like more energy, faster metabolism, immunity booster and more!
  5. Meditate. Meditation requires you to mentally check out and calm your thoughts. The few days before and after vacation can be among the most stressful workdays. Spend a few minutes taking deep breaths and clearing your mind. You’ll find yourself rejuvenated and more focused. There are several different variations of meditation, so do what works best for you.
  6. Take a break. Only one in five office workers admit to taking a lunch break. Taking 15-20 minute breaks is a proven way to increase concentration. Go for a walk around the block. Grab lunch with colleagues or friends. Run a mindless errand. You shouldn’t feel guilty using the time off you deserve. Remember taking a break won’t keep you from getting your work done; it will help you focus your energy when you get back.
  7. Write it down. I know, I sound like a broken record here, but it really does help to write down what you need to accomplish. Recently I’ve been writing down my to do list every day at 4:00 p.m. That way, I know exactly what I need to accomplish the following day.
  8. Catch some ZZZ’s. A long-time staple on any self-improvement list is sleep, and it’s there for a reason. There are serious consequences to lack of sleep. A recent study by MSU and UC Irvine found that “memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation.” Meaning less sleep causes forgetfulness. Confusion coupled with distraction is a recipe for disaster.

August is one of the slowest months of the year, and keeping focused at work is no simple task.

What helps you concentrate? Feel free to leave a comment below.