red balloon

morningscramble

I was recently asked to speak about toxic relationships on The Morning Scramble with Pat McMahon. We had a great conversation and the information is so helpful, both for employees enduring difficult co-workers, and leadership handling situations with negative middle managers, that I had to share here on my blog.

Employees and employers alike are often at a loss with defining and dealing with toxic dynamics. What we’re talking about is people who are resistant, narcissistic, passive aggressive, manipulative or people who make others feel bad with negative comments, actions or energy. This is a particularly difficult topic because we don’t have protections at work against this kind of behavior – it isn’t necessarily abusive and it’s not the same as Title VI protections which typically deal with discrimination issues. These behaviors are also productivity killers for companies – you end up with entire departments full of toxic personalities, and all the good people give up and go away. Here are some of the questions and answers from this segment:

Why are some employers reluctant to deal with interpersonal conflicts in the workplace?
Many C suite executives are under tremendous pressure and feel pulled in many directions, and while it’s not an acceptable reason to look the other way, it’s the reality. Leadership must make connecting with employees a priority on a regular basis.

Handling a difficult personality also requires some finesse, and that can be intimidating for managers at any level. They could also be concerned about ramifications of messy emotional conversations, or disciplining a middle manager. They may also be reluctant to make a change if that manager’s department is healthy and generating revenue – it’s not right, but it’s a factor.

What are some tips for employers handling a toxic middle manager?
It’s important to determine early on if this was a bad hiring decision or if something has happened in this person’s life recently that’s making them edgier than usual. If it’s a manager who can’t change (or won’t change), it’s time to start moving that person out the door. Sometimes it’s easier to document problems and conversations up to the point of asking for a resignation – you may just have to let someone go. It’s unpleasant, but depending on the issues at hand, it may be the best solution involved. It’s important to remember that angry personalities crush morale, and that you may begin losing talented and loyal employees if you don’t deal with a toxic manager.

What are some tips for having a conversation with a toxic middle manager as the employer?
1. address the issue directly and honestly, sharing your concerns (ideally this is happening very soon after observing a problem or receiving a complaint)
2. keep it brief, and be willing to listen
3. avoid public embarrassment, discuss concerns one and one and not generally in groups
4. don’t make assumptions, ask for feedback and input, ask the manager how they suggest resolving the issue
5. If the manager indicates that they have some issues to resolve personally, contact your company’s HR dept and connect the manager with your EAP if you have one
6. explain expectations and consequences going forward
7.  I have found this tip especially helpful: ask the manager to write up an outline of the conversation as they understand it by the end of the day – this will allow you to document that you both have the same understanding of the matters discussed and an additional opportunity to clarify your agreement going forward

What are your tips from an employee perspective for dealing with a toxic work environment?
It’s tough to deal with a negative personality but there are a few things you can do. If the person is generally a good person going through a rough time, acknowledge their feelings and let them know you’re sorry for what they’re dealing with. Keep it short and get back to the work tasks at hand.

If the person doesn’t take the hint and goes on and on, stop asking and acknowledging the issues and stick to work conversations. Keep interactions short. Form “alliances” with co-workers who understand, and ask them for help keeping the atmosphere and conversation topics more positive in nature.

None of us likes to feel like a tattle tale, or like we’re throwing someone under the bus, but there are times that you will need to go to your supervisor to ask for help dealing with the situation. It may start off as a confidential conversation in which you ask for some coaching on dealing with the negative behaviors – this lets your boss know there is an issues but also demonstrates that you aren’t looking for he or she to intervene while taking the initiative to deal with the issues. If all else fails, you will need to ask your supervisor to intervene.

If the issues escalate, or the manager doesn’t take appropriate actions it’s time to call HR – some large companies allow employees to call in these issues anonymously, but be prepared for being identified as the caller. Be honest, be kind, be brief and always handle yourself in a way that will make you feel proud later, at this point you’ll have to let the chips fall where they may.

What are your tips for creating a positive work environment?
It is everyone’s job to create a positive environment at work. First, make sure you aren’t one of the people who are putting others down, joking around too much, distracting others, or constantly complaining.

Leadership should be able to stand by every hire, and should consistently work at preventing toxic environments. I like to recommend that mid-size and large companies utilize personality assessments and multiple or panel interviews during the hiring process.

They should also create opportunities for ongoing education and training for both employees, middle managers and execs – for example, I provide corporate training that helps middle managers and leadership identify their own issues with self-awareness exercises, I show them how to identify issues developing among their teams and how to nip problems in the bud through my  business therapy™ program.

