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, October 25, 2013


We often overlook the fact that management catalyzes and nearly always epitomizes change. We create problems when we promote our “best workers” into leadership roles without providing them the tools needed to motivate others into doing the work they once accomplished. We continually move risk-averse “super-workers” into roles that require them to take ownership for (and lead) organizational change. We may inadvertently inflate one’s value while diminishing the value that others contribute to the team – a prideful condition that can render the new leader totally ineffective.

Pride can be good (as in the pride one feels when a team helps to accomplish a major goal and is recognized for its part in the process) or it can be bad (when it becomes the “me” driver of a “we” accomplishment). We must recognize the “good pride” and work to eliminate the “bad pride” if we wish to effectively motivate others. When making decisions that influence or control the actions of others, avoid the following:

• Prideful leaders devalue the work and efforts of others, often claiming individual ownership of the team’s results. When an individual consistently puts his or her own welfare ahead of their team’s, a self-centered blindness can keep them from hearing (let alone acting on) the suggestions of others.
• Prideful leaders have difficulty hearing others. Leaders need to know how to resolve what they can, recognize what is beyond their personal capabilities, and seek help (with humility) in order to initiate necessary change.
• Prideful leaders think they “know everything,” failing to see the need to “learn anything new.” Once a prideful leader feels they have “arrived,” unless they continue to seek life’s lessons from the people, places and things around them, he or she will begin a descent into obsolescence. When pride elevates one above needing others, failure becomes not a matter of “if” but rather of “when.”
• Deferral is an ally to a prideful leader, often shifting fault to others, often remaining silent (as if nothing had happened) if blame cannot be deferred. They often find it hard to say, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” (as they are not truly grateful nor are they often reticent).
• Prideful leaders are not compelled to move on, up, or forward. They are often so content with “what is” they could care less about “what could be.” They often feel and act as though “above” the rules (which obviously control or apply to someone else).
• Pride can destroy relationships. When one “loves (or finds great comfort in) him- or herself,” there is often very little room left for anyone else. The feeling of self-advancement caused by caring for “number one” can cloud what might otherwise be an obvious choice – blurring an otherwise clear organizational direction.

When a leader focuses more on results than worrying about who receives the credit, great things can happen. It takes intentional and deliberate action, however, if we want someone to become an exceptional, unselfish leader. We must encourage him or her to:

• Act with consistency and reasonableness – treating everyone equitably based upon their contributions to the whole (as opposed to equally where everyone is the considered to be the same).
• Speak with sincerity when giving directions, suggestions or comments – taking the time to explain not only the “what” but also the “why” of each request.
• Allow yourself to be lifted “up the ladder” upon the outstretched hands of those around you – as they support you – rather than “climbing over them as if they were the rungs of a ladder on the way to the top.”
• Watch and listen attentively to others, acting appropriately to what you see and what you hear. Give credit when it is due and provide guidance when change is required. Accept blame for the mistakes you make and help others learn from (rather than being destroyed for) their failures.

Remember to speak softly as you act loudly – praise generously while accepting accolades reluctantly – and you should be able to avoid the traps that pride places in front of you on your leadership.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When Life Goes Softly...

Life is a gift – but we often feel we should be able to hold it in our own hands, unwrap whenever we want and play selfishly with it so that we might find gain when others feel pain. Anyone can steer a ship through a calm sea – it takes a master to find safety within a storm. We must learn that life provides us with a plethora of opportunities and a fistful of challenges – that there are some things we can control and others that will only frustrate us should we resolve to understand them. We tend to compartmentalize and restrict ourselves when we focus upon how many breaths we are given in life – opening up our horizons to a world of possibilities only when we seek moments that take our breath away.

I have been exposed to both happiness and grief recently – both the beauty of the Creator and the loss that accompanies His creation’s departure. I have seen incomparable power in the mountains, rivers and streams He created and experienced the hollow feelings that one’s unexpected death left behind. I was brought to the heights of this world when a loved one’s sickness was overcome yet brought to my knees when one far too young was taken away. As humans, we have an issue of control – wanting to control all things that touch our lives so that we can have what we want when we want it. As a point of reality, we must recognize those things we can control, those things that are out of our control, and seek the wisdom to know the difference.
I wrote a poem for a dear friend about both the hope and the futility that life provides. Several of my close friends are going through serious health conditions right now – and I recently unexpectedly lost a cousin who was close to me growing up. It is funny how reality strikes home when someone close to us – or even one our own age – passes on.

The Breath of the Night…

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…
Dancing with reckless abandon across the meadows of their minds…
Flying carelessly through the shadows of their souls…
Seeking only to bring joy to those who would know him…
Sharing himself freely with any who might care.

