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!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Some people go through life without making waves. They follow the crowd and minimize the attention that making independent decisions or entering uncharted waters might bring. They take highly travelled routes to well known destinations, thereby avoiding unknown, unproven or untested territories. The compliant live a safe existence taking few risks while receiving occasional rewards. Seen by many as successful, these individuals act in a predictable manner to achieve accomplishments already reached and perfected by others. They are keepers of the status quo – willing to do whatever is required to maintain an existence offering much comfort with little risk. They establish a satisfactory and acceptable level of success while virtually eliminating the potential of failure. They rarely lose big within their sheltered existence – yet one might question how much can be gained if very little is risked. The world needs people willing and content to “do what is right and acceptable” as they fill defined roles and accomplish assigned tasks – but more than compliance is needed if we are to experience all that life might offer or fulfill the potential we all could realize.

I would prefer to associate with people willing to take risks – however calculated or intentional they may be – in order to accomplish new things and define new horizons. People who look at a sunrise as the beginning of an unknown adventure rather than the end of night’s darkness are visionary leaders. People who see what could be rather than live within what is – or what has been – have unlimited potential. I seek those willing to say “no” to what is acceptable and understood as they travel paths not yet paved while seeking destinations not yet finalized. I prefer to associate with individuals who recognize the crowd as a reality but refuse to be a part of it (UNLESS they choose to lead it to a new horizon). They see the sky as a possibility rather than as a limit. Theirs is a world of “what if” rather than “what is.” To these achievers, each new destination is but a resting place – a brief respite within a lifelong journey rather than a landing zone used to establish a permanent settlement. New beginnings are common to those seeking closure to what has been while seeking what might yet be. They are foreign to those finding comfort in what is – seeking shelter from the unknown within the well defined.

Life is a choice between two paths – one leading towards the sky, the other leading towards the valley. We can take the road most travelled and find comfort within the valley – find a proven lifestyle providing rich and predictable rewards – OR we can seek the rarified atmosphere of the mountaintops – find a new horizon in whichever direction we wish to look. We all choose which path we wish to travel – neither path being totally “right” or completely “wrong.” We live with our choices – hold fast to the possibilities (or the probabilities) that our actions dictate. Whether you are a seeker or a planter – a dreamer or a doer – if you invest all of yourself into your intentional actions you will receive back all that your choice allows – limited only by your own acceptance of (or refusal to accept) reality.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


The world has become a place in which change is the only constant. If we stand firm without seeking to improve ourselves or increase our contributions we may find ourselves “on the outside looking in.” While many seek work, the sense of security offered by a solid job can become a prison from which one cannot escape if it fails to provide the opportunity to grow and advance.

In today’s competitive environment, people cannot be stagnant within their lives – cannot do only what has been assigned or is expected – if they hope to taste success, fulfillment, recognition or growth. Looking back (instead of ahead), remaining content with the present (rather than building upon the present as a step into the future), and doing what works (as opposed to seeking what might work better) are signs of terminal stagnation. Being more afraid to move towards a new opportunity than remaining in an unrewarding situation is also a sign of stagnation. We must not simply LOOK ahead if we want to enjoy or experience change – we must act intentionally if we expect to move from comfortable reality towards a land of undefined (and often unlimited) possibility.

There are several pitfalls that limit our potential – that minimize our ability to bring dreams to reality. Recognizing these traps (and taking action to avoid their clutches) can help free us from a self-imposed prison that might easily become a state of sheltered (and often stagnant) reality. To ensure success, consider and be aware of these precursors of failure:

Those content with what they have – with their status, position, relationships or potential – are often content with the skills or knowledge they possess. To move forward we must continually upgrade and apply our abilities – refusing to accept “what is” as an end but rather as a means to “what might be.” What was once necessary to maintain a life-long job is no longer sufficient in today’s world. A secretary needs word processing proficiency. Many production workers need to run automated machinery or understand statistical process controls. An HR Professional must maintain his or her knowledge of legislation impacting the workforce to insure compliance. A homeowner must understand the demand for energy when rewiring his or her home or the circuitry will not withstand the demands placed upon it by our reliance on electronics. Individuals who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.

Those who are comfortable living and working at a steady, unhurried pace often confuse being efficient with being effective…or worse, keeping busy with being productive. An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation could more effectively resolve an issue without extended “replies and clarifications.” Leaving a note as to where you are might be efficient but calling someone to give a personal explanation can be much more effective. Placing a call without leaving a message necessitates the return of a call to clarify an issue. A person may appear busy but unless a concrete objective is accomplished – a sense of urgency linked to the completion of a stated Organizational Goal – the activity is no more meaningful than dust in the wind. Effective people make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact on their – or their organizations – ability to conduct business.

