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, August 26, 2013


Many individuals seek to make a difference – to become an integral part of the solution rather than a major part of the problem – but fail to recognize that personal credibility (the key to being integral) is established through the quality (rather than the frequency) of contributions.  Credibility is determined not by what (or how much) we say but by what HAPPENS when we act on our thoughts, concepts or directives.  Implied by this statement is that to establish credibility we must:

  • Hear issues with an open mind
  • Analyze each situation to identify potential solutions
  • Consider both positive and negative implications before implementing a solution
  • Initiate change by acting on our ideas, and 
  • Accept that changing OR staying the course are both intentional actions that produce consequences.  

Information is rampant in today’s society.  Electronic communications, on-line searches, business magazines, newsletters, and “wiki how-to’s” are available to anyone opening their mail or turning on their computer.  There has been a proliferation of “personal coaches” seeking individuals needing to be led down the narrow road to success and “cannot fail” solutions to everything from the stock market to personal relationships.  The market is flooded with “self-help” books written by “world-class experts” attempting to impart their infinite wisdom to a searching public.  With all this data available, why would an individual seek credibility by simply FINDING information that someone else could use to develop a solution?  Merely finding material, or referring others to where it can be found MAY establish you as a resource but WILL NOT add to personal or professional credibility in today’s information age.

In order to become an integral part of the solution we must take proactive steps that transform information into action by advancing thoughts and ideas to reality.  We must also accept not only the responsibility for taking action but also accountability for the results that our actions produced.  Far too many individuals are happy to give suggestions AS LONG AS someone else assumes the risk while providing them the rewards.

Anyone can find data and figure out what to do once a problem has materialized.  To become integral we must learn how to ANTICIPATE NEEDS for solutions by knowing enough about them to predict what might go wrong BEFORE the train derails.  Just “doing” your job or “avoiding conflict” in a relationship rarely provides the insight needed to become an integral partner.  We must delve deeply into the inner-workings of an operation (or a relationship) to understand the “why” rather than simply accepting the “what” of a situation.  The first step towards “becoming integral” is a self-initiated one of becoming knowledgeable – and having the courage to act once we come to an understanding of the situation.

In order to establish credibility we must learn how to INTERPRET not only the situation but also the available data so it that can be transformed into relevant information that allows us to take intentional actions to resolve a problem or improve a situation.  If the world needed ONLY data and information, why would it need you?  ALWAYS seek to add value to the data you find or the information you acquire by interpreting it and communicating it in a way that can be used by the audience – whether at work or in your personal life.  Recognize that this communication will vary based upon the audience – and that your conversation must be sincere and believable (rather than shallow or patronizing) to be seen as “credible.”  Gains (or losses) of credibility will be determined by:

  • The value you add to those that HEAR your communication and
  • The ACTION they can take because they believe your solutions to be:
    • Practical (or realistically innovative)
    • Feasible (or strongly possible)
    • Understandable (rather than beyond their understanding), and
    • Relevant (providing something of value “in return” for the risk they take when acting)
You must show how the information you provide can generate solutions (or positive change) if you seek to
become an integral part of a team (or a relationship).  Information without application is like a tire without air – it exists but is not nearly as useful as intended.  A tire becomes a valuable tool when we pump air into it – a worthless foundation should it remain flat.  We will never become a part of the solution until we establish our credibility with others by their seeing us as a valuable, viable and essential resource.

We become integral by imposing our own will rather than waiting for permission from someone else – by taking action rather than waiting for instructions or assignments.  We will never become more than others perceive us to be if we limit our contributions through an aversion of risk or an avoidance of independent actions (and the acceptance of their consequences).  To fully realize our potential by becoming an integral part of the solution rather than a replaceable (and expendable) part of the problem we must allow our thoughts, ideas and the consistently positive results of our actions convince others we are what we seek to become.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Birthdays tend to bring with them a certain nostalgia – perhaps more as we experience “milestone” days growing older than when we were more carefree (and definitely invincible) during our youth.  Some see a birthday as a time of celebration – of having achieved another year of wisdom, maturity or success.  Others see them as signposts along the road to life – as bumps in the road.  A minority see them as mile markers counting down to “the end of the line.”  (Most probably view birthdays as markers that tend to grow closer together as we age but that are simply sign posts along life’s highway – a winding road with a definite beginning that has not yet been mapped to its final destination.)

