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!

Friday, April 26, 2013


They stood at a crossroads…
     Looking back in an attempt to see how their lives had unfolded...
          Looking ahead towards a future not yet defined.

Their aimless wanderings lay behind them…
     Their paths weaving desperately through the wilderness…
          Coming near then veering away - not ever quite merging into a single trail.

They find strange comfort within the hazy darkness of their individual pasts…
     Gazing back at their towering peaks of accomplishment
          Made greater when seen from the valleys of their despair…

Increasingly tired of their struggles within a thankless world…
     They both sought paths that would lead towards truth…
          Seeking an obscure road that might reveal a brighter future…

What makes us decide to do things differently – particularly if the things we are doing are providing a degree of satisfaction or a comfortable position in life? What makes us wander from familiar paths in search of unknown opportunities?  Why do we seem always to seek what is "on the other side" rather than building upon what we are comfortable and familiar?  Why do some seem content with what they are while others may never be satisfied with their lives?  Often the way we look at what we have (and what we wish to acheive) is driven by the success that comes as a result of what we have done.

We all want success, but far too often success can breed arrogance - which can lead us towards complacency. If we ride a success beyond its effective lifespan, thinking “our way” is the only way, someone else will either assume our position (by improving upon what we do) OR force us to change (by revealing the shortcomings of our established approach). We must actively appraise the things we do – both in our work and our personal relationships – if we wish to remain relevant. We must continually analyze our strengths and weaknesses if we are to remain effective. If we wish to remain successful we must realize the only constant in life is change. We must occasionally stop what we are doing so we can start doing something else!

To initiate change one, three major issues must be addressed. First, as the wanderers realized, we must recognize what we have always done and acknowledging where we have come from THEN start doing something different if we expect altered results. We may serve our customers well but how can we better serve them?   We may be content with the consistency of a current relationship but what can we do to improve it?  Should we change for the sake of change or only to address a specific issue or item that needs to be altered? Whenever we recognize our goals have changed we must move away from our original path onto one that redirects our efforts or we will never be positioned to take advantage of our expanded perceptions.

While identifying what must be done to create meaningful change, paths (and methods) needing abandonment will inevitably be revealed. Can suspension be an effective punishment for someone missing too much time from work? Can an individual communicate effectively without embracing technology and learning how to “entertain” using Power Point? Should we expect an introvert to take the lead during a social encounter? If you have never reached for the sky - never attempted to stretch your horizons - how can you expect to rise above the clouds without intentionally taking a different path than you have travelled before?  In order to travel upon a new road that leads to a different future we must stop doing the things we have always done (even if they may be temporarily effective) in order to realize different results.

One caution that few think of when seeking change, however is that we must avoid abandoning everything we used to do while travelling the road to new opportunities. We must identify and continue doing things that produce growth while we add new approaches that might provide a different reality. Everyone can gaze upwards to celebrate “peaks of accomplishment.” We far too often choose, however, to dwell within our “valleys of despair” as we look up to the seemingly insurmountable challenges that lie ahead of us - holding on to the comfort our darkness provides rather than opening our eyes to the bright light hidden just beyond the horizon. In order to realize meaningful change we should continue doing the things that brought us to our heights while we actively and intentionally discard those that brought us to our knees - find comfort in those things that may have formed us while we seek the fire that will temper us and make us stronger.

People must change more than their outward appearance if they expect their path to shift significantly. We often hear about “new and improved” products only to find nothing but the packaging has changed. Television networks frequently move a failing show from one night to another (without changing the program) to gain viewers from a less competitive time slot. If we are resolved to change we must consciously decide NOT to “stay the course” by innovatively clearing a new path into an unknown wilderness. In order to accomplish change it is important that we continually take stock of what we are doing and where we are going – then actively seek paths that will lead us from complacency to new destinations within this earth we call “home.”

They turned slowly and deliberately…
     Moving forward into the vast unknown that lay ahead…
          Leaving behind the comfort they once knew…
               Embarking deliberately upon a path that would change their lives forever…

An excerpt from “Life’s Path To The Promise of A Dream” by Dave Smith

Monday, April 22, 2013


Someone once gave me an “inspirational card” from the standard Successories gallery that spoke volumes. “The Courage of Integrity” defined two pillars of success – benchmarks that any of us could leverage as we make life-changing decisions and chart the road upon which we might wish to travel.

