The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Sir Winston Churchill

Success often comes to those willing to think “outside of the box.” New directions, products, goals, destinations, partnerships and alliances never before thought possible have emerged from the sluggish economy. We all do things differently – the degree of success achieved often directly linked to the amount of risk we are willing to take and the confidence we have in the gifts we are given.

Some of us experienced failure to varying degrees this past year. Our comfortable existences (built upon personal dreams that came to fruition through hard work and determined actions) crashed upon rocky shores – dismantled by a stormy world and its altered expectations. Stories about plant closings and personal loss became more the norm than the exception – the negative overshadowing news about business expansions and individual gain.

Let us learn from the lessons of yesterday as we experience today and move relentlessly towards a brighter tomorrow. Limit your future ONLY by its potential rather than by imaginary restraints constructed from beliefs and conditions within your past. Once achieved, view each success as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Success can lead to insignificant obsolescence without continuous attention and improvement.

Failure is not fatal UNLESS we accept it as a conclusion to our actions rather than an unplanned stop along the way. Let us not look into the face of failure only to find that “it is us.” Move forward with courage to establish lofty goals – never resting on the laurels of past successes. Seek new mountains to climb – refusing to be lost in the dark valleys of missed opportunity.

Though we are emerging from the mists that have slowed our journey, our road to recovery has not yet ended – our destination not yet fully revealed. Failure can only become success when we exhibit the courage to continue. While we all assume our share of blame in this world, never allow yourself to be accused of following the crowd you were destined to lead – of becoming but an “accepted” part of the problem rather than an essential part of the solution. Our dreams will be realized only when we continuously move forward in our quest for new realities.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


America was built upon the belief that individuals can realize unlimited opportunity through hard work and the effective utilization of resources. Thanksgiving recognizes the sacrifice made by so many AND the relationships developed within a new land in celebrating the sweat equity invested to make the harvest possible. Some farmed, some hunted, some cooked, some served – but all shared in the feast they helped prepare. Implied within this basic tenant is that while we ARE created equally, we possess different gifts, abilities and competencies so we ARE NOT presumed to be equal in our ability to produce or achieve results.

Our “roots” establish within each of us a moral and ethical duty to PROVIDE for all – but that does not mean all are entitled to receive EQUAL treatment. While we all taste success, life is an environment of equitability rather than of equality. Our efforts do not create EQUAL results - they produce results that reflect EQUITABLY against the abilities we have developed, the intelligence we apply, and outcomes we achieve.

Our country has survived many challenges from outside our borders. We have overcome adversity, established ourselves as world leaders in almost any endeavor we chose to pursue, and shared our riches with many having less. If the greatness of our country is to survive, we must brace ourselves to overcome attacks from within – attacks on an individual’s ability to demonstrate excellence, the opportunity to reap the rewards of individual efforts, and the belief that one is limited by something other than his or her own shortcomings – by embracing the freedoms and unlimited possibilities we currently share.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, consider not only the harvest but also the work that went into preparing for it. Celebrate the effort as much as the rewards. Recognize the investor as much as you do the return on his or her investment. Enjoy your time with family and friends but hold dear the hard work that made the dreams of those who came before us reality – and pray our efforts can help them continue for those who will follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I recently returned from a Healthcare Reform Meeting in Washington – taking with me a plethora of thoughts and considerations. As part of the Aligning Forces For Quality initiative we discussed changing the way treatment is paid for, how insurance can be designed to cover all individuals equally, and what can be done to make treatment information (with outcomes) readily available to consumers. (It is interesting how change can create jobs, advance careers and provide a vacuum in which so many people choose to live.)

I talked to an individual charged with researching “how things are” so that papers can be created saying “how things should be” in an attempt to educate legislators about how to vote – yet the individual vehemently denied having any role in the policy-making process (her organization has increased from 6 employees to 136 in the past two years).

I heard a “reformed doctor” who has “seen the light” after being treated for a serious illness. Much like an individual who has quit smoking, the doctor has seen the “error in his previous ways” and is now advocating that patients serve a critical role in their own treatment.

It seems like most conventional wisdom is leaning towards changing the way medical care is paid for (by bundling payment under a single bill that encompasses all treatment, follow-up and potential complications). A heavy emphasis is being placed on “common” medical record systems that communicate to each other (though everyone currently having electronic systems wants their current system to communicate in a secure way with everyone else’s system) so that a patient can receive “portable” care. Further, more collaboration is being sought – eliminating some of the competitive mindset that healthcare providers now possess by focusing on regional solutions.

Most at the conference have concluded that a “single payer system” is inevitable – but there was very little common ground as to who would administer such a system, what it would cover and whether or not it would be a “base program” to which people could add should they have the means OR an all-encompassing system that would not create “levels” of healthcare. There were many questions with very few answers – but progress is being made towards discussing some of the best practices that are beginning to emerge.

I met with and experienced good people trying their best to wrestle with a problem out of control – but my return to “West Michigan reality” allowed me to reflect upon some thoughts about government, freedom and how things do (and often do not) get done. While I recognize and acknowledge that I am able to seek and publish quotes that define some of the feelings I experienced in Washington ONLY because our country allows us the freedom to express our thoughts and opinions more freely than any other, my visit was measured with a mix of both cynicism and optimism.

I found several quotes that serve to define feelings about Washington that linger from my most recent visit...please pause to consider them!

• You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered. (Lyndon B. Johnson)

• The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of government power, not the increase of it. (Woodrow Wilson)

• Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it's the only one you have. (Emile Chartier)

• When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President. Now I'm beginning to believe it. (Clarence Darrow)

• Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river. (Nikita Krushchev)

• A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. (Gerald Ford)

• A Committee - The unwilling, selected from the unfit, to do the unnecessary. (Margaret Thatcher)

AND, a last but hopefully not least consideration…

• Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off until further notice.

Friday, November 4, 2011


In order to accomplish great things we must listen and learn so we can build our knowledge and experience base to initiate responsible actions. Good listening, however, involves more than waiting patiently to hear your owner's voice (as this now famous RCA dog once did) - it involves asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on a partially developed thought (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing reserved individuals into the conversation (rather than accepting their silence as support). The only bad question is the question not asked – but we are often too busy listening to ourselves to hear what others have to say. We often “covertly omit” the wisdom of others more than we “overtly deny” it because we cannot act upon that which we do not hear.

It takes courage to listen. We imply a lack of knowledge when seeking input from others. We must accept that gathering information in order to make a decision is not a sign of weakness or of failure. A major failure often made is deciding on a course of action before accumulating all data and considering all opinions on the matter. We should not "question" only to seek validation of our own great ideas - to listen effectively we must wait for input from our inquiries before deciding where we want to go and how we intend to get there. If we act without listening it is better to have never asked - people will not continue to contribute when they see no personal value or gain in their contributions.

Listening involves more than simply hearing. It requires one to communicate openly and honestly, responding not only to what is being said but also inquiring into what was not fully revealed. It requires us to “hear” what is being physically communicated beyond what is being verbally stated. In life, actions speak louder than words. People say, “I care…I’m interested…I’m listening…” yet continue writing or talking on the phone without making eye contact should someone enter their office. We may actually ask the right questions but wait quietly for the answer with our arms crossed, our foot tapping, and a vacant look in our eyes. Our words seek input while our body language screams, “I don’t hear you, nor do I care!” Pay attention to the “tone” of body language when listening – we can often “hear” more with our eyes than we do with our ears.

When we ask, listen, analyze and then act, we are harnessing the collective power of those tasked to make things happen. Talk can be cheap – results, however, are priceless!