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!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The only certainty about change is that it will happen – regardless of what we do or say.  We can anticipate change – planning alternative reactions to the multitude of possibilities that might present themselves – but rarely can we predict with any degree of accuracy what we will be doing next year – or even tomorrow.  Change is far too elusive to be contained – its possibilities far too numerous to be compartmentalized within our finite minds.  In order to accomplish change we must act with purpose, refuse to accept the status quo – constantly identifying new possibilities through a process of screening or validating their potential benefit by measuring their rewards against the investment of time and effort required to bring them to fruition.

As we move from one year to the next, many make definitive resolutions of what they wish to change – proclaiming what will be different or what things in life they will leave behind – without ever taking the time to identify what must be changed BEFORE they move forward.  They often fail to realize their dreams because they do not identify and eliminate the behaviors that led to the need for change.  We cannot expect to see different results until we start doing things, thinking about our capabilities or reacting differently to the stimuli around us.  Change is as much about identifying where we want to MOVE FROM as it is about looking towards where we wish to be.  We need to establish goals and objectives in order to begin a journey towards change – but to accomplish change we must intentionally decide to move away from our past without becoming comfortable OR fearful within the “present” we find if we wish to embrace all the future might hold.

We must come to grips with who we are and what we do well if we seek lasting change.  We must embrace
our positive attributes while alienating the negative – and accept that where we wish to be IS an extension of where we are rather than a foreign soil or a different planet.  Change most often succeeds when it is gradual – when it builds from our strengths while minimizing our weaknesses – rather than proclaiming that things will be different without planning, preparation or self-awareness.  We can initiate and maintain change that builds upon what we do well – that does not require a complete transformation of who we are or what we portray ourselves to be.  It is relatively easy to change when we can alter a negative behavior or isolate a wandering thought to receive a greater reward than we would have had if we remained tied to what we did or where we were.  Self-directed change can be accomplished when the initiator of change is able to monitor progress, see results and continue to move forward because the positive benefits gained are greater than those received had change NOT been initiated.  Typically, resolutions that result in visible physical or behavioral change that others notice and comment upon passively feed one’s desire to maintain their change.  When obvious “positives” come from minor behavioral changes or altered choices, resolutions are often at least partially (if not fully) realized.

Other resolutions, however, while initiated through internal desires (one must WANT to change before change can occur) may need external oversight to keep the train on the track and moving in the right direction.  It is almost impossible to “resolve” to be something different or “wake up” as someone other than who we have always been without some kind of outside accountability.  Far too often when we make a personal commitment to alter our behavior we compromise our internal standards when “the going gets tough” by allowing ourselves to “stop going.”  We accept a level of “sameness” when we measure our results and answer only to ourselves.  While short-term change can be dictated, lasting change occurs ONLY when we internally formulate the “what”, fully realize the “why,” understand the “how” and are fully committed to the “what will be.”  Relying upon a trusted friend, partner or co-worker to discuss the distractions while holding us accountable to push forward will help us make significant and lasting change.  We must declare these resolutions publicly (even if the “public” to whom we declare them is but one or two) rather than keeping them secret IF we truly want help in our accomplishing transformational change.

As the New Year approaches, take the time to start fresh BUT hold on to those things that you do well –
that move you forward – rather than resolving to be drastically different.  Change is good – but sometimes choosing NOT to change can be just as rewarding.  Do not, however, accept mediocrity as a standard or find comfort in complacency.  When you resolve to change, do whatever it takes (internally OR with an external accountability partner) to initiate, monitor and maintain the change.  Resolve to make this year one of successful resolution so that you might be able to accomplish revolution in your life!

Monday, December 23, 2013


There are three ways we can try to change another’s behavior.  We can order someone to change, enforcing the altered behavior with penalties or threats (coercion).  We can provide a reward or some other external recognition that is of value to them should they change (motivation).  We can provide a path that will make them a better person or allow them to be something different than they are (inspiration).  Whether in a business or personal relationship – or any role in which we find ourselves interacting with another in order to accomplish a single objective – positive and meaningful change results from an intentional action (even if one intentionally decides not to act) rather than an accidental happenstance.