In all that we do we should recognize that “The highest courage (we can exhibit) is daring to be ourselves in the face of adversity.” How many times do we take the easy path rather than choosing the “road less traveled?” How often do we seek the path of least resistance rather than taking a stand for what is right – for what we know to be true – regardless of the personal cost? Being true to yourself by openly expressing your ideals and honestly revealing your beliefs to others – regardless of what they may think about you – is not always the easiest route to take BUT it almost always returns the greatest rewards.

Accepting the axiom that “There is never a wrong time to do the right thing” is the foundation upon which ongoing and sustainable success should be built. Individuals attempting to portray perfection in whatever they do or say spend much more time avoiding what is wrong than they do striving to accomplish what is right. Trying to do all the things necessary to be an exemplary leader (partner or friend) rather than simply leading (or living) by example often places roadblocks along life’s path that are very difficult to avoid. True success is more a measure of who one is while nobody else is looking – by the substance of our dreams and aspirations – than it is a testament to those things that we do in public in order to receive accolades or recognition.

We need not look far to find other motivational messages. Some would include the following:

• “We cannot lower the mountain so we must elevate ourselves.” This is sage wisdom for an individual seeking to climb the ladder of success. We cannot expect mountains to become molehills on their own – we must rise to the top of every challenge, continuously moving forward even though we may fall temporarily back, as we aspire to reach the pinnacle if we are to succeed.

• “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Many people find satisfaction in bringing the hopes and dreams of others to fruition. Others find such satisfaction hollow – preferring to realize their own dreams. If one never attempts to accomplish their individual dreams, he or she will never fail or be disappointed. (Rarely will a person having insignificant goals or setting low standards for their own performance ever be happy with their accomplishments,) If we do not establish a target – formalize a dream – we will never truly taste the success of our individual accomplishments.

• Some people see things and say “Why?” I dream things and say “Why not?” Those who know me well recognize this truth as one of my personal drivers. NEVER accept things as they are – always seek what could be. Asking others “why” they are doing something (or why they are choosing to do it in one particular way) defaults your boundaries to the limits they set in response to your question. Asking “why not” expands these boundaries to the limits established within your own mind – stretching the probable into the possible.

• Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. Life is an ongoing series of events whose purpose is revealed only when we exhibit the courage to remain singularly strong in the face of adversity – when we make a conscious and intentional decision to do what is right rather than being concerned about avoiding what is wrong! We must always look ahead – take every step with purpose - as we keep our focus forward towards where we are going rather than focusing behind towards where we have been. Though one can never get lost if he or she does not know where they are going, they will never know if they have reached their destination until it has been purposefully (and publicly) expressed after being intentionally determined.

Much can be learned from our past…from building upon the blocks we were given in kindergarten as we move towards a future far more complicated and full of choices. More, however, can be gained if we identify our dreams and acknowledge their existence (then take intentional action to bring them to fruition) than will ever be accomplished by taking the easy road or accepting the first option available. We must simply believe in ourselves (and in those we hold dear around us) to move forward through life. We must accept nothing but our best – and expect the best from those around us – to experience sustainable and long-lasting success.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Our country is in the process of transforming itself from a creator of things into an incubator of ideas. While we still produce some of the highest quality products in the world, we rely upon technology and process efficiency to minimize labor costs while maximizing profitability. A higher level of education is required to fill entry-level jobs, and life-long learning has become necessary for one to retain their position. Parents and schools must help to prepare technologically competent students able to meet heightened standards of accountability and responsibility placed upon them by employers. Until we recognize that change is inevitable - realize that what once was will never again be - we will not move from our stagnant reality towards our potential destination.  We will be like a sailboat mired fog, knowing we must move forward but afraid to go towards port for fear we will be dashed upon the unforgiving rocky shore.