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…
Lighting but for a moment before moving on…
Touching down but long enough to hint of his presence…
Leaving those who missed him searching for meaning…
And those he touched during his brief stay wanting for more.

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…
Blending with the quiet whispers of the ocean…
Warming the cool, damp evening air…
Bringing the light of day to an oppressive existence…
Opening the eyes of those too blind to otherwise see.

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…
Dreams of his laughter filling the now silent air with music…
Thoughts of his smile making the brightest of stars seem pale…
His brief reality lifting the veil from a world of sorrow…
Shining brightly within a troubled night trying to hide dread within its darkness.

He came lightly upon the breath of the night…
His brightness a contrast to the world’s muted shades of grey…
His presence a member within the hearts of all who would have known him…
Forever changing a world into which he chose to only briefly enter…
Now looking down upon us cradled safely within the arms of God.

For he left as suddenly as he came…
Not given the time to accomplish all he had intended…
Not fulfilling the promise of his physical being…
Not touching the lives that may have thrived in his presence…
Leaving lightly upon the breath of the night.

Perhaps we could find purpose in each passing – find joy in each moment – rather than holding on so tightly to our losses that we are stifled and destroyed. Perhaps we should embrace the fact that we cannot control everything nor ever know the reasons that things happen. Perhaps it is better to ask the right questions – those that help us find meaning within (and because of) each moment – so that we can eventually move forward towards the hope and promise of brighter tomorrow as we, too, drift lightly upon the breath of the night.

Friday, October 18, 2013


People face crossroads throughout their lives.  Many stressful situations are caused by unavoidable circumstances within our daily lives.  While personal issues are frequently identified as being a major “cause” of workplace inefficiency and lost time, employers must also share the blame for creating crisis in people’s lives.  A realist might ask, “How much stress do YOU add to people’s lives?”  A pessimist might question if “you EVER enrich another’s life.”  An optimist could query, “How good are you at creating choices for people?”  However one looks at it, we are all major contributors to the happiness (or sadness) of others.  Take a moment to answer the following questions – all real examples of the things we hear every day – before you decide how “good” you are at providing a well-defined pathway to success for others.

  1. T   F I know what I want and expect others to do things the way I want them done.  I should not have to tell people how to do things or what to do – they should already know what is expected if they are to be successful.
  2. T   F People should bring experience and professionalism to the table.  I expect others to utilize their skills to identify issues and resolve them, not to ask me stupid questions that waste both our time.
  3. T   F A person is paid to perform a job.  Receiving a paycheck should be reward enough for a job well done.  When someone does something wrong they will know it – as they should know when they did something right.  People should not need senseless praise all the time!
  4. T   F I worry enough about the economy, my job, my friends, and my problems. I do not really need to trouble others with things that bother me that they cannot help me control.
  5. T   F In order to become successful we need to be in control at all times.  Listening to those around us can slow us down and “muddy the water” so we do not accomplish our goals on a timely basis.

If you answered TRUE to more than 4 of the questions you are probably rather autocratic in your approach to life – perhaps causing more than a reasonable number of moral and ethical dilemmas to those around you – forcing people to either accept “your way” OR take a pathway that leads from your influence.  If you answered FALSE to 4 or more of the questions, you may have a hard time imposing your will – and an equally hard time confronting (and addressing) things that really bother you.  Recognizing the “false” portions of each question – letting them override the “true” portions – could indicate a lifestyle waffling somewhere between leading and lagging…between paving the way and filling the potholes left behind by others.  If you were more “centrist” in your decisions – recognizing both true and false in each question – you probably share a number of “pathways” with others, allowing them to forge ahead on their own but providing them with a safe harbor to which they are comfortable returning when necessary.

Dealing with people is an art.  In order to provide a “safe passage,” people must look at most questions in
life as being partially true and potentially partially false.  Once done, clear and concise choices can be presented.  How might a true “road builder” look at the above questions?

