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!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


An election year is upon us and we hear endless political promises designed to say what we want to hear without concern as to the possibility of their ever coming to fruition. It seems that the days of “making a difference” are gone. We now focus more on making voters happy. Candidates once talked of what they would do if elected. Now they spend more time discussing what the other candidate failed to accomplish. We hear much about who is to blame but very little about solutions (and nothing about how much the “fix” will cost OR where sustainable funds will come from). Leadership seems to be an investment with diminishing returns today but ONLY because we allow our leaders to dodge the tough questions. Far too many fail to lead because they do not inspire anyone to follow them. Think about a leader that you have admired. I would bet that many possess the following qualities:

Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed in order to achieve greatness without really caring who gets the credit for the work as long as the results are achieved. If we accept this as an indicator of human success, it seems in conflict to what we see as being great qualities in the people we measure by “traditional standards” regarding their personal accomplishments. Seldom do we look at “process” because we focus more upon what great things were done than looking into how they were accomplished.

Ask most people who they feel are the true leaders and you will probably hear the name Steven Jobs, Jack Welch, a President of the United States or some outspoken champion of change. All have accomplished highly visible things. While these individuals may be change agents, they are not as effective as a humble leader able to foster “buy in” to process change such as a teacher you once had whom you still remember or a spiritual leader that truly helped transform your life. Max DePree, a great West Michigan leader, wrote that “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.” In order to lead effectively, one must consistently demonstrate humility, honesty and integrity so that people want to follow (noting that “following” should never be done blindly – it MUST include independent thought, analysis and consciously directed efforts).

Humility is disciplined strength. Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise. While a leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change! Think about how different a sporting event would be if the coaches took all the credit for their team’s success. Some would call such an event a debate…but it surely would not be much of a game when played “one on one” without team participation!

Honesty is living, speaking and acting with a truthful sincerity that is free from deceit or fraud. Communicating honestly means to speak plainly and pointedly – stating all facts and assumptions considered before a decision was made – so that people know what you are saying AND (perhaps more importantly) why you are saying it. Respect is not purchased by cashing in an astounding vocabulary…it is earned by simply stating one’s position so that it can be clearly understood and acted upon. While we have the right to freely and openly express our beliefs (short of harming another), we ARE NOT given the right to be taken seriously in all that we say – unless we have earned it by consistently demonstrating a high level of integrity through our actions.

Integrity is the value one establishes when he or she adheres to moral and ethical principles as guiding factors in the decisions they make – when moral character and honesty is expressed within all their personal and business interactions. People respect individuals perceived as “having integrity,” trusting what they say and willingly following where they lead because they know “where they are coming from” in everything that is said or done. Saying what you mean – then doing what you say – are two of the greatest attributes a leader can possess. Nobody is perfect – we are all human, and humans make mistakes. The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction, they must be honest in accepting the blame when efforts fail. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization…credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.

While charismatic leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick change usually saves money in the short term), sustained success comes through leaders providing stability, long-term growth, and coordinated group effort. Perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility – to put corporate and employee growth before our own – so that we might reap the rewards of organizational success.

Now that the election hype is beginning anew, we should offer a bit of business-oriented advice to our soon-to-be-elected leaders. We expect more than promises – we expect honest actions to resolve the problems you have so aptly identified during your campaign rhetoric. We are frustrated with campaign promises not kept, with politicians quickly moving from “What do you need me to do?” to “What must I do to be re-elected?” We put our trust in the democratic process upon which this great country was founded (and has worked so hard to maintain) only to become “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Humility, honesty and integrity are leadership characteristics we should all strive to achieve. They are also, however, the attributes that our elected officials must be held most accountable. As “the people” speak (shouting loudly for change), we must not allow our elected leaders to do “the same old thing” rather than what they are promising will be accomplished. Compromise is necessary within a fractionated political machine – but do not allow your leaders to compromise the honesty, integrity or values you seek as you prepare to vote this fall.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


What things must you do or consider in order to be successful – to navigate through the competitive world in which we live without drifting into a minefield? We are doing more with less in almost every area of our lives. Our workplaces are more productive, on-line resellers with a limited selection of low-cost items are threatening more traditional retail outlets and we face more competition for the limited number of jobs available in today’s market. In order to rise to the top I would offer three characteristics that seem to prevail within successful individuals:

1) Successful individuals recognize that things done within today’s world may not be good enough for tomorrow. We typically prefer not to “fix things that are not yet broken.” If an individual can anticipate when their “good thing” is about to end AND have developed alternative ways to leverage their strengths into different avenues, he or she will probably thrive. Change for change sake is not a good thing BUT being afraid to change when necessary will hold you back as others move forward. People recognized as successful leaders do not typically spend too much time asking “why” things are the way they are because they focus on “what else” might be or “why not” do them differently. They challenge proven methods, holding on to those that are effective while replacing and refining those that lose their relevance.

