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!

Monday, February 27, 2012


Teams can allow for the efficient pooling of ideas when developing practical solutions to complex worksite challenges. They can also create complex solutions to practical challenges if not checked. Many organizations rush headlong into the dissolution of traditional management structures, eliminating one (or more) layers of management, anticipating that employees will immediately embrace the opportunity to “make a difference” and work together towards the accomplishment of a single corporate objective. Sadly, such a transformation rarely happens easily.

When people perform individually, it is relatively easy to identify and measure both the effort expended and the results achieved. It is human nature, however, that people prefer to accept credit without blame, exhibit authority without wanting accountability, and make decisions without assuming responsibility for potential negative consequences. Organizations embracing the formation of teams before recognizing these characteristics may not realize their anticipated results. Before abandoning an even marginally successful “traditional” management structure, consider the following:

Teams must receive training to understand how each member fits into the process, leveraging every member’s unique abilities to make the “sum of all parts” a greater contributor to the Organization’s bottom line than would have been their potentially conflicting individual efforts.

Teams should receive an overall direction that defines their authority and any boundaries that may exist before they can operate independently. Management should provide the “content” to be considered, not necessarily the context with which to consider it. Do not try to control a team. An effective team should provide workable solutions that result in the group’s endorsement and “buy-in,” which will help to assure success in its efforts.

Most effective teams have a leader. A formal (or informal) leader will serve to keep the team “on task” and focused - to push through individual preferences as solutions are developed. A spokesperson will typically arise within a team – do not discourage the process. While teams are great “action units,” they often need to rally behind a champion to accomplish their group goals.

Teams should act through consensus rather than taking a “majority rules” approach. To achieve the best chance of success, every team member should agree on a solution prior to its being implemented as taking a vote and moving towards the solution that MOST feel is acceptable does not provide for group buy-in AND tends to create “win/lose” situations.

Work teams introduce multiples into an organization – stretching the limitations of an individual through the power of group thought. This power creates new solutions by applying different ideas and perspectives to tried and true processes. Do not expect team members to achieve success by taking untested ideas through an unmonitored process with little or no training.

Teams are like electrical circuits. Teams that “think in series” (one action accomplished before moving on to the next):

Accumulate a number of ideas before working through them one at a time.

Are like a single electrical wire extending over a long distance carrying a defined amount of power through a limited channel. All productive activity stops if the singular focus of such a team is disrupted.

Since all actions are funneled through a single “thought-line” in a series circuit, it will take a longer time to distribute the power of the team.

Teams that “think in parallel” (many actions taking place at the same time focused to produce a single result) establish alternate routes, paths or patterns in the problem solving process allowing great things to happen through grouped abilities. When teams “think in parallel” they:

Anticipate obstacles before they occur to function more effectively.

Channel a “defined amount of power” through multiple lines, carrying it to its pre-determined destination quicker.

Allow activity to shift to another avenue (rather than being taken off-line) should a disruption occur.

Teams properly assembled, trained, and allowed to function without disruptive outside interference pay multiple dividends. Several heads are better than one when multiple and diverse thought patterns can be melded into a singular action accomplishing significant results. Focusing on the importance of individual contributions tends to minimize the effectiveness of teams. When creating teams, however, leverage the collective spirit of individual entities – but focus a team’s actions through an internal filter (leader) to make sure that all interests are served, all ideas are gathered and everyone is “on the same page” when action is taken.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Our first impressions and preconceived notions influence our attitudes as we work with others. Until (and unless) we allow ourselves to view people with an open mind, seeking the value they bring rather than limiting the contributions they may make, we will not be able to realize their significance. We must dig deeper as we deal with others – continually seeking to identify the “method to their madness” as we deliberately limit the “madness from our own methods.”

Unfounded perceptions can negatively influence both thinking and action – potentially undermining both individual contribution and organizational success. I was working with the owner of a small machine shop that was struggling financially. The owner told me that he would like to have a “whole shop full of employees like the 76-year old who had retired before coming back to work, citing his loyalty and leadership ability as being inspirational to his other employees. His employees told me they were always looking for other opportunities – not so much because they did not like the work but rather because they did not want to end up working until they died because they couldn’t afford to retire.” I then spoke to the 76-year old and found that he was aware of what the owner and his fellow workers thought – but that neither knew the REAL reason he worked – that “if I ever met his wife I would know why he still came to work!” Often our perceptions can taint our thinking. ALWAYS take time to learn the facts before leaping to judgment!