Lost in the call for change is the definition of reality. Is the light at the end of the tunnel one of hope not yet realized or one of disaster lying in wait? Can we best enter the future by seeking what “has not yet been tried” or by dwelling upon (and then avoiding) what did not previously work? I would prefer to look back just long enough to acknowledge my shortcomings and analyze why an action may have resulted in an undesirable result before focusing on how I might move forward towards a brighter tomorrow. Understanding yesterday’s mistakes helps them become no more than tomorrow’s memories – dwelling upon them makes them a predictor of future action.

We thrive by learning to accept the previously unacceptable – by innovating rather than finding comfort in what always was. We once applied our "learning" to known, well-defined situations to resolve them in tested (and predictable) ways. Today, information is readily available to anyone – achieving success will require one to apply data in a way that expands knowledge and empowers actions used to create innovative solutions rather than performing assigned tasks. Our educational institutions must make sure students grasp core concepts and their application rather than simply memorizing answers to questions that the “real world” may never ask. We must move away from rewarding effort to recognizing accomplishment. We all have different gifts – we must embrace the ways our diverse individual perspectives can contribute to the accomplishments of the whole.

Knowledge is power that will never become actionable unless its application creates the wisdom needed to
initiate change. Unless you are willing to act, you must accept whatever comes your way – reduced to accepting the inevitable rather than accomplishing the improbable. When we set our sights low – do ONLY those things we KNOW can be accomplished – we will accomplish nothing more than has already been previously achieved.

When we imagine that which is incomprehensible, seeing it as not only achievable but viewing it as a foregone conclusion, we can accomplish those things once believed to be impossible. Rather than settling for a “life as you know it,” stretch your horizons beyond their comfortable limits as you redefine the future by rushing headlong towards an undefined reality. Shine through the darkness of the night, through the depths of life's storms, as you become a beacon to those seeking guidance - a point of focus to those seeking truth.

Monday, April 1, 2013


We share much with others in this life. We share the things we do, the air we breathe and the places we visit. We share our accomplishments whether they bring us success or result in failure. We share relationships and possessions. We share our thoughts when we converse. We share our families, our friends and our acquaintances with others. Sharing our workload and the results of our efforts has become the norm in business. Working as teams to share tasks that magnify our individual contributions by blending them with the unique gifts others are given to accomplish collectively much more than could have been completed on our own has become the mantra of workplace efficiency. With such an emphasis on sharing, however, what is truly “our own” in this life shared with others through common ground, shared existence and team-based accomplishments? Perhaps we need to look no farther than our dreams to realize what is – and what always will be – uniquely and individually ours.

Dreams are thoughts not yet realized – aspirations not yet brought to fruition. Dreams are the basis of our goals and the foundation of our good intentions. We can live life without dreams but cannot embrace its full potential – become all that we can hope to be or realize all that we might wish to accomplish – without first visualizing what we want to become or what we desire to do within the lifetime. Those that perform to the standards and expectations of others often become great contributors as they add value to society. Those that identify their own aspirations and work towards those accomplishments while they benefit the greater good will not only add value to society but also open new horizons and identify new paths that can serve as stepping stones to a new and unrestrained future. To dream, however, we must be willing to move from the safety of our “present” towards the unknown opportunities of a “future” that have yet to be fully realized.

Dreams are not the “substance” of life – they are the icing on life’s cake. They are not the “why” that people ask when confronted with an unknown or unanticipated situation – they are the “why not” that people willing to roll with the punches as they move forward continuously embrace. We can expect to accomplish more than others think possible only when we risk more than others think is safe or dream more than others think is practical. When we care more than others think is wise we may begin to realize that our dreams are more important than walking lockstep within the expectations of others.

While we share much in life with others, we rarely share more than the things we are able to easily do or accomplish. We are hesitant to share our fears – or to open ourselves to the possibility of failure. If we were to share our dreams with others – to both seek their assistance in accomplishing them AND to hold us responsible for bringing them to fruition – what more could we hope to realize? When we settle for that which comes to us easily, we become “adequately mediocre.” Seek excellence – and personal satisfaction – by dreaming of all you could wish to be while striving to achieve all you could wish to accomplish. Rather than living the life that others might establish for you, live your dreams – risking more than others might think wise – so that you can accomplish more than others might think possible.