2) Individuals driving change and achieving success typically exhibit a relentless sense of urgency – a continuous need to investigate new methods, try new things, and implement new processes. They are rarely happy with what they have – they seek to build upon the talents they have been given. They never feel that “good enough” is OK – they continually seek to expand their horizons. They rarely sit and watch the world go by – they tend to rest only long enough to recharge as they move forward. Rather than being content with the status quo, successful individuals defer to others the business of maintaining so they are free to identify alternative paths and “roads less travelled.” To these, an “end” is not a destination but rather a new beginning.

3) Successful people maintain open communications with others as they gather the information necessary to make informed decisions. They talk to other knowledgeable individuals, listen to their input, and readily act upon what they hear (rather than simply talking and listening without acting). Asking questions with the intent to elicit solutions (rather than simply questioning others to elicit opinions) signals productive communication. While “working within a team” is an important concept within today’s world, NEVER allow someone to convince you that contributing to a team is sufficient. Every team needs a leader to successfully galvanize the diverse input that individual member brings to a team – a leader to chart its path and set its direction. As a sailboat would be worthless without a rudder or a keel, a team is unproductive without a champion lending wind to its sails.

These three characteristics…sensing (and anticipating) the need to change, moving forward with urgency, and seeking input that will lead to a concerted effort at accomplishing change are keys to personal success. Recognizing and using these keys will help release your full potential!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Individuals able to accomplish several tasks at one time often feel as though everyone should be able to do the same. After all, what competent person should not be able to talk on the phone while reading a book and watching television? A growing body of evidence indicates that many people trying to accomplish more than one project at a time may actually be less efficient than those “slow dinosaurs” preferring to complete one task before moving on to the next. Before expecting people to juggle three balls at a time, without dropping one, consider the following:

1) People who multitask can be less efficient than those who complete one project then move on to the next because shifting focus can increase the complexity of the task.
2) When people shift from one task to the next, it is usually because they need a break or run into a dead end. Returning to the task too soon requires the brain to shift gears AND overcome the reasons you shifted focus.
3) Managing two mental tasks, particularly with the same part of your brain, reduces the available brainpower for either task.

Short-term memory loss or changes in your ability to concentrate are signals that you may have pushed too far or tried to do too many things at one time.

Is there a secret that those who can effectively coordinate several projects at a time have discovered? Is there any “brain exercise” make it more “fit” to function in an efficient, multitasking manner? If they wish to, people can improve their ability to accomplish several things at once by consciously performing one of several intentional acts.

1) Meditation, or other exercises that allow for the willful control of one’s mental focus, helps improve the brain’s ability to shift gears. Being able to “compartmentalize” issues, moving smoothly from one to the next, is a result of selective focus.
2) Weeding out distractions helps one focus on the important things without chasing red herrings. It is tough to listen to your favorite song on the radio while carrying on a conversation as you are using the same part of your brain for two things. It is much easier to look at a beautiful picture and discuss it because you are using two different parts of your brain.
3) Whenever doing two tasks at once, or even when switching between tasks, try to avoid shifting between similar activities. The more different tasks are (i.e., changing from developing a budget to taking a plant tour), the easier it will be to switch “mental focus” back and forth without distraction.
4) The more often a person does a task, the less thought it takes to perform it. Practice not only “makes perfect,” it frees up more of the brain to do other things, as less thought is required.

Is it wrong to multitask? I think not. Is it right to expect everyone to do it? Probably not, but if you want to push just a bit, think about a person’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning style before expecting them to accomplish several activities at one time. If you want others to handle more than one thing at a time, help them to focus, compartmentalize, and move on to a completely new and different task (even if it is not yet finished) rather than fretting about things not yet accomplished when “abandoning” the last project. Remember, even parallel paths appear to cross as they stretch into the horizon. As long as you keep moving forward – without stopping - all things will eventually come to fruition EVEN IF they are not “finished” before you begin something new!