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, November 21, 2012


America was built upon the concept that great individual effort can result in unprecedented personal reward - that individuals can realize unlimited opportunity through hard work and the effective utilization of their abilities and resources. While we all strive to leverage our potential to achieve endless possibilities, our “roots” establish within each of us a morale 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.

Thanksgiving recognizes the sacrifice made by 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 Thanksgiving Holiday epitomizes sharing, celebrates the harvest and focuses on giving thanks for the bounty our great country provides.

Our country has survived many challenges from outside our borders. We have overcome adversity, established ourselves as world leaders in almost any endeavor we choose 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 ONLY by his or her own shortcomings – by embracing the freedoms and unlimited possibilities we currently share. We must hold tightly to the freedoms that we enjoy – making certain our schools and educational institutions teach history rather than fabricating convenient stories to advance agendas.

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. Do not let football, “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” overshadow the Holiday’s true meaning. Enjoy time with family and friends, holding dear the hard work that brought the dreams of those who came before to reality – and pray our efforts can help them continue for those who will follow as we celebrate the unique opportunities our great and free country provides.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Most people have met inspirational leaders during their lives. These individuals tend to be understated – rarely seeking attention for what they do as they prefer to celebrate what has been accomplished rather than worrying about who gets the credit for accomplishing it. They are typically the first to accept responsibility for failure, among the first to praise others for success and last to blame another – even if the “other” may have been at fault. They tend to go through life as the base of a pyramid, providing support for whole rather than seeking to be the stone elevated to the top in view of the world.
Inspirational leaders are not necessarily the captains of industry – they can often be the power behind the throne, making things happen through their subtle influence rather than their obvious demands. They are typically great communicators – be it through the written or spoken word OR through a poignant pause, a raised eyebrow, a strengthening smile or an encouraging nod of the head. What drives such individuals if not the external recognition? Recognizing that we all react and respond differently – and that we must learn from each other in order to grow – should be key factors in each of our own developmental process.

Everyone is encouraged to grow by something. Whether it is money, success, comfort, praise, attention, or accomplishment, everyone is motivated by something that is significant or inspirational within his or her own life. It is imperative that we identify what motivates those we influence when we manage people. Recognizing that “mature” workers prefer rules (and their consistent application) to an individualized approach of employee discipline helps us understand why they might react differently than a worker just out of college to the absolute interpretation of a rule or procedure. Understanding that some people prefer public recognition, freedom from structure and broad measures of accountability while others need enforceable standards of conduct and measurable objectives helps to clarify the friction that often exists between administrative and sales professionals. Values, experiences, socio-economic status, learning styles, and “stage-in-life” all strongly influence behavior, but there are several less objective, harder to define characteristics we should always examine if we are to succeed within (and contribute to) society.

There are many subtle motivational influencers we must acknowledge when managing people. These less obvious characteristics include:
  • What kind of recognition does one need for their thoughts, ideas and accomplishments? Must they receive public praise or are they content to see the results of their initiatives – preferring to work behind the curtains rather than in front of the crowd?
  • How much freedom does an individual seek within his or her daily work life? While some prefer to stretch their limits and experiment – learning from their successes AND their failures without fear of reprisal – others would prefer to avoid such learning opportunities by knowing exactly what to do and how to do it.
  • Does an individual gain more from the confidence that someone is there to “pull them along” or from the knowledge that someone will “push them into unchartered waters,” sometimes allowing them to sink or swim on their own?
Leveraging these subtle characteristics helps us to motivate others into acheiving their highest potential.

Good managers often praise some behavior while punishing others in order to foster measured growth while avoiding repetitive failure. Great managers anticipate pitfalls so they can leverage individual personality characteristics, confidence levels and risk tolerance when allowing others to succeed without inhibiting their growth. A good leader demands respect – a great leader receives it without asking. A good leader is able to accomplish change – a great leader initiates change exponentially greater than anyone might anticipate by leveraging the creative power of each individual working for him or her and channeling it towards the accomplishment of a common goal. A good leader pushes his or her people to perform – a great leader creates a vision then gets out of the way so that his or her people can move forward towards its accomplishment. While a good employee may accomplish assignments as instructed, a great employee moves beyond stated expectations to achieve what is possible rather than being content with what is probable. A good person recognizes who they are and what they can do – a person moving towards greatness recognizes (and accepts) their strengths and weaknesses (applying the one while working to eliminate the other). Recognizing our own motivators AND those that motivate others will help us to be better leaders. Understanding them – learning and growing from them – will help us to become better individuals.

Inspirational leaders put others ahead of themselves, lifting the wants and needs of those around them high upon their shoulders rather elevating themselves by placing them beneath their feet. They become the wind beneath the wings of those soaring to great heights as they rise to accomplish their dreams. They allow themselves to be pulled up by the accomplishments of others rather than climbing upon them as if they were rungs on the ladder to personal success.

Honor the great leaders you have observed in your life – those that have made a difference to you – by taking intentional action to strengthen and improve your own interpersonal skills so that you might be an example to someone else. Learn from your mistakes then communicate the lessons to those working with and for you. Grow from your failures then help others avoid them so they need not suffer needlessly. Seek strength from those able to provide it so you can encourage others less fortunate. Lead when you can, follow when you must, and ALWAYS seek to understand (and acknowledge) when you must simply “get out of the way” so that someone else can assume the responsibilities – someone that you may have encouraged and nurtured – to venture towards greatness.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Far too many people view their goal – the place they want to “land” or the person they wish to become – as their destination rather than as but a stop along the way. They view the end of their journey being more important than the path they take to arrive. We often travel as if wearing blinders that focus our view on where we are going once we leave where we are so that NOTHING will distract us from getting where we want to be. Life can teach us many lessons if we learn from our false starts and misdirection as we attempt to reach our goals.

