SumTotal Blog

Jordan Barta (3 Posts)

Jordan Barta

Jordan is a Customer Sales Director at SumTotal helping enterprise businesses with more than 5,000 employees execute their human capital management strategies.

3 Simple Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

3 Simple Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

Over the past seven years, I have worked for four different organizations. Each experience was unique, yet they all shared one thing: how it felt to be an employee. Regardless of what role you perform or what industry you operate in, every employee goes through a hiring, reviewing and managing process.

The software utilized to accomplish this, Human Capital Management (HCM), facilitates all aspects of what it feels like to work in for particular company. Called “Hire to retire,” HCM is the software that covers everything from processing online job applications, time and attendance, paying employees, performance reviews, and implementation of learning and development.

Most HCM vendors work tirelessly to stay ahead of the curve. They are listening to their clients, adding features and functionality and, continuously enhancing the software.  However, while these upgrades mean HCMs are now more sophisticated than ever, it falls upon organizations to determine how best to engage their employees.  What measures are they taking to keep their employees invested in the long haul?

How do you keep employees engaged?

The current rate of employee engagement is, according to the latest Gallup research, at 34%, tying its highest level since Gallup first began reporting the figures back in 2000. Conversely, the percentage who are least engaged is now at its lowest level. While all this is excellent news for both employers and employees, it illustrates that over half of your workforce is “not engaged.” Therefore, although they are showing up and performing their jobs, organizations should be aware that it’s highly unlikely for unengaged employees to stick around and go the distance.

However, organizations can leverage their HCM to start to shift the needle and actively engage a higher number of their employees. While there are many ways to accomplish this, the following are the top three approaches for organizations to increase employee engagement and demonstrate tangible results.

1. Understand your people

Most interview processes are tedious and excruciating. Whether it’s over the phone, video, in-person, a demonstration, an interview follows a basic pattern of question after question. Then, boom, once hired, the questions stop. Why? Why don’t organizations want to learn more about their people? People’s opinions change, goals change, needs change and careers change. The things learned early on, may no longer apply.

Therefore it is critical companies continue beyond the interview stage to learn about their employees. Find out what are their strengths, desires, and goals.

Ask employees the following:

  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • Do you like the idea of being a manager?
  • Is there someone you’ve met at the company that you’d like to shadow or better understand their responsibilities?
  • What skills do you want to increase?
  • What did you like to do in your last company?

2. Provide continuous feedback

Provide continuous feedback


The annual performance review is rightly almost a thing of the past. At SumTotal, we conduct the 30×30. Every month I have a comprehensive evaluation with my manager, where we discuss everything that happened over the previous four weeks.  We also hold a weekly 1:1 and meet twice a week as a team. Outside of these designated times, if I have a question or need guidance, I will call or message her.

My colleagues are another source of feedback.  We speak about talk tracks, tactics, overcoming objections… really anything. As a remote worker, feeling part of a team is challenging. However, these daily interactions offer the support and closeness I need to grow and succeed.

3. Be transparent and authentic

We all want to be in “the know.” As a member of a large sales organization, I want to know why certain things are happening. Why is marketing doing this, why are operations doing that? While these are all very straightforward requests, the reality is most that organizations lack transparency. Getting the answers to these questions is almost impossible. When employers adopt this type of secretive approach with their employees, it results in disengaged and disconnected workers.

Management makes all the decisions and doesn’t ask us for feedback. Management rules top-down and doesn’t care about the floor employees. The day shift had to pick up all the pieces.

Here are some recent comments I found on Glassdoor that illustrate this disconnect. “Management makes all the decisions and doesn’t ask us for feedback. Management rules top-down and doesn’t care about the floor employees. The day shift had to pick up all the pieces.”

Being open is especially important when a manager has to deliver bad news.

In a previous job, my manager had the unenviable task of informing the team that due to a company merger, some of us would lose our jobs. However, the professional and candid way she handled it ensured we all were in the loop and therefore could prepare for the fallout in advance.

Another reason for transparency and authenticity is that they are the perfect antidote to the rumor mill.  Gossip spreads fast in organizations and can be very dangerous. We live in a digital world where one single piece of misinformation, one bit of hearsay can spread like wildfire, and suddenly there is a mass exodus from an organization. Keeping employees informed is critical.

It is great to hear the number of employees who feel engaged is improving. However, HR must continue to exploit their HCM to continue the drive forward.  One recent study put the cost of disengaged employees at between $450 and $550 billion a year. We can all agree that such phenomenal figures demand our attention. If companies have the technology to engage their workers actively, then it is in everyone’s interest that they do so.