A positive work environment and quickly resolving toxic relationships at work pays off in the long run – you will keep your best and most productive employees. Have you ever had an employee or a co-worker that you considered to be toxic? How did you handle it?

Have more questions on this subject? email me anytime

If you’re struggling to keep up with all the changes in social media lately, you aren’t the only one. You’ve likely heard the fuss over the “intrusive” Facebook Messenger, and that Foursquare recently moved the check-in function to the new app Swarm. Add to that Pinterest’s new paid ads, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and it’s easy to see how fast changing social media has users’ heads spinning!

What we’re seeing is the continued trend of specialization and customization in apps and social media platforms. While this means some pretty cool and convenient services for consumers, the speed, complexity and number of changes is freaking some people out. Here’s a quick roundup:

facebook-messenger1) A lot of people are up in arms about Facebook Messenger, and having to send and receive private messages solely through this app on their mobile phones. One reason is that it’s annoying to toggle between two apps (the traditional Facebook app for public sharing of social content, and the Messenger app for communicating privately with friends).

The other reason is that media alarmists that misunderstand the app are spreading outdated and incorrect information about the permissions Messenger requests. It is worrisome for users that the app asks for the ability to access your phone’s contacts and call log, and to record audio from your phone’s microphone, make phone calls and send text messages. But without those functions, the app could not function as designed.

That being said, a lot of apps we use on a daily basis have access to this same data. It’s not fair to single out Facebook as being malicious (unfortunately Facebook is also to blame for their reputation as intrusive with research and data mining). There is an atmosphere of paranoia in today’s day and age of spamming, fraud and NSA spying, but the reality is that you have a choice – check out the Messenger terms of service, and deny permissions you’re uncomfortable with, or communicate privately with friends on Facebook from your desktop instead of your cell phone.

swarm2) Foursquare made the decision to move check-ins to another app, Swarm, when they discovered the vast majority of users were solely using Foursquare to check-in and share their location, and not for the purpose of discovering new businesses as originally intended.

Now, Foursquare will be offering enhanced listings of local businesses, and in doing so, pit itself directly against Yelp for local business searches. Going forward, businesses will need to evaluate where their customers are coming from and keep an eye on Foursquare’s attempt to overtake Yelp as the go-to resource for local listings.

3) Speaking of Yelp, the business review giant celebrates it’s 10th birthday this October, and continues to evolve as a strong social player. Recent updates to the service included the addition of video, and a new function has been added to the Yelp app called Review Translation so users can translate business reviews posted in other languages.

Pinterest-Messages4) Pinterest has made some announcements this week as well. Select companies were invited to try out new paid ad placement on the site, and new private messaging services we rolled out to the public. Users can more easily send pins and messages privately to other users on the app and desktop versions. Scenarios suggested by the site’s tutorial (see resources below for a link) include event and recreational planning with friends and colleagues. As it is, 80% of current pins are “repins”, or reposted content according to Internet Marketing, Inc, and this new feature is sure to encourage even more sharing.

Big picture, we’re seeing social media platforms evolve the way all marketing has in recent years – moving from broad purpose and general audiences to increasingly more specific purposes and targeted markets. Overall, users seem pleased with programs that are more convenient and  seem to intuitively “get” them, and brands are happy that users are engaging longer.

Remember, red balloon offers highly effective social media management, and it’s our job to keep up with all this change so you don’t have to. Have questions about anything in this post, social media or life in general? Contact me at jennifer at red balloon inc dot com

Cheers! Jenn ;)

Additional resources:
Mashable article about Facebook Messenger
Yelp Official Blog
Pinterest Messages Tutorial

Do you know the story behind the name red balloon?

I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, I was operating from crisis mode but I was fearful of change. That’s when I surrendered to The Universe and asked for an affirmation that good things awaited me on the other side of change – a red balloon. You can read the full story here.

Since then, several people have shared their inspiring stories of also needing some encouragement and asking for their own red balloon, a meaningful sign that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

I’m excited to share the first in a series of posts with you, from a woman I admire a lot – TV personality and food writer Robin Miller.

What was the situation you were experiencing?

“I decided to look for “my” red balloon for personal reasons. I was just at a crossroads in my life and I needed some “sign” to help me decide which direction to choose. Decide with confidence and without looking back.”

Do you normally consider yourself a spiritual person? Is guidance something you regularly ask for?

“I consider myself a pretty spiritual person – I hope, wish and pray for things all the time. I don’t typically ask for guidance, I just ask that my family be looked over and taken care of. I’m never sure who might be listening, but I feel hopeful every time.”

