SumTotal Blog

Melissa Albanes (13 Posts)

Melissa Albanes

Melissa Albanes is a Solutions Architect with SumTotal. She has a special interest in how tech trends and Big Data are changing the HR landscape—particularly in terms of Learning, Talent, and Workforce Management. In her free time, Melissa can be found on her Harley or doing outdoorsy family activities.

Is Your Reputation Safe?


Only 40% of organizations are fully prepared for an audit.

When you saw this figure, were alarm bells raised? Should it raise an alarm? What does it say about the 60% who are not ready and what are the possible ramifications for their lack of preparedness?

Let’s backtrack a little and set the stage.

We know compliance risks to your business are numerous and come from a variety of sources– from corruption, to health and safety, fraudulent or illegal business activity, and now more than ever, harassment, in addition to a long list of state and government regulations covering issues like overtime and sick leave.

Failure to recognize the enormity or the consequences of breaches is significant, costly and illegal depending on the situation. While now thanks to social media, there is the added repercussion that seemingly overnight a brand’s reputation can be damaged or destroyed. Such is the concern over this that in Aon’s 2017 Global Risk Management Survey, damage to brand and reputation was ranked as the top risk by respondents from around the world.

Obviously, though the majority of companies are not paying heed to this risk and are putting themselves in a potentially vulnerable position.

It is the kind of behavior that can result in

  • A drop in sales and brand value due to a breach.
  • Unwanted surprises such as an unexpected audit, an investigation, fines and perhaps even criminal charges
  • Disruption of business as a result of suspended operations
  • Drop in productivity and the loss of talent

All of which are quite unnecessary risks given that we offer both the technology and the knowledge to implement HR solutions that will facilitate and ensure your organization is always audit ready.

There are a number of factors to be considered when selecting your compliance ready HR solution. And it is these that we discuss in length in Making Your Brand Stronger Through Compliance white paper.

Richard Branson has said, “Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”

Is it not then up to you to ensure you are taking every step possible to ensure you protect and safeguard your reputation?

Find out more by reading this whitepaper.

How the heck do I work with a Millennial?

Disclaimer: I’m a Millennial.


That the demographics of the workplace is radically changing is a popular subject and one that despite the huge amount of books and articles on it, hasn’t lost steam. Which is why I’m a little surprised that even with all this coverage, many employers and managers are still not getting it, and  are still grappling with the managing of the Millennials on their teams. In fact, 68% of corporate recruiters say that it’s difficult to manage millennials! It does make me wonder how the next generation will fare, but we’ll leave that for another day’s post!

As a Millennial I can honestly say some of the adjectives thrown our way have caused me and my peers to grimace, but  I’ll also say that sometimes the stereotyping was pretty spot-on and I found myself chuckling as I recognized the traits and more importantly, the ways to handle, said traits.

To further help and in some instance to clarify the best ways to deal with your Millennial worker, I have put together a cheatsheet of sorts, with some of the top traits of my generation and how best to use this trait to your organization’s advantage.

1. Give us a mission.

Have you noticed that a lot of Millennials have a “ride or die” mentality? This is a purpose-driven group with 84% saying that making a difference is more important than professional recognition.Employers should leverage this and let Millennials use their energy for the betterment of the company. Let them get the team excited, give them a “cause” to solve, or the underdog project to pull across the finish line.

2. Review us and regularly.

We’ve talked about this before. Millennials, and to be fair non-Millennials too, don’t like to wait  365 days just to be told they are doing a great or poor job. No, that mindset needs to go. Instead what we should be seeing are continuous and regular “check-ins” ongoing discussions around performance, expectations and perhaps even recognition of work well done.  Concerned that such a process might not just be too time-consuming or costly? Consider the following.Thanks to more frequent and regular reviews:

  • GE was able to “drive a fivefold productivity increase in the past 12 months” and sourced a number of very profitable ideas for improvements inside and out of the organization from their conversations with employees.
  • Adobe saved, “approximately 80,000 hours of our manager’s time in the annual review process; and saw a 30% reduction in voluntary turnover3

3. Let us learn.

ManPower Group’s recent survey of 19000 working millennials across 25 countries revealed that:

  • 93% identified ongoing skills development as important to their future careers
  • 80% rated the opportunity to learn new skills as a primary factor in considering a new job
  • 93% want lifelong learning and would spend their own time and resources on further training.
  • Enough said.

4. Help us become leaders.

More than six in ten Millennials (63 %) say their “leadership skills are not being fully developed.”  While 71% of those likely to leave in the next two years expressed unhappiness with the way their leadership skills are being developed.