4 Common Mistakes Organizations Make When Purchasing New Technology

4 Common Mistakes Organizations Make When Purchasing New Technology

The relationship between an organization and its software vendor is in many ways similar to a marriage or committed relationship. Both require a lot of work and mutual respect and may go through difficult or rough patches. Although each party gives and takes, at the end of the day, we’re on the same team, trying to achieve a common goal. It is this shared objective that often drives organizations to acknowledge that the time has come to change their software. However, it is because of the dynamic or shared history that often makes it hard to make the transition to a new software partner.

Today, I want to carefully examine the four misconceptions I’ve repeatedly heard during my many years working with companies of all shapes and sizes.  I hope to give the reader a better understanding of what to expect, a little about the story from the vendor’s perspective and ultimately provide knowledge so that we can work together to create a robust and powerful partnership that drives your business forward.

#1 Rip and replace

As a salesperson, I’ll be the first person to say that I LOVE it when a business comes to me and says that they’re leaving their software vendor and they want to partner with me. That’s like waking up on Christmas morning and seeing that Santa stopped by the house.

However, for the business, the downside is that perhaps the technology is not the problem.  Simply switching one technology for another does not guarantee success. Technology alone won’t make an organization successful. Instead, I suggest taking a close look at the situation and observing all the factors that are contributing to the problem.

Communication, or ineffective communication, is often the primary culprit. Train users, promote “champion active users,” and even consider training the C-suite on the system. Incentivize your workforce to get into the system, utilize the technology, and provide feedback. Ensure there is a support system in place in case the employees need help with something – a password reset, technical issues, or even logging in.

If your workforce does not have an excellent first impression, chances are, they won’t give the technology another shot unless it’s mandatory. If your system offers gamification capabilities, use them. Make it easy for your workforce to feel like they’re competing for something. I have numerous clients whose employees are chomping at the bit for more training so they can win another badge or gain another point. Making points redeemable for prizes, or time off, is a huge incentive to encourage user adoption.

#2 Price-gouging

As a consumer, you ALWAYS want the best price. What’s the sale price and where’s the discount? I’m the same way; I’m always trying to pay less money for things. With technology, “price is what you pay, value is what you get.” I’ve missed out on business opportunities because I wasn’t the lowest price. But guess what? Often these are the same businesses that end up calling me two years later because they bought a service that was unable to deliver on its promises.

Technology vendors have their costs associated with their services. The price is the price because, ultimately, vendors need to make money, too. While that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and get a discount, you must understand that at some point, you’re going to lose something as the price gets lower and lower.

Here’s what I suggest.  Be transparent with the vendor. Provide a ballpark of the budget allocated to the project. If you can, share the price you’re currently paying. If the product the new vendor is selling offers greater functionality, remember that will come at a premium.  To offset the higher cost, ask if they provide ‘bundled’ services or can provide some additional support hours. If you’re willing to work with the salesperson, the salesperson is willing to work with you as well.

By offering a vendor ‘something’ in return for a discount, you’re putting skin in the game, which is GREAT. That truly shows you want to partner. Consider contributing a case study, video testimonial, blog post, or being a reference for prospective customers. See the SumTotal Customer Circle for a comprehensive list of ways we help our customers promote their success with our solutions. By offering something like this, for a little help on the pricing, can go a long way!

#3 RFPs

Let’s be frank, very few people like RFPs, not even the companies who request them. They require A LOT of attention from both parties. But they are part of the process so we must learn to accept and work with them.

However, if you want your technology to fix specific problems, the vendors need to not only speak with the people that are going to be the admins for the system, we also need to know more about what they’re looking to accomplish. For example, where are the bottlenecks, what are the struggles and difficulties? A 30-page PDF isn’t going to do that. We need personal interaction. I can come to a conclusion based on the RFP, but there’s always more.

Vendors also need to speak with the end-user and possibly even a C-suite executive that will own the project. Each conversation will lead us down a different path and provide the information which will ensure a strong partnership. By putting the vendor in a box, you’re limiting them on what else they can show. The more we know, the better job we can do!

#4 Unclear partnership

For a company to optimize its technology, it makes sense to approach the relationship with their vendor as a partnership. Yes, this is a service, and you’re paying us for it. However, it is also a complex piece of technology, and as such there are limitations. We may need to look at the roadmap and talk about future releases.

Overcoming obstacles together builds a closer relationship. Setting the correct expectations with each other is also very important. Understanding what the outcome of the partnership needs to be is also very important. Vendors can’t guess what you and the executives want to accomplish. We need to know, and we need you to tell us. If it changes, we need to understand why so that we can help guide you towards your new goal. If there’s an issue, we need to understand what the problem is, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Often, there is a better way to achieve your desired outcome. Like I mentioned in the beginning, the relationship between customer and vendor is like a marriage. It needs to be a two-way street where we’re working together to achieve your goal!