Those who are content with who they are and what they might contribute often believe they are irreplaceable. In the workplace, when an employee feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that employee has probably limited what he or she could ever accomplish. If nobody else can do your job, then you will never have time to do anything other than your assigned tasks. Individuals who believe they are “critical” to the Organization within their limited and specialized role do not typically grow – they simply reinforce stagnation and the acceptance of mediocrity. If nobody else can do the things you do, you will never be able to seek new horizons or accept new responsibilities. It is difficult to be important to anyone else when one becomes so self-absorbed and self-important that the views, opinions or thoughts of another do not matter.

No one person knows all the answers because, singularly, we cannot begin to know all the questions. To avoid failure one must always be open to new ideas, techniques, and ways of doing things (particularly if we wish to grow). Innovation and resolution-based problem solving comes from applying new ways of doing things to accomplish existing tasks. One can truly contribute ONLY after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved then moving forward towards the adoption of more effective resolutions. People who know all the questions are often more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers

• Individuals destined to fail often assume all credit and seek recognition for positive results with which they are associated – deferring or shifting the blame upon others for each failure. People recognizing and acknowledging the ideas and actions of those who make things happen – and assume the blame if things go wrong – will win loyalty, be recognized as leaders, and become vital contributors to the activities around them. When one assigns the responsibility AND holds an individual accountable for results, providing the opportunity to rectify mistakes should they occur, ownership is clearly established. Think about how much we could accomplish in life IF ONLY we did not care who received the credit!

Learning to succeed involves sharing the lead. We do not establish confidence and credibility by always assuming the lead. Rather, a delicate blend of “me first” and “I am right behind you” is needed to gain another’s confidence. A person is measured more by actions than by words. To retain credibility, others must be encouraged to grow up through the ranks – forging a path that the group can follow – with you “watching their back” so as to minimize the consequences of a fall. A good leader cannot always be first – but must never push the team into avoidable trouble from a “safe position behind the lines.”

As you take time to plan where you are going, think about how you are going to get there by maintaining a positive perspective along the way. Learning from the failure of others is often easier but acknowledging and moving forward from our own is somehow much more effective. In order to succeed we must identify and nurture “the possible” rather than accepting and hiding within “the probable.”

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I am admittedly more patient than most and often overly emphasize the positives a difficult person contributes to resolving situations rather than dwelling upon the negatives they might bring to the table. If I can see more good than bad (and I tend to look at the world through rose-colored glasses), I will probably remain tolerant of someone’s shortcomings as I seek to recognize and leverage their strengths. I have always attempted to encourage individual creativity or contribution by maximizing their impact and subtly molding the more disturbing qualities a difficult person might express into actions more conducive to improving the team rather than making too big a deal over the small distractions they create. I tend to focus on results rather than on process – feeling that as long as the objective has been achieved, why should I worry about how it was done (as long as it was done ethically, legally and within my personal framework of values)? I am less concerned about who get the recognition or receives the praise for an action than I am about how the action ultimately advanced the whole. I probably live more in a world of “where can we go” than in one of “who’s driving the bus.” Over time, though, I have come to learn several things about people – perhaps the most significant being that some are just plain “difficult!”

Difficult people often like to speak their mind and get their way. They do not like being over-ruled or having their actions corrected without a solid, rationale reason (and even then, if the reason is another’s rather than their own, may not accept it easily). Their contributions to a group can be minimized by their lack of acceptance and their suggestions overlooked due to their seeming dominance in getting their own words heard (a group does not like a cocky know-it-all or one whom never gives recognition to others) regardless how valuable the contribution. Difficult people tend to:

• Talk more than they listen
• Act more than they consider
• Hide their own inadequacies by accentuating the weaknesses or mistakes of others

Rather than continuously raising their own level of performance, difficult people tend to set themselves as the “bar” while keeping others below by actively and intentionally diminishing their ability to contribute. Difficult people focus on themselves, their own actions and their personal feelings as they seek to “get their own way.” Due to their prevalence (and the number of issues their actions create), it often seems easier to avoid confrontation with difficult people than to address it head on. To escape the problem or avoid the confrontation we may:

• Ignore difficult people altogether (hoping they will go away)
• Minimize conflict by feigning interest (whether or not we intend to act on what they say) then do what we were planning to do without regard to what we may have head
• Take intentional action to avoid interacting with them whenever possible (we need not change our actions act if we never know alternatives)
• Put up a seemingly strong front, resisting what they say UNTIL we are beaten down to the point we give in and “do things their way” rather than arguing anymore, or
• Worry ourselves sick in anticipation of a problem without ever simply addressing the issue so that it goes away

While selfishly effective (except, perhaps, for the last choice), do any of these responses really resolve the problems that difficult people may cause OR are we simply avoiding the obvious as we escape into an internal “safe place” that may cause others to silently suffer with us as we ignore the pain and live with the ramifications?  To effectively deal with difficult people, we must:

• Identify a common goal
• Discuss how the goal is to be accomplished
• Identify the “road marks” we expect to see along the way that will verify and validate our progress
• Assign definitive ownership to individual actions THEN
• Establish (clearly and concisely) who will do what, who is in charge, and what will happen should an expected task NOT be accomplished
• Draw definitive lines, assign tangible responsibilities and allow acceptable “room for error” as things progress to their logical conclusions