  1. Knowing what you want is half the battle.  Expressing what you want WITHOUT stifling creativity by saying how to do it is the other half.  Question 1 is half-right.  People should not always be told how to do things but they MUST be pointed in the right direction (and allowed to “own” their choices and accept the consequences of their decisions) if they are to achieve fulfillment from their efforts.
  2. People often DO bring professionalism and expertise to with them.  All people, however, bring a different level of risk acceptance with them.  Exhibiting “hesitance” does not necessarily mean “inability.”  As soon as you express (or in any way indicate) that a question is “stupid,” you have lost respect for there is no easy way to recover from an obvious “dismissal.”  Do not expect people to do everything without some form of feedback or direction from you, however.  Allowing another to run blindly down their own path all the time, without direction, is encouraging them to chase rabbits  or grasp onto moving windmills – activities that might provide a sense of being busy with very few concrete results.
  3. People ARE compensated to perform their jobs but they must also receive appropriate praise and effective correction – targeted towards improved performance – in order to continue doing the jobs they are paid to do well.  They must receive rewards for their efforts but also be allowed to learn from their mistakes (without fear of losing not only the reward but also the opportunity to continue seeking it).
  4. Worrying about real concerns is a good thing.  Hiding those fears from others that could help you is not.  No man (or woman) is an island.  Everyone must resolve some issues on their own BUT helping others and acknowledging when others could help you (then accepting that help) will make you a healthier, happier person.  We can often find strength and support when we reveal both our vulnerability and our humanity.  Being “above it all” can often build barriers that interfere with the "approachability" we provide others.
  5. It is good to listen to be in control.  If being in control, however, is at the expense of other’s ideas and
    input – at the cost of allowing a “false start” that might ultimately accomplish a greater gain – then perhaps our road should be the “one less traveled” rather than a direct highway to a defined and limited destination.  Listening to others before setting a course often makes the path much smoother for everyone.

Sometimes a “definite maybe” is the best way to deal with people. Provide a pathway by looking back while moving forward…by reaching out while holding on…by running ahead while encouraging others to follow. Treating people as if their road were straight and narrow does nothing to help them choose the best paths in life.  Helping them to identify the best way to go, then potentially limiting their choices so that the path taken is the best possible choice (but THEIR choice) is the best way to provide pathways to success for those around you.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Some live in the past – holding on to the accomplishments of the past far too long.  They value tradition (often to the point that they will not venture from the past into the present).  They may have pictures of old teams and outdated certificates on the wall – living within their memories – holding on to days gone by as if they were still the most important times of their life.  These people find comfort in knowing “what was” rather than thinking about “what could have been” or “what might yet be.”  People living within their past often hold on to “the old ways” because they worked – never imagining they may not continue to work in a changing world.  “Fiddler on the Roof” was a movie about these individuals.  Strong, value-driven and steeped in tradition, the culture of the times often held onto tradition to guide their daily lives – but the family depicted found that letting go of the past was an essential part of moving into a modern era.  Individuals holding onto “what was” as they live “what is” often seek obstacles that might prevent them from changing rather than actively seeking opportunities that might lead them to things not yet realized.

Most individuals live in the present – finding both satisfaction and a belief that they are achieving their fullest
potential by fulfilling their routines and daily activities.  They rush from one task to the next without questioning why, knowing only that one thing must be done before moving on.  These “present dwellers” are firefighters.  They see a problem, throw themselves fully and totally into its resolution, then move on to the next issue.  They are always on the move, often frustrated (and seemingly frenetic), frequently too busy to enjoy the beauty around them.  They often appear to travel well beyond the speed of light – buzzing through anything unfortunate enough to be in their paths – moving erratically towards what they are convinced is a well-defined destination.  While these people are valuable “doers,” they may be unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor because “so much needs to be done in so little time,” usually running out of month before their projects are done and losing sight of “the big picture” as they rush to accomplish the “means” without thinking about the “ends.”   They may find themselves too busy “doing for today” to ever “dream of tomorrow.”

A precious few live within the world of “what could be…if only.”  They do not limit themselves to “what must be done” for they would prefer to dwell within the realm of “why not try doing it differently?”  Rather than accepting that tasks and objectives must be accomplished in a prescribed order they live in a world that questions the reason behind every action they take.  While they consider the past, they refuse to dwell within it – or to limit their possibilities to the realities of others.  Rather than perfecting “what is”, they prefer to do what must be done to build towards what has not yet been fully formulated.  You can recognize these individuals by their passion – by their outward expression of the attitude that nothing is ever quite good enough because it can always be improved.  They cannot seem to stop themselves from saying things like “…that is really good, but have you thought about…” or “That is a great start…” when you present a solution for their consideration.  Accepting “what is” as a destination is not an option as they prefer to linger just long enough within “today” to gather the resources necessary for them to spring towards the next opportunity.  The movie “Field of Dreams” would depict this world.  Considered by many to be dreamers who not only fail to act responsibly but also fail to recognize reality – these individuals truly believe that if they build a dream, something will come of it (and if they accept the status quo, nothing will ever change).