Regardless of industry, vendor, or software, I consistently encounter these issues when organizations look to change their software provider. We keep making the same mistakes and expect a different outcome. I believe that if you take at least one piece of advice today, you will make a significant change in not only how you interact with potential new vendors but how that new relationship fares down the line.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Please either post to the comments section below or share them with me on LinkedIn.

Perspectives19: A Customer-Centric, Music-Filled Experience

Perspectives19: A Customer-Centric, Music-Filled Experience
Daniel Pink during his Perspective’s keynote

Who doesn’t love company conferences, right? A three-day jam-packed event filled with networking, knowledge sharing, software updates, presentations, expert’s panels and karaoke. This year was my first-time attending Perspectives. It did not disappoint. With everything going on, I could have used another day.

For me, the most valuable takeaways stemmed from the many one on one conversations I had with customers. Speaking directly to customers and absorbing their stories increased my knowledge not only from a software but also from an organizational perspective. What are they doing differently? How can I take their successes and share them with other clients? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we need to share our collective knowledge more often.

Here’s Anthony Barbone, Senior VP and GM, SumTotal Systems talking about our latest releases.

Perspectives also provided me with the unique opportunity to interact with the SumTotal leadership team. For those of us who work from home, it is often a struggle to connect with the senior executives at your organization and talking on the phone or doing a video chat can only accomplish so much. Having worked at other large organizations, I believed it would take a miracle to cross paths with the head of sales, an SVP or a Chief Operating Officer (COO). Not so at SumTotal. Over the three days in Orlando these folks were in my meetings, talking to our customers and just generally everywhere doing their best to reinforce the SumTotal brand. It felt really good to sit down with these leaders and get to know them on a personal level too.

In between meetings with clients and prospective customers, I attended several sessions. The keynote presentation from Daniel Pink sticks out in my mind. Everything he spoke about he backed with scientific fact, and I now know the ‘perfect time’ to do tasks throughout the day. It makes sense now why I’m the most productive between 6 am and noon and why later in the afternoon I start to lose steam. His book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” is well worth the read!

On Tuesday, I attended Craig Weiss’s session, Battle Royale – LMS v LXP. Craig did a fantastic job of explaining the differences between a learning management system and a learning experience platform and how each is beneficial to organizations. Many companies think that they need one or the other when in reality, they should invest in both. These systems have some overlapping technology, but they are designed for two very different purposes. To learn more, read the blog by Apratim Purakayastha, our CTO, How to Determine the Best Learning Platform for Your Needs.

Later that day, I sat down with a few of our partners to learn more about their strategies. RapidLD, GP Strategies, Chasma and dominKnow are just a few companies with whom I spoke. I’ve had a handful of conversations with each over the past year, but meeting them in person is entirely different. Each partner brings something unique to the table. From implementation and consulting to dashboarding and content authoring, these partnerships are powerful for our customers. SumTotal is doing an incredible job of offering clients a partner ecosystem to help them execute on their strategies. Sometimes, our customers “don’t know what they don’t know” and it’s our job to help teach them.

A glimpse of the sights on City Walk, Universal, Orlando

Tuesday evening was a blast! We had three hours at City Walk in Orlando with food, drinks, entertainment, dancing, networking, and karaoke. In other words, the perfect setting for everyone to unwind after a long day full of presentations and discussions about talent development and learning strategies. It was also another excellent opportunity to meet more customers. Expanding my network and ‘reach’ is one of my passions so when possible I’d take out my phone and invite these people to connect with me on the LinkedIn. Why does the conversation have to stop at the conference? Maybe there is something I’ll share on LinkedIn over the next few years that will help them in their job. Who knows!

Day three brought even more fantastic sessions. I sat in on Learning Management: Latest Innovations & The Road Ahead with Jim Poisson of the product management team. Jim took the room through an update on what’s coming from SumTotal. As a sales director, Jim’s session brought me up to speed on the roadmap and what updates and enhancements to expect. Seeing our customers react and share feedback was incredibly exciting. Our customers help shape our product, so watching their eyes light up when they see that their suggestions are part of the solution is especially rewarding.

(Left-right) Su Joun, Stacey Gordon, Jennifer Brown and Heide Abelli

Fortunately, I was able to attend the final panel discussion on Enabling Diversity & Inclusion in the Modern Workplace Panel before catching my flight home. What a powerful conversation. Diversity and inclusion is an ever-evolving conversation in the workplace, and it’s great to be a part of an organization that is leading the charge.

You never know what to expect from a user conference. Some hit the nail on the head and some miss. For me, Perspectives hit the bullseye. More than 1,100 customers, partners and employees came together with one common goal — how do we attract, train, engage and retain our most significant asset! Organizations are not successful without their people.

Already, I am looking forward to 2020’s Perspectives event. If you need help convincing your company to let you go, reach out to your Customer Success Manager so they can help you establish a business case! I look forward to meeting all of you next year.