Whether interacting with “easy” or with “difficult” people, say what you plan to do THEN bring your words to fruition with timely and intentional actions. When establishing accountability and consequences, say ONLY what you are willing to follow-through on (NEVER say “this will happen or else” unless you are willing to deliver the promised consequences should the action occur. Making hollow threats and establishing artificial conditions minimizes both your credibility and your effectiveness within any relationship). To establish a situation that allows both you and your "difficult counterpart" to win, look at the big picture - seek the mountaintop rather than the valley.  It may be more work but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


I have often heard that nothing unexpected will ever happen in your life until you plan on doing something (obviously, you may be just as surprised by something happening if you do not expect or intend for anything to happen). You will never be lost If you do not care where you are going (nor will you ever arrive at an anticipated destination). You will never learn to stand for your own principles if you expect to rise to the top on the backs of others (though you may learn to react and respond to the unpredictability of others). You will never be disappointed when you fail if you have not established any expectations. In order to initiate change – another name for “resolution” during this time of new beginnings – we must keep an eye upon our destination as we intentionally seek direction along the way in order to achieve positive forward growth. A simple guide to use as we set these objectives could be the acronym S.M.A.R.T. Being smart about our choices, alternatives and options is probably the best way to insure that our resolutions come true during the coming year. Expanding this simple acronym, remember to:

Be SPECIFIC about what you want to accomplish. When we say specifically what we need to do, how we want to change, what we seek to accomplish, and what we expect because of our actions, we have a far better chance to succeed. If we enter a process having poorly conceived expectations and an inadequate definition of what constitutes success we will never know when we are done so we will be unable to bring closure. Being specific means knowing WHAT you want to do, WHY it is important, HOW you will address it, and WHO else should be involved to bring your specific goal to fruition. Resolving to “be a better person” is a great statement but what does it mean – and who would you have determine the success (or failure) of the change?

Utilize MEASURABLE STANDARDS to monitor progress and identify completion. While you might be able to accomplish much in spite of yourself, you must be able to measure progress in order to manage the process. Accomplishing an objective without relying upon landmarks along the way is like sleeping through an open-ocean crossing – you might make it to the coast but may not end up in the proper port unless you have measured your progress (and made decisions based on that progress) along the way. If you want to lose weight your goal will be more attainable if you say that you “want to lose 10 pounds in the next thirty days” than if you choose to “lose a lot of weight” without establishing when it will be accomplished or how much you wish to lose.

Set ATTAINABLE goals. Individuals setting New Year’s Resolutions often fail within this area. Too often people set their sights on the destination rather than focusing upon each individual step along the way. When we focus only upon the destination we may lose sight of trail we must take, potentially losing track of the twists and turns that might otherwise simply slow our progress. Should we wander from the path by focusing solely upon our objective (rather than thinking about the road we must travel) we may become lost in a swamp, never returning to the right course. Set goals that are just beyond your reach. One can fill a basket with apples from the ground beneath a tree (though many will be bruised and damaged). Reaching just above the lowest branches – just higher than is comfortable – will assure a much better harvest. Wanting only apples from the top of the tree might produce great fruit but the risk of falling might counteract the gains in quality.

Be REALISTIC with what you want to accomplish. Typically we must avoid the use of absolutes when establish goals. Saying things like “I will never break the speed limit” may be an admirable objective but probably not a realistic goal. Saying that “I will never eat sweets” may be commendable but cutting down a bit at a time – using measurable steps and definable markers along the way – is a much better way to accomplish your overall objective. (A friend once said that she was going to “give up purchasing chocolate for Lent,” an objective that DID NOT keep her from eating chocolate that someone else purchased.) The best way to run a race is one-step at a time – trying to cross the finish line before you have run the course is not terribly realistic.

Establish TIMELY parameters for the accomplishment of your goals AND for each step along the way. Once you have established specific goals or stated actionable resolutions that are measurable, attainable and realistic you must set a timeframe for their accomplishment. If you try to look too far down the road while travelling you will invariably lose your way amongst the clutter of everyday life. If you embark on your trip without a map, a compass, a set of instructions (or a Garmin), you may never make it to the end on time unless you define when you will be at each juncture of your journey. Keeping track of time keeps us on track most of the time. Do not be swept up in the “we will get there when we get there” mentality – intentionally seek results in order to finish the race in a strong manner. As a final timely note, do not make quiet resolutions. Shouting them from the rooftops (or at least sharing them with at least one other person) can lead to accountability and insure they are accomplished.

Be S.M.A.R.T.when establishing goals and making resolutions, S.M.A.R.T. when moving towards their accomplishment, S.M.A.R.T. when monitoring progress and S.M.A.R.T. by bringing closure to one goal before immersing yourself in the next. Utilizing S.M.A.R.T. process control truly ensures success – step forward by demonstrating your “S.M.A.R.T.(s)” today – both in your professional AND your personal life!