Acting on available information without asking for clarification can often lead to disaster.
Many years ago, my wife and son were engaged in a heated discussion when I arrived home from work. It seems that he had been sent to the principal’s office for “hitting a kid with leaves” on his very first day of kindergarten. She could not understand why “throwing leaves at someone” was an offense worthy of a principal’s attention. He could not understand why she kept asking him about the situation after he had clearly and concisely answered her questions. I looked at my son and asked, “How big of a stick were the leaves attached to?” Upon hearing the “right” question he brightened and made a circle with his fingers and said, “Oh, about this big – nobody asked me that!” We often lose sight of where we are going because we are so focused on what we know as determined by where we have been and what we have experienced. Never form an opinion without first thinking about all the things that COULD BE rather than simply focusing upon what we think IS.

Others truly do matter in life. They can lift us up or weigh us down depending on how we view their contribution to our well-being. If we verify our perceptions before we pass judgment we can often avoid making assumptions that could lead us down the wrong path. If we ask for help and opinions from others before acting on our own – particularly when they may have already “been there and done that” – our journey can become much easier. If we truly seek what others can contribute (and listen to their words when we see their mouths moving) we may find support and affirmation coming from unexpected sources all around us. People will always say (and do) the strangest things. Make sure you pay enough attention to what they are saying or doing (and sometimes what they may NOT be saying or doing) that you can enjoy the difference their input makes in your life (AND you in theirs). Maximize the harvest this life offers by intentionally acting with discernment – by ALWAYS seeking prior to judging and listening prior to acting.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Organizations often move the “best technician” into supervision or take their most efficient employee and expect them to teach - usually without any training or support. Employees who were but “one of the gang” Friday are expected to be “leaders of the pack” Monday – with nothing more than a “personnel change notice” and a congratulatory memo. New managers are often expected to correct all that was wrong in the past by reclaiming lost efficiencies and improving employee morale – often only because they demonstrated unique initiative or innovation in their own work. Such an expectation (implementation of change without preparation for the ramifications of change) is destined to fail. Any employee considering a move into leadership should consider the following:

As a Supervisor, you are no longer a friend to your past peers. You must confront and address the weaknesses you once accepted in others. You have to praise good work, discipline to correct marginal performance, determine pay increases and treat individuals equitably rather than equally. Rather than striving to be “popular,” the best testament to a successful transition is hearing that you are “consistent.”

Accept the fact that some turnover will occur within your department when you take over. A new supervisor or leader creates change – and some employees do not accept change easily. Identify where you cannot afford turnover, taking steps to protect your vulnerabilities.

You must embrace and communicate corporate direction, oversight, goals and visions. It is your responsibility to show people not only where the organization is going but also how they are instrumental in completing the journey successfully. As an employee, you may have complained about “oppressive Company policies.” As a manager, you must support and enforce these same policies unless or until they are changed.

Give credit for success while accepting blame for false starts and “learning experiences.” You must often minimize your need for personal recognition by giving credit to your employees for the ideas you have planted. You must typically encourage them to take the road less traveled more often than you tell them what to do. You must often accept the “pain” so that all may “gain.”

You must praise in shouts while criticizing in whispers – recognizing that as determined as you may be, you cannot make the journey alone. You must develop others behind you as you grow – being lifted towards the top upon their shoulders rather than using them as rungs to step upon as you climb the ladder of success – as individuals rarely rise until a competent successor has been identified and developed to take over.

As a leader, you have greater responsibilities and are accountable for better results. You will take larger risks in order to gain potentially greater rewards. You must determine the direction not only for yourself but also for a group now counting on you for guidance. You must administer the directives of others while remaining true to yourself. Should you disagree with a policy or directive, actively seek to modify it rather than blindly accepting it – BUT support it until changed.

The transition to leadership is not easy. Recognizing the potential risk (as well as the inevitable reward) when making the change, however, will allow you to move forward with a sense of purpose. Most importantly, identify a mentor or confidant with whom you can speak openly and honestly – seeking their assistance whenever necessary to resolve issues before they become problems as you actualize your full leadership potential!