Tell us your red balloon story.

“I asked for my red balloon on a Wednesday – and discussed the concept with my two sons. That Sunday, we were walking into a restaurant, just as the doors were opening for the day, and as we entered, my one son accidentally kicked something at his feet – A RED BALLOON! He kicked the balloon up in the air, it hit my other son and then bounced back to me. If that wasn’t a true sign, I don’t know what is!”

What made you feel that particular red balloon was for you?

“I knew the balloon was for me because it was the only one in the entire restaurant! It was half deflated on the ground, just waiting for us. The red balloon literally found ME, I didn’t find IT!

TV Personality and Food Writer Robin Miller

Robin has been a TV personality, food writer and nutritionist since 1990 and she is the author of ten books, including Robin Takes 5 for Busy Families, Robin Takes 5, and the New York Times bestseller, Quick Fix Meals. Her popular show, “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller”, now airing on Great American Country, aired on Food Network for 5 years. Learn more about Robin at http://www.robinmillercooks.com/

Do you have a red balloon story to share? Email me at jennifer@redballooninc.com and you may be featured in an upcoming blog post or our forthcoming compilation.

this-website

I recently got a call from a client. Terrible news, and could I help in some way?

He had received a call from a vendor that something was wrong with my client’s site – there was one odd photo on the homepage and nothing else… No pages, no content. His company’s expensive investment, their site, was nowhere to be found.

Together we called the host, who confirmed that someone or something had gotten into the back end of the website and deleted files (files comprise a website), and replaced them with files named after expletives and “Viagra”… The host asked if there was a back up of the site.

“No” was all my client answered. We set about helping them prepare to rebuild the site that afternoon. You see, his web developer built him a gorgeous site, but never covered protecting it.

So many entrepreneurs are to be commended for learning about technology and being capable of managing their websites in-house. Unfortunately, the above true story happens all too often because we know just enough to be dangerous. Are you taking the proper precautions to make your website secure?

I asked our friend Karl of Site Mechanix, a WordPress website expert, to outline for us the steps that every company can and should take to prevent these kinds of mishaps. Do you have technology or social media questions? Email me at jennifer@redballooninc.com and the answer to your question could be featured in an upcoming post.

Why is it important to protect your website?
“Certain care should be taken to protect your website from hackers. If a hacker gets hold of your website, it could be used to spread malware in the form of redirects which will send your site visitors to a malware site possibly infecting their computers. At the very least they can take over your site and advertise what ever message they want. It is usually embarrassing.”

What are some basic protections for a WordPress website?
“First you need to make sure that your domain and hosting accounts have tough passwords. Mix it up with special characters or use the password generator found in the password reset pages. Make sure that you copy and paste the password to a text document for future reference.

One other problem is your computer. Make sure that you have anti-malware and anti-trojan software to make sure that you are not already broadcasting your passwords.

Make sure that you are not logging into to WordPress with the user called “admin”. This used to be the default user when WordPress was installed. Don’t just change the user name, create a new one. Once you have created the new user, login with the new account and delete the old one.

Make sure that your WordPress version is up to date as well as the themes and plugins. The frequent updates can be annoying, but they are usually patching vulnerabilities.

Above all make sure that you have all of your login information in a safe place.”

Is it important to have a backup of your website? How often?
“These days Yes! It is very important to have ongoing backups of your WordPress site. The frequency of the backups depends on how often you post on your blog. Usually once a week is sufficient unless you are creating content on a daily basis, then backing up more often would be better. If you are an occasional blogger, once a month.”

Is there a backup plugin that you recommend?
“I like the plugin BackUpWordPress by Human Made Limited. It simple and effective. It is free and can be found through your plugin search panel in your WordPress admin.

You can set the frequency of the backup and what time of the day. It will email to you a zip file until the backup is too big to send. But it will email you the notice that a backup has been completed. It can store as many backups as you want as long as it is within 1 Gigabyte.

You can choose to have just the database backed up or both the database and the uploads. If you are uploading large images to your WordPress Media section your backups could be quite sizable. A typical backup for someone who blogs with images can be 100 Megabytes and possibly an additional 1MB added to each consecutive backup after that.”

Any final thoughts to share?
“Sometimes when your WordPress website is down it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been hacked. I first check to make sure both the domain and hosting accounts are paid up. A common problem is that website services like hosting and domain registration often renew automatically, but if the credit card on the account has expired the site will shut down.

Other times a website will be down temporarily because of issues with the host server or even with other servers on the internet. Checking in with the support people at your web hosting service to see if there are any server issues can eliminate that possibility.