While are not all given the same number of days, all ARE provided the same number of hours each day.  Some seem to find limitless ways to spend their hours while others seem to invest their limited hours in ways that seemingly waste their days.  We are not promised anything in life other than change itself – nor are we guaranteed any level of greatness other than what we establish by leveraging the talents and gifts we choose to nurture and grow.

It seems that this summer has been one of darkness – one in which far too many individuals have been plucked from this earthly journey to begin the next – leaving us sooner than we might have wished (or anticipated), often without finishing all they had started or starting all they had hoped to accomplish.  While we prefer the light of day, it is often the threat (or realization) of darkness that awakens us to the reality of our fragile existence – that makes us recognize that our days may be numbered but that does not mean that our accomplishments must be diminished or our contributions to life reduced.

How do you use YOUR gift of time?  Are you a productive and contributing part of life’s solutions or a disruptive part of its problems?  Are you a dreamer seeking new roads that have yet to be traveled or one content to rest on the laurels of past success and accomplishment – stifling all desire to identify new horizons? Are you a seeker of opportunity or an opportunist awaiting the next windfall?  Our perspective on life will color our reality, establishing the backdrop for all that we are AND a launch pad from which those we influence are able to move forward.  It is not the “falling” in life that is most significant; rather it is the “getting up” and the “moving on” (or the staying down and awaiting attention) that makes us who we are.

We tend to fulfill our potential – to establish and maintain control over where we are and what we do – when we intentionally act upon a thought or idea.  We allow ourselves to be controlled by another (thought, idea, individual or situation) when we choose NOT to act (either intentionally or inadvertently) upon the opportunities a new challenge might provide.  We choose to seek or to stand – to climb or lie down – through our responses to the opportunities we pursue.  We do not live upon the surface of a smooth and tranquil sea swept clean each night by a warm and welcoming  wind but rather within a mosaic built from the choices we make (or choose not to make) – formed by the experiences we choose and the relationships we have experienced.  I reflect, on this birthday, and thank those who have had a part of making me what I have become as I continue to seek what has yet to become of me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Far too many people believe having the ability to CONVERSE is the same as being able to COMMUNICATE.  They believe that if one can talk effectively they will be able to influence the behavior of others.  They are firm believers in the principle that “he/she who speaks last is right” so will talk an issue to death rather than allowing someone else to have the “final say.”  Rather than recognizing that individuals have two ears and one mouth (which should be an indicator of importance – redundancy is necessary for critical components) they think since the SIZE of a mouth is larger than the size of two ear canals it MUST add more value to exercise the vocal cords than the ear drums.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is a sum of several important parts – not simply words spoken or sounds heard.  When we communicate is should be “for a purpose.”  What are we trying to say or accomplish?  Why should someone invest valuable time to read an article or join into a conversation?  What do you wish another to TAKE AWAY from an article, discussion or directive after they have read, heard or seen it?  In order to communicate effectively we must:

  • Listen actively
  • Speak thoughtfully
  • Establish and assign ownership of a shared vision or idea while transferring accountability with responsibility
  • Intentionally follow-through to make sure expectations are met and objectives are accomplished
  • Allow mistakes to become learning experiences rather than death sentences
  • Praise openly and honestly – criticize privately and quietly
  • Provide a return for the investment that another makes in reading your article, listening to your conversation or taking your advice

To communicate well we must identify what we wish to accomplish – figure out what we want our
communication to change, alter or enhance – before we begin to talk, write or “tweet.”  Politicians often seem to say whatever they think you want to hear – in a manner convincing enough to make us forget what they may have said yesterday or what they will be saying tomorrow. They are typically highly effective communicators but may be lacking as conversationalists (where listening and speaking must closely align).  Politicians (and other effective public speakers) identify what they want their audience to “take away” from a speech – often abandoning their principles or core values in order to appease the masses.  A good conversationalist enters a debate with his or her ears (and mind) wide open so that their discussions can be focused and targeted to the listener AND actionable when the conversation is done.  Ineffective communication is often “telling.”  Effective communication often becomes overt “selling” resulting covertly in "telling."