Supervisors often coerce individuals to change.  They issue orders, give directions and tell people what to do (and often how to do it).  Theirs can often be a world having few opportunities for independent action so they provide even fewer chances for people they supervise to act independently.  While supervision IS (thankfully) changing, many individuals leading work that can be accomplished without much training or preparation spend much of their time assigning work, reviewing processes and measuring results, leaving little time to invest on motivating or influencing altered behavior.  Rather than asking or laying the groundwork for
change, they direct and monitor activities so they can achieve.  We negate individuality when coercing change as responses become defined and expected rather than encouraged and supported.  In personal relationships, individuals who coerce others often tear them down to build themselves up – focus on “what went wrong” rather than celebrating “what went well.”  Coercive individuals tend to get what they want but may get ONLY what they want – and often find that their gains are short term and of limited value.  They find that telling may produce quick results but rarely does it produce the best result imaginable.

Managers often motivate individuals to change.  They identify alternatives, provide choices and give people reasons that make them want to alter their behavior.  Motivation to change can be as minimal as providing a tangible reward to induce action.  When combined with punishment for not changing, motivation can be a powerful means of producing results.  The problem with motivation, however, is that an external force must initiate the change.  In a working relationship, a manager often identifies what is best for the organization, the employee and him or her self then initiates action by spelling out what will happen if change does not occur (coercion) but also what will happen should favorable change occur (motivating the alteration).  As long as a manager is present to identify a suspect behavior and provide reason to change, good things will happen. Rarely, however, will an employee used to constant motivation see the need to change unless they continue to receive external impetus.  In a relationship, individuals who motivate often do so by first “breaking down” another (coercion) but then provide a reason that change would be beneficial (often benefiting the motivator as much if not more than the motivated).  Much can be accomplished when individuals are motivated to change – the problem with motivation, however, is that an object at rest (or an individual whom is content to do what he or she is doing) tends to remain at rest (or doing what has proven to be comfortable).  Until one is convinced that they must change their behavior if they are to receive different results, they will not experience growth.

Leaders inspire others to change.  Rather than telling people what must be done they show individuals a better way.  Rather than dwelling upon an individual’s negative behavior they reward positive efforts.  Leaders paint a picture of “what if” or “what could be” rather than one of “what is” or “what will always be.”  A leader makes people want to change in order to achieve something they wish to have, accomplish or become.  Inspirational change goes beyond telling (coercion) and past selling (motivation) – it leads another towards self-actualization.  Inspiration causes people to see why changes should take place, creating an internal desire to abandon who they are to become what awaits them.  Inspirational change is often caused by one’s desire to “be like” another or to achieve what someone else has accomplished – to make oneself (or another) proud of their actions.  In a personal relationship, inspirational leadership makes another want to join in (rather than follow) and to share the "road less traveled" (rather than taking the quickest, fastest route to nowhere).  Rarely will inspirational leaders tell another what must be done or how to do it – they allow their actions to speak louder than their words.  When we look to be that which has not yet been identified we initiate lasting change – which becomes the platform for continued growth.

Whether you choose to coerce, motivate or inspire change, recognize that an individual must see a reason to change before they will abandon their ways to pursue a new horizon.  We cannot CREATE change within an individual – we are only able to initiate it.  We cannot FORCE change within an individual – we are only able to guide it.  We cannot make another do that which they choose not to – we can only provide positive reasons to act AND identify negative consequences should they choose not to act.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Why are some people invigorated by a seemingly insurmountable task while others seem paralyzed by the same situation?   Some see the opportunity to make progress towards the completion of a project while others shut down unless they see an immediate conclusion well within their reach.   Other than the obvious propensity towards taking risks, there is one underlying characteristic differentiating the two attitudes – the ability to question “why not?” before acting rather than needing to understand “why” before formulating a plan and moving forward.

Everyone comes to a fork in the road – a decision point that forever changes what they have done, redirecting all efforts and activities towards the accomplishment of what they have yet to become.  Many attempt to “define” this moment through resolutions to change but find that shifting directions is a process rather than an event.  We cannot “will” ourselves to eliminate years of bad habits in one moment – it takes time to undo what we often do to ourselves.  “If only…” will never define “what is…”  When we trap ourselves within the world of excuses by asking what might have happened “if only” we had acted differently, we lose sight of reality.  Dwelling upon things NOT accomplished will never initiate change – it only reinforces your limitations (rather than celebrating your abilities).  