Think of how many businesses have shut down because they were unwilling (or unable) to transform themselves into something other than what they were. When high performance eight cylinder engines were the norm rather than the exception – and when quality was hoped for rather than expected – companies were very successful making piston rings. As four cylinder engines became more prevalent – and quality became synonymous with extended use and high mileage – the market evaporated and many parts suppliers shut down because they could not re-purpose themselves. Family farms are being sold to corporate entities because they cannot compete now that refrigerated transportation has expanded the concept of “marketplace” from local to international. Small town grocery, hardware and department stores have become an oddity as large superstores and “big box retailers” have taken over the landscape. Businesses that thought they had arrived – that were content with where they were rather than looking towards where they might want to be – have become but memories. Unfortunately, people can find themselves in a similar situation should they choose contentment with what they are rather than reinventing themselves into what they could become.

Many people stall and delay – doing anything to keep from making a decision to change – until forced to move because what was once secure is gone. We wait far too long to realize that we live on a lily pad – an isolated resting spot within a large lake that will eventually wither and die. When our safe haven is threatened enough that we are finally pushed to leave, many may jump without thinking about where they might land. We tend to leap before we look – sometimes exchanging our temporary resting spot for a greater danger lurking beneath its surface. In our impatience, we jump upon the first train leaving the station without checking to see if another form of transportation might be more effective.

Rather than delaying or postponing our decisions until we are faced with disaster like the companies that could not transform themselves into something different, perhaps we should focus not only on where we wish to be but also on why we wish to relocate AND what might be the result of doing nothing. We should identify alternative approaches that might be more (or less) beneficial than the obvious leap into the water (potentially directly into the gaping mouth of a lurking predator!) before we jump towards a quick solution – yet also weigh the benefits of INTENTIONALLY doing nothing until we are sure what will result from our actions.

Whether we read a map, listen to a navigation device or look on-line for directions, when travelling we seek our destination but could not arrive without figuring out what roads to take. We must anticipate roadblocks or detours, possibly setting aside resources for tolls and unexpected delays along the way. Why do we treat life so much differently? Rather than planning for the journey, anticipating what might go wrong and preparing for potential detours along the way we tend to focus more on moving from where we are to where we want to be without thinking much about how we plan to bridge the gap between here and there.

It has been said we should lead, follow or get out of the way. Perhaps the most critical of these is the last – for if you are not part of the solution (by either leading the charge or participating in the process) then you are, perhaps, a significant part of the problem (when you fail to engage and obstruct the progress of others).

Be all that you can be by first identifying what you might wish to become then focusing upon the path you choose to take as you move forward. Look before you leap – then make sure you are ready, willing and able to learn from the journey as you reach out to accomplish your dreams.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Truth is all that surrounds us – the undeniability of nature. Truth is not merely in thinking – it is in knowing. It is not simply in feeling – it is in believing. Truth is the culmination of all things that have happened, the precursor of all things to come. Truth is not a question – it is the answer. It is not the singer – it is the song. Truth cannot be fully defined – it can only be realized. It cannot be described in any way other than how it makes you feel. Truth is in knowing - not in fearing.  Truth is in understanding - not in questioning. Truth is a touch…a voice…a presence experienced when two are immersed within their special world. Truth is what remains within them when they are apart. It is not the sunrise - it is the feeling shared as the sun comes over their horizon. Truth is not an explanation of the known but rather a faith in the unknown. If you achieve wisdom during your search for truth – learn how to apply all that you learn to benefit those around you – then you will also have found Truth. If it is truth you seek, you must ultimately abandon wisdom so that you can experience the irrational reality of truth.

Beauty is the new life a sunrise can bring – the carefree flight of a butterfly. It is the light touch of the clouds – the meeting of the sky’s blue with the sea’s green – yet it is so much more than that. Beauty is the depth of a Lover’s eyes as they gaze into the innermost recesses of another’s mind…it is the gentleness of a Lover’s touch as it caresses another…it is the radiance of a smile as gazes meet. Beauty is the way that life awakens to love’s presence. It is not “of this world” as you might think – it is what brings life to this world. Beauty fills one’s world with another’s essence by spilling freely over any boundaries that might have been built to contain it. Beauty is not a thing but a presence – not something to be held but something in which to be immersed.

Peace is the warmth that Love provides. It is the comfort of a shared touch. It is the taste of a kiss – the intimate warmth generated when two souls become one. Peace is not the thought of time spent together when lovers are apart, but rather the thoughts invested on making the most of time spent together – the shelter provided by an embrace that shuts out the rest of the world. Peace is a smile, a laugh, a presence – the result of every moment two might spend entwined as one. Peace is more sacred than anything that might be held for it can be but felt and experienced. It cannot be described or defined by mere words for it is the result of all things imagined.

Should you find Beauty, realize Truth, and discover the Peace that love provides whenever you are near someone, you will speak openly of it. You will dream of it endlessly, thinking of nothing else. Do not be alarmed should your search take you in circles and lead you astray. It is but the few – the fortunate – whom find such things in life, for rarely can one fill his or her soul completely with the love of another. Should the opportunity for Love present itself, grasp at its presence. Reach out and hold tightly at the chance to love – for it is far better to have loved and lost – to have experienced the completeness that only Love provides – than to have never loved at all. Recognize that love gives purpose to Beauty, provides Peace and becomes Truth – in ways that could never be understood by those holding tightly to conventional Wisdom – for it truly exists only within the depths of a fully surrendered soul.