We’ve already said we are happy to learn, so give us the opportunity to learn, to train so we can be the new leaders of tomorrow, we can fill the many spaces that will soon be vacant as the current leadership vacate the spots.

5. Mentor Us

Where it exists, mentoring is having a positive impact and six in ten (61%) of Millennials are currently benefiting from having somebody to turn to for advice, or who helps develop their leadership skills.

I believe history will set the record straight on some of the less flattering traits of my generation; in the meantime I suggest we look to what we do well and what we need to do even better, and ask that companies meet our needs so we can be the best version of ourselves.

Check out our latest webinar on working with a multi-generational workforce to discover how even something like absence management can be optimized across generations.

3 Tips for a Better Payroll Process


Happy National Payroll Week!

First off, I’d like to offer my deepest thanks to those payroll professionals who ensure that we all receive, in a timely and correct manner, the fruits of our labor, or the monetary ones at least!

Secondly, on the subject of how to do payroll better, we’re hearing a lot these days about how best to use time & attendance data to do this, and we want to share some tips.

Anything payroll-related is a tricky topic, because even a small mistake could result in a big problem—especially given the impact a negative payroll experience can have in the constant battle to attract and retain top talent. Improper or late pay is a surefire way to lose employees and damage your reputation as an employer.

But success with the payroll process, like so many other areas of the workforce, is becoming more and more data-centric. And so, effective use of data, especially time & attendance data, must now play a more central role in the process payroll.

To help you establish a best-practice payroll process, one that utilizes and is better connected to your time & attendance data, here are three suggestions:

1. Automate.

Paper-based time tracking and manual spreadsheet data entry are currently part of the payroll process for many organizations. One of the problems with such a system is that a physical paper trail creates multiple sources or places to find data. Not only that, but manual time entry is often laden with errors or incorrect assumptions; errors that are further multiplied when data is entered into more than one system. And of course such work is time-intensive and therefore costly and inefficient.

Automation creates a centralized record of truth thereby eliminating the risks associated with manual data entry error and is available for scrutiny or analysis faster because you have eliminated the time required for looking through files, sorting spreadsheets and so on.

2. Track.

By tracking occurrence exceptions you can gain valuable insights. For example, by tracking anything outside of your attendance policy, like those who routinely clock in early or late and take long lunches, you can learn your workforce’s story and how they operate in conjunction with the schedule. This not only helps you ensure an effective payroll process, but also gives you information needed to influence positive behavior. Furthermore, you can use this information to motivate employees by giving them the opportunity to earn points for positive behaviors such as perfect attendance.

Additionally, employees who know that their occurrences are tracked for anything outside of the organization’s attendance policy are more likely to adhere to the schedule and less likely to engage in time theft activity like buddy punching.

3. Drive.

Your time & attendance data is the crux of payroll, and now that it’s accurate with occurrences tracked, it can be used to support and drive strategies organization-wide—including your learning and talent agendas.

That’s right, not only does accurate data mean accurate payroll, but additional strategic value can be derived from this data when integrated with other HR initiatives. For example, you can make employee engagement natural and continuous by showing your people growth and development opportunities everyday—right at the place where work is being done. Streamlining workflows let’s people clearly see when they need to take training for certifications or to comply with educational requirements.

SumTotal Time & Attendance, a module of our Workforce Management solution, can help your modern payroll department keep pace and ensure that in our data-driven world, both in payroll and throughout your organization, you are maximizing the value of your time and attendance data.

Don’t know where to start? Request a Discovery Call to learn how SumTotal can help you automate, track, and drive with time & attendance data at your fingertips.

Running with blinders on – reducing unintended bias in the workplace


Sometimes lessons present themselves in unexpected places.

During a recent live BBC interview with international relations expert Professor Robert Kelly, on the possible impeachment of the South Korean president, two children suddenly burst into view.  Despite the interruption, Professor Kelly tries to continue with the interview, but it is clear that the news anchor has lost all interest in the subject and instead can’t help but focus on the source of the interruption.

Within hours, the clip went viral.

The video raises several questions about parenting styles, working with children, and perhaps most significantly, why everyone assumed the woman who followed the kids into the room and frantically rounded them up was the nanny?

This assumption, has everyone pointing fingers at one another and some commentators going so far as to suggest that we are all guilty of stereotyping. The family themselves aren’t too bothered, and when interviewed, en masse this time, they simply laughed it off. But it does serve as a stark reminder that no matter how open minded or non-judgemental we may feel, we do tend to categorize people.