Where do you live in this world?  Do you live in the past – anchored within the tradition that has guided
people to security for years?  Do you live in the present – seeking to accomplish life’s daily tasks and challenges?  Do you live for a yet to be identified future – seeking progress today so that you can move into tomorrow?  Not everyone can be a futurist (nor can we all be historians or content to accomplish daily tasks).  We do, however, need components of all these characteristics – people dwelling within the past, the
present, and the future – to have a winning team.  It is important that we identify “where we live,” however, then embrace it as move forward.  In order to contribute to a thriving organization one must recognize and acknowledge his or her strengths (values and beliefs) and add to the overall good of their community.  When we recognize and embrace individual uniqueness – actively making it a vital part of each relationship (whether at work or at home) we begin to define what could be rather than focusing upon what is (or has been).  Only when one is able to move past yesterday’s history, beyond the (far too often) mundane realities of today while seeking the unknown possibilities posed by an undefined tomorrow will he or she be able to move from “what is” to “what could be.”  By focusing more on “why not?” than “if only…” you may surprise yourself how nicely your little world fits into the universe around you!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


There are many reasons we fail to live up to our full potential but the most common are often tied to inappropriate (or unexpressed) goals, inadequate (or unstated) expectations, and a lack of accountability.

If you never set a goal or plan for an outcome you cannot know when you have reached a milestone – when you have achieved something truly meaningful – because you will not know when your beginnings should end nor when your ends should signal a new beginning.  Anyone can hit an unidentified target BUT claiming that a random result was an intended consequence creates minimal value in the big picture.  If we were to shoot an arrow towards an open field – hitting nothing but air – would we succeed because we hit the “nothing” we were aiming for or would we “fail” because we inadvertently hit the ground where our arrow came to rest?  Shooting an arrow at a target establishes an expectation that the bulls-eye is our objective (which, if missed, would represent failure).  Unless (and until) a goal or objective is established, no measure of success can be identified.  Far too many managers try to lead by projecting an employee’s current abilities forward without clearly establishing how their abilities contribute to an organization’s success.  Far too many relationships are built upon a foundation of “what might become” rather than one of “what is” projected to “what we want to become” through hard work and intentional actions.

If you wander aimlessly without having a destination in mind you may never be lost BUT you will not know when to stop seeking – when to abandon one path in favor of another.  Effective managers recognize the need to tell employees how their individual efforts fit into the “big picture.”  Until (and unless) one knows where they are going they will not know when they arrive – they cannot know whether to stop or continue moving forward towards a destination unless one was at least tentatively identified.  Without knowing how their individual contribution completes the whole one will focus more on the “means” than the “end.”  Strong leaders encourage employees to stretch their capabilities in an effort to bridge any gap that might exist before them while seeking to arrive at a pre-determined (and communicated) destination.  Make sure that employees know what is expected of them and what will result from their meeting expectations (OR what might befall them should they fail to meet expectations) and follow through on your promises.  Say what you mean and do what you say WITHOUT EXCEPTION to establish the ends you need and the means you are willing to invest to get there.

If one is not held accountable for the results of their actions – if neither punishment nor reward result from a
conscious action taken in response to a situation or set of circumstances – how can we expect an individual to exhibit exceptional performance?  When we allow someone to act in a given manner – whether it is appropriate and good or inappropriate and destructive – we effectively set the “bar” and cannot expect any more (or less).  We cannot change behavior without first drawing a line in the sand by saying what was once good enough will no longer be acceptable.  Declaring the need for change, however, is not enough.  We must set acceptable targets (for which to aim) and establish meaningful goals (for which to reach).  We must then COMMUNICATE these goals to all involved, holding them accountable for the actions necessary to implement the change or accomplish the objective.  The accomplishment of a defined objective becomes the basis for further growth – the springboard for ongoing activity – but unless we know that a goal was achieved we cannot know that one journey has ended so that another can begin.

One cannot easily leap from the ground to a treetop without either carefully climbing the tree or using a ladder to reach the top – one planned step at a time.  One cannot reach the fertile valley beyond a mountain range without either climbing to the summit or finding a pass that leads around the seemingly insurmountable object.  One cannot achieve that which they do not believe to be a possibility.  We can accomplish much more than we might believe possible when we establish realistic targets along the way – pausing to celebrate each accomplishment before we move on to the next.  Greatness comes to those recognizing each stop is but a respite rather than accepting it as a final destination.

Believing all things are possible opens the door to unlimited success.  To achieve this success we must give ourselves permission to “lose” along the way (learning from our losses so they are not repeated) and move steadfastly forward (even if we begin to slide back) – celebrating progress rather than waiting to acknowledge only the end result.  To some, “good enough” is all they wish to achieve.  To those who truly believe that all things are possible, however, the ability to achieve is defined by what has yet to be done (rather than what has been accomplished) and success is measured not by the number of goals reached but rather the number of accomplishments achieved along the way as they ultimately reach (and re-establish new) objectives.