Some individuals act in accordance with established policy, practice or procedure whether or not that may be the best way to do something.  Others constantly question what they are asked to do as a means to test and temper the validity of an action prior to its being taken.  What good does it do to advance an idea unless it makes a difference?  One will never experience their full potential by seeking comfort within a world defined by other’s expectations.  Life is not a spectator sport – it requires careful consideration, intelligent planning and intentional action.  Most successful individuals establish basic tenants for their life – rules they use to hold themselves accountable for their own actions.  While everyone lives by some set of values and ethics, some of the rules that provide the “highest return on investment” would include the following:
  •  It is OK to make a mistake BUT do not repeat the same mistake.  It is OK to make a wrong
    decision – any well-thought out decision is better than no decision.  Learn from your errors, using them as a springboard to propel you forward.   People will usually work with you as long as you continue to show measurable progress or growth.  
  • Focus on things you can control.  Identify obstacles that are within your sphere of influence and actively seek to eliminate whatever hurdles you can by giving them up to someone who has the ability to influence them.  Likewise, seek to find the factors you cannot influence or control and give them up immediately.  
  • Lying, cheating, or stealing is intolerable.  If you are the best performer or individual with the highest results…but those results came through dishonesty or at someone else’s expense…you will not be respected, credible NOR working (or participating in an ongoing relationship) for very long.
  • Results are recognized – effort is merely a means to the end.  Seek not praise for working hard or contributing greatly – let recognition come your way through the results your effort achieved.  Do not begin your new year THINKING about change – take intentional actions to initiate change. 
  • All individuals may speak, question, and have a voice in any decision but that does not mean all votes are equal.  Life is not a democracy.  Input is valued but an individual responsible for the ultimate success of any endeavor must – and will - make the final decision.  Do not confuse “equal” with “equitable” as you seek to identify and establish new points from which you can leap forward during the coming year.  
  • There is nothing that “cannot be done.”  While some solutions may not be cost-effective, or are simply impractical or beyond our ability to implement, “I can’t,” “It’s not possible,” and other self-condemning attitudes are not acceptable.  Well thought-out solutions to issues you may encounter while doing your job (or during life in general) are not reasons for celebration, they are simply expectations of the way you should continually exhibit and utilize your abilities.

As the curtains of time fall on another year, focus upon the things you have experienced rather than the things that “COULD have been accomplished IF ONLY you had not run out of time.”  Somehow, building from a foundation of “what is” seems much more relevant to life than hiding behind “What could have been.” Seeking “what has yet to happen” provides a much better foundation upon which to build than does “Why try?"  The sands of time can either flow unobstructed to their logical end OR they can break out of their paradigm to become something never before imagined.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Have you ever met someone who sets a course in life based on how many others are doing the same thing? Rather than identifying problems, investigating their root cause and acting to resolve them they tend to take the path of least resistance and “go where others are going.” They often highlight the “wrongs” of others so
their questionable actions seem much more “right.”

The travesty in life is that far too many people diminish their potential by following the crowd.  They do what is popular rather than standing strong on their own values, judgments and decisions.  They choose acceptance by the majority rather than the criticism that standing alone often brings.  They accept the stagnation of “what is” rather that seeking the opportunities of “what could be.”  Their mantra might be “I am no different than anyone else” rather than “I am a unique individual whose potential is limited only by my own actions and behaviors.”

Following the crowd is easy – you do what others accept (and often what they expect), go where others are going, act as others act to blend in to their fabricated sense of community.  Only when one recognizes and acknowledges that much can come from seeking a different reality than that chosen by the crowd will he or she begin to realize that loss can become gain, failure can breed success, and the decision to stop can either be an end to an unfortunate set of circumstances OR the impetus to move forward.  It seems that each end is but a beginning, and every beginning concludes an end.  Followers of a crowd tend to accept the group’s vision as a final destination.

Those destined to be leaders gain confidence through training, affirmation, confirmation and acceptance by others whom they respect.  They seek strong mentoring from successful individuals.  They see the future as something not yet clearly defined – recognizing that as it is clarified and accomplished it will fade into the past, leaving room for more growth and continuous forward progress..

Had Fulton listened to “common wisdom