In the workplace, this can lead to manager bias whereby a person is treated differently because of their age, race, ethnicity, or gender. This bias, or “blinder,” can be a huge challenge for organizations around the globe.

The question therefore is what measures can an organization take to ensure that the “blinders,” whether conscious or unconscious, are removed from workforce decisions?

The answer is technology. We all need to be using smart, common-sense technology to connect ‘people’ data to ‘numbers’ data and then basing decisions on this, rather than human instinct.

A simple example of this is to leverage a workforce management capability like occurrence tracking. Occurrence tracking gives managers, at their fingertips, objective data that removes subjectivity from tasks like performance reviews by including information like number of absences, how many times they helped their peers with shift trades and so forth.

Another example is scheduling. From within scheduling, managers can leverage capabilities to assign tasks by seniority, skill, and certification rather than selecting an employee because the supervisor is friends with them.

Additionally, providing employees with the self-service capability allows them to indicate their availability and therefore have a say in the schedule, rather than leaving it to a manager’s assumptions. Such assumptions can lead to bias if, for example, a manager decides that a student cannot do an early morning shift because of school.

With “blinders-free” data, managers can not only make decisions that are unbiased and based on fact rather than opinion, it also provides them with tangible evidence for any decisions. As the BBC video shows, we have a long way to go before we can completely and accurately say that bias no longer exists. But in the meantime, we can continue to use technology to progress and move toward a “blinder-free” workplace.

Read about some other trends and continue the conversation with us by requesting a demo.

Three Steps to Maximize Your HCM System ROI

“Exceptional ROI is the norm, not the exception”

Three Steps to Maximize Your HCM System ROI

I was in line the other morning waiting for my usual—double shot Americano with room for cream—when I overheard a conversation between the two young women who were directly behind me.

And no, it wasn’t a juicy conversation about personal matters…it was a work matter. One of them, not sure which one, as it would have been impolite to keep turning around—was under a lot of pressure from her boss to select a new HCM system for their organization. Her friend was trying to give her advice. I emphasize trying because in truth, not a lot of what she said either made sense or was even accurate. Back in the day, this would have been point when I would have handed her my card. Today we write a blog about it. SO, this is for you White Chocolate Mocha and Chai Tea.

Choosing the technology for human capital management is a big deal. There are a ton of vendors out there and each promises the world. In truth, few deliver and no one wants to be the person who recommended a particular system only for it to fail to deliver on its promises.

Let’s boil this dilemma down and solve it with three simple steps.

Step 1 Identify the wish list

Compile a list of your requirements: what you want/need/would like to see done with the new HCM. Analyze your talent, learning, and workforce management strategies. Assume that you don’t need to live without anything on your wish list, because chances are, your requirements are more attainable than you might think. We know that you’re hearing from other vendors that you may need a fully customized (read: costly) solution or try to squeeze your organization into a one-size-fits-all box. If that happens to you, see the red flag and find a vendor who doesn’t shy away from complex requirements. The cloud is fantastic, but in some cases, on-premise may be exactly what you need. The point is not to sell yourself short.

We’re hosting a webinar on vetting requirements—specifically for Workforce Management—on April 18. Check it out and register: Four Things To Do Before Signing Your WFM Provider Contract.  

Step 2 See the whole picture

To begin you might only need a small number of modules… to do things such as solving your employee retention problem, doing a better job at onboarding, or even optimizing self-service with shift trading. I caution you not to fall into the trap of thinking short-term and focusing on only your immediate need. We see many prospective customers come running to us as needs emerge and they’re overwhelmed with disparate HR systems. Not all HCMs are created equal, and some have the capability to expand as needed without additional costs or customization.

It’s also important to fully realize your potential ROI from your HCM investment. In a recent Nucleus Research report, Four HCM Mistakes to Avoid, it discusses that decision-makers often overlook that “modern technology for HCM costs less to implement and operate,” thereby yielding “major gains in productivity…[and] a significant ROI.”

Step 3 Set the Right time

The point-of-need for upgrading or deploying a new HCM is before there’s a problem. If you’re starting to see that your system is becoming unworkable—start comparing vendors now. The Nucleus report also states that many SMBs in particular wait too long. Don’t do that! Plus, the sooner you get started, the sooner you will experience the ROI which will simply increase as time passes and your company grows.

To my colleagues in the coffee shop and everywhere else, I hope this helps.

For information about our HCM and what it can do for you, schedule a demo. For additional reading, check out the research note that I referenced above “Four HCM Mistakes to Avoid.”