Even your own connection can be the issue, so rule that out by seeing if you can browse to a web site the you have not visited. Other websites that you routinely visit are cached on your computer and create the illusion that you are online when you might not be.

Also, software is constantly being updated, WordPress, the plugins, themes and the software on the host server. While it is important that software gets updated for vulnerabilities it can also create havoc on your website.

The most common offenders in WordPress are the plugins. If you can login, disable all the plugins. If the site is functioning correctly, try adding the plugins back one at a time. I find that many times two plugins are not compatible with each other. It is best not to use too many plugins.”

portfolio_imageWhy you need a Web Buddy
Having someone like Karl at Site Mechanix in your business arsenal takes the stress out of treading water on the open web. Karl is an experienced web swimmer and knows what to do in the event of a website outage. If your WordPress website is down, call Karl to have your situation diagnosed. Site Mechanix has been faithfully serving it’s clients since 1998.


entrepreneurs find balance

If you’re at all familiar with my backstory, my opinion about work-life balance will not be a surprise to you. I started my first business in 2005, took on a partner, hired a bunch of people and managed to become really successful while the rest of the economy was in the tank.

While it looked great from the outside, though, I was working most nights until 1 or 2am. I wasn’t seeing my husband or my baby boy as much as I wanted. I was sick all the time, and I was generally unhappy and unfulfilled. A few years later in 2009, all in the span of about six months, the stress was taking its toll – I miscarried, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and then we discovered that our two year old son needed surgery for a brain tumor. I completely lacked balance and I was falling apart.

I finally learned just how important balance is, which is why I get frustrated when I read irresponsible business advice like this from Jason Saltzman for Entrepreneur:

The reality is that if you are building your business, you are spending 99 percent of your time working on it or thinking about it. The reality is that your business has become your life. Screw this balance crap; you need to be obsessed.”

Screw this balance crap? Really?

At one time, I was defined by my business, it had become my life. So when things went well, I was happy with myself, but when things were outside of my control (which happens a lot when you own a business), I experienced a lot of self-loathing. My priorities were totally screwed up, but because I lacked balance I couldn’t see the problem, let alone figure out how to fix it.

I agree that building a business takes obsession, but it also takes recharging and gaining new perspectives. A healthy person knows that she is not the business, she runs the business, she has the kind of obsession that makes her resilient, and keeps her coming back day after day. She is not some crazy wackadoo one dimensional Super-Preneur.

Surround yourself with smart people. Look, this is a simple and logical statement. If you are around dumbasses, they are going to distract you and make you feel crazy for working so hard. Screw that. You are trying to take over the world.”

“Smart”, experienced business people will tell you that it’s not crazy to work hard, but they will tell you that non-stop work will have you creatively tapped in no time. When you don’t take breaks, you lose your ability to see the forest for the trees. You become tired, inflexible and miss opportunities.

This is when your true loved ones will shine through. If you are getting bitched at from every angle about why you are coming home late and working too hard, you need to drop that person like a bad habit.”

This one takes care of itself, because guess what? You’re a selfish shithead, and you’ll be all alone.

Let’s keep the self-importance to a minimum. Growing a business does not mean that your family should have to do without you. Your partner should not feel they’re responsible for holding down the fort alone, while you’re off pursuing your own thing.

In fact, many of us entrepreneurs are building businesses for the freedom to spend more time with our families, or to go on more vacations, or pursue other passions. You’re going to need support, and you’re going to need love. Because while entrepreneurialism is exhilarating, it’s also soul-crushing some days.

The reality is, we human beings needs balance in our lives. Most extremes are unsustainable for long periods of time. Something will give. Your health. Your marriage. Your children. Your sanity.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, try to be realistic about timelines and what you want to accomplish, and then commit. Prioritize, and realize that every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.

Balance doesn’t have to happen on a day to day basis, don’t make yourself crazy. For me, balance happens over the course of a week, a month, or even a year. I might have to be out 2 or 3 nights a week for work, but my kids each get a date night with me about one night a week, too. My husband and I buckle down for the busy seasons in our businesses, and then take a week off a few times a year. Our kids are busy with school, while we’re busy with work, and then we take half days off with them all summer.

One last bit of advice, don’t sell your soul. The world is full of business advice to ignore, people like Mr. Saltzman will have you believe that you have to give everything all the time to be successful… but I suppose that depends on your definition of success. You may grow a great big business, but if you don’t have time off to enjoy your accomplishments, and the people you love aren’t around to celebrate with, it won’t be a fulfilling experience anyway.

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