One of the more critical aspects of communication is silence – that space where listening becomes active and saying nothing helps to formulate direction.  When one is speaking, he or she is not actively listening.  When planting your thoughts and concepts it is hard to harvest the bounty another might offer.  When we try to be heard above the noise around us, we often lose sight of the fact that a whisper can be much more effective in a quiet, listening room than can be a shout in a crowded building.  Silence often creates discomfort – but it is not YOUR responsibility to fill every void with the sound of your own voice.  Allow silence to be deafening at times – echoing within the space left vacant of conversation as if it were an angry sea pounding upon the
shore of an exposed shore.  Allow your thoughts and ideas to permeate the moments of silence that listening (rather than talking) might create – then EXPRESS the thoughts into encouraging words in order to motivate

Effective Communication is more than talking – it is artfully transforming words into actions through carefully directed compromise that produces “win-win” situations rather than creating and fostering a “win-lose” mentality.  When you wish to share experiences, thoughts, feelings or dreams – converse.  When something absolutely, positively needs to be accomplished (on time) – when an action must result in an equal and opposite reaction that changes a condition or behavior – communicate.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Perhaps it is just human nature that when the “going gets tough” most of us start blaming someone else.  It is rare that, during the heat of an argument, someone will stop the conversation to take responsibility for the misunderstanding by saying, “Don’t worry about it – it was not your fault.  I totally messed up and take the blame for the problems we’re having.”  More often than not an argument is peppered with “It is your fault!” or “We never would have been in this position had it not been for you!”

Imagine living in a glass house – where everything we say or do is open for critique and criticism.  Nothing is “secret” or “private” when it comes to the choices we make or the actions we take.  Such is the reality of leadership – and the tremendous weight of responsibility placed upon a leader’s shoulders by those looking up to him or her.  Extending this “glass house” concept fully to management (whether it be managing a company, a department or providing leadership to a family), it is hard to convince others to NOT do something when they see you do similar things yourself.  How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty?  (Forget about the fact that you might have been doing company business the previous night, or that lunch was more of a thought than a action, or that breaks are not part of the daily routine…people SEE you coming in late, or leaving early, and expect that to apply to them, too.)  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere), to listen to their teachers (as they complain about the “boss that does not know anything”), and to take time to enjoy life (when they are “too busy doing their own thing” to play catch in the yard). Far too many manage by edict rather than by example – a technique that might produce temporary results but cannot possibly create loyalty, respect or independent decision-making skills. We cannot be perfect, but some rules I would suggest for managing life (by living in a glass house) would include:

  • Recognize that your actions speak far more loudly than do your words.  Some may hear what we say but EVERYONE sees what we do.  As a child I was taught, “seeing is believing.”  Never was I told that “hearing makes things right.”  Whether you deal with people as a manager, a peer, a friend, or as part of a family, those around you establish their perception of you by what you do…by how you act…not by the things you say about yourself.  To be viewed as credible you must ACT credibly.
  • Look for the good in others, loudly praising their positive actions and interactions while quietly addressing their shortcomings.  People usually see what others do wrong…rarely recognizing or acknowledging what they do right.  As I go through the store I rarely hear a parent saying, “You are really being a good shopper today!” to their child.  Rather it’s “don’t touch,” “wait until we get home,” and “I am never going to bring you shopping again!”  Recently a generation of “if you be good I will give you something” has surfaced – again the focus being on the prevention of negative behavior rather than the encouragement of good action.  Though we need to address negative behavior to correct it, we should also make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well.  The next time you are involved in a heated debate with someone you care about, rather than saying “This is all your fault!” try to assume some of the responsibility yourself.  People tend to react better when they know not only what they should not do (or have done) but also what they did (or are about to do) well!
  • Never throw bricks when you live in a glass house.  Though you may open the window before tossing your criticism out at a friend or co-worker, they rarely take the time to open the door before returning fire.  I have often heard people defend their inappropriate actions by shifting focus and blame…by saying “…but you did such and such so do not get on me!”  When we view life as if we were living in a glass house – fully exposed to those around us with no place to hide our own errors and secrets – we find ourselves more understanding not only of what others do but also of the REASONS they do things.  We are less apt to see fault in them when we first examine ourselves to make sure that we are without fault – especially if we recognize that they are looking at us through clear glass!
  • Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others.  The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves.  Truly great generals led their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” if they want their children to learn.  Managers cannot expect loyalty, efficiency and a good utilization of time from their employees without demonstrating it themselves.

When we live as though we are in a glass house – without shades or coverings to hide what we are – we begin to concentrate on what we should be doing rather than focusing on what others should not be doing.  When our actions speak louder than our words – when they begin to reinforce the things we intentionally set out to do – others will follow our example rather than our edict.  They will seek our approval rather than seeking to escape our criticism.  They will absorb our praise and grow towards the light rather than being sheltered from reality out of fear of failure.

We all live in a glass house of some kind – our thoughts, actions and attitudes on public display for the world to see.  Perhaps we should take the time to wash the windows in our glass homes – it might help as much light shine in as we wish to shed on those around us!