The Unburdened Return from Parental Leave

Returning to work after having a child has been known to cause a bit of unease. New moms and dads need to readjust their schedules and adapt to spending less time with their child(ren), which makes it a fairly delicate time. Employers and managers tasked with honoring parental leave have the added responsibility of reallocating workloads and carefully adhering to FMLA. Deliberate planning is crucial to comply with the mandates which reinstate new parents into their previous roles.

Parental Leave

Getting back to work

While getting back into the daily grind can be a challenge for new parents, it doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—entering survival mode. Here are some tips that can help staff more easily return to work after welcoming a new family member.

Master the art of working at work.

Professionals need to manage time effectively. It’s very difficult to log off completely, and some days (let’s be realistic) we have to stay connected. Many of us struggle to ‘turn off’ when clocking out. The outcome, however, is that when we’re scanning emails after hours, we aren’t truly present when it should be family time. And when we’re beating ourselves up the next day for missing out on that time to connect with children, we’re distracted at work. Rather than doing both things with mediocrity, find the balance that works for you and enables you to keep your focus where it needs to be.

Be mindful of family time.

Unplugging during family time, as much as possible, empowers working professionals to be attentive parents who build strong family ties and make lasting memories. Setting clear boundaries will help achieve high productivity at work and significant quality time at home. Being conscious and vigilant in how they spend their time helps many parents enjoy a fulfilling career as well as strong family bonds.

Employer readiness

Maternity leave can be a challenge to oversee without proper policies and tools in place. With frequent federal bylaw amendments, it’s vital to minimize risk—leveraging automated rules and alerts can help ensure compliance.

Comply with FMLA.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), “provides certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year, and requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave.”

Employers are on their own to observe leave entitlements, coverage and unique circumstance regulations. The simplest way to ensure your organization meets federal requirements, tracks critical information, and implements company-specific policies is to leverage an automated workforce management system.

Show your support.

The transition back to work can be a sensitive time that each new parent handles differently. Some will have difficulty coping while others will easily settle back into their work. Adapt and make these employees feel valued. Taking steps that demonstrate your support for their dual demands shows that they aren’t left to fend for themselves and helps build loyalty, which in turn increases employee retention.

Let me know how you handled, or plan to handle, going back to work after parental leave. Are you a manager welcoming back a new parent? Tell me about your experience!

Modern Workforce Management Gets Flexible

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for modern is “based on or using the newest information, methods, or technology.” Companies effectively supporting a contemporary workforce recognize that modern workforce management is fundamentally tied to the latest, most innovative platforms and systems available.

Workforce Management

Today’s managers don’t restrict their people to locations, set schedules or even terms of employment. Instead, management is all about flexibility. A prerequisite for this flexibility is a workforce management system that incorporates the latest, most innovative and ‘modern’ options available.

Self-service is an example of one of the latest trends impacting workforce management. Taking advantage of time- and money-saving options demands innovative modern technology. When the proper systems are in place, they ensure that both employers and employees can enjoy significant degrees of flexibility in choosing when and how they work.

Self-service empowers workers to access and, when permitted, update their records in real-time rather than by making requests from various channels. This provides employees with the liberty to enter and track their time & attendance information, bid on available shifts, request absences and verify leave balances (to name a few), while managers benefit from the automation and compliance peace-of-mind that self-service helps to deliver.

Modern workforce management is adaptable and responsive to modern needs. The right workforce management system can help you prepare for and handle the latest trends impacting your workforce. Check out this article to learn more about how self-service—and other trends—are influencing the workforce.

National Payroll Week: Celebrating Payroll Professionals

In honor of National Payroll Week in the U.S., we are taking the opportunity to thank our payroll staff and all of our customers who leverage SumTotal Payroll for all of their hard work and commitment to excellence. Payroll professionals everywhere work hard to ensure that paychecks are on time and accurate (plus a million other tasks that go undetected).


According to APA, there are 150 million wage earners in America today, and “…together, through the payroll withholding system, [payroll professionals] contribute, collect, report and deposit approximately $2.2 trillion, or 67%, of the annual revenue of the U.S. Treasury.”

Considering that 63% of Americans would experience financial difficulty if one paycheck were missed or delayed, it’s easy to see why the payroll function in every organization is so critical.

So go get direct deposit, say thank you to your payroll team, and cheers to another wonderful year of payroll!


The Skillsoft/SumTotal payroll team
Many thanks to the Skillsoft/SumTotal payroll team!


Ready, Set, Connect! A Process for Stress-free APA Fall Forum Networking

Networking is exciting for some people. But for many who have chosen careers in the behind-the-scenes procedures or ‘numbers’ side of the workforce, such as payroll professionals, networking means extra deodorant and deep breaths. With the 2016 APA Fall Forum right around the corner, we’re hearing some chatter about networking uncertainties. But don’t worry—we’ve got some tips. Because at SumTotal, we understand how to give people in every role in your organization the skills they need to succeed.


People who are drawn to the payroll and workforce management occupations are often very organized, down-to-earth and methodical, with strong work ethics. They tend to value well-defined tasks, order, and privacy. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator might define these process-enthusiasts as the ISFJ personality type; which stands for Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging. Jumping into in social activities disrupts the much-valued routine, often causing some uneasiness and stress.

To eliminate some of that stress, try tackling networking as a process. This component of the conference is an opportunity to make connections that may prove just as valuable as the knowledge you gain from attending sessions. So what do you do when you’re not in a workshop or general session? Instead of leaving the situation or distancing yourself, which may be the most natural response, prioritize and break down “tasks” just as you would at work.

Review attendee and sponsor lists. If attendee lists are available, review it ahead of time and note who you want to meet. Sponsor lists are always available—so make sure to highlight which would be most valuable to investigate. Having an idea of who will be at the event will help you prepare and can be the difference between small talk and a sincere conversation.

Visit exhibitor booths. Representatives at exhibitor booths are invested in making connections. You will have the opportunity to chat, learn about new companies and products, and potentially meet others interested in the same solutions or facing similar business challenges. Even if you’re not actively looking for a new solution, understanding emerging technologies may help you reevaluate your own business needs—and processes—to prepare for future updates.

Ask for an introduction. Greet the person who seems to know everyone and ask them to introduce you to the person/people you wish to meet. This is a great way to be invited into a conversation. Not only will you gain an introduction, but someone else will initiate the conversation and that person may already have a relationship with the person you’re trying to meet (this is another valuable reason to review attendee lists ahead of time).

Set goals and limits. Don’t force yourself to network the entire time. Tell yourself that you’ll hang out for hour, shake five hands, or meet someone in particular before taking a break.

Attending conferences is as much about networking as it is about learning from sessions and workshops. Business and relationship management go hand-in-hand—so prepare. With a solid plan and clear task list in place, follow the networking process that works best for you.

Stop by our booth at the APA Fall Forum to learn more about our Payroll and Workforce Management solutions and share your favorite networking tips below to continue the conversation.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Data Analytics

It’s not new information that women earn just 79 cents for every dollar that a man earns or that only 14% of the S&P 500’s top executives are women. When considering ethnicity in addition to gender, the imbalance gets worse. Compared to the earnings of Caucasian men, African American women net 59% and Latin American women bring home just 54%. With today’s focus on diversity and inclusion, many HR pros are all too familiar with this mounting problem—but few understand how to correct it.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

In this informational age, Big Data and data mining techniques aren’t just for market research and microtargeting. Organizations with established human capital management (HCM) practices are collecting massive amounts of people data that hold the potential to identify demographic disparity. Many times this information is readily available, but evaluating it is a low priority—or the HR department lacks the analytical skills to put the data to use.

Sadly, progress is slow regardless of information accessibility. For example, media coverage of Equal Pay Day earlier this year highlighted companies with equal pay policies, such as Facebook and Microsoft, rather than calling out those that don’t offer equal opportunities and pay. This serves as another reminder that equality remains the exception rather than the norm.

Companies that analyze people data in the right context have the potential to pinpoint inequality and implement strategic talent processes to begin to remedy the problem. Providing equal opportunity and compensation isn’t just fair and the right thing to do, but studies reveal that the global economy would substantially benefit and increase the GDP worldwide. Companies that want to attract and retain top talent and remain competitive need to move women and minorities into leadership roles and level compensation. It’s time to pay attention and learn what interviews and observations don’t tell us and transition baseless practices to data-backed strategies.

SumTotal provides visibility into the data organizations need to ensure that they’re offering fair compensation plans and equal advancement opportunities to all their employees. Being able to see the composition of your workforce can help you quickly identify areas where you may need to adjust your hiring, advancement or pay strategies. We’ve designed our solutions to help ensure fair and accurate compensation by basing merit increases and bonuses on an objective and transparent process that aligns with employee performance.

Equal opportunities and compensation for women and minorities benefit economies, companies, communities, families and individuals. The revolution for parity is too good to let pass. Your data has a lot to say. Are you tracking and analyzing the intelligence? Comment below and let me know how your company has gained by taking active measures to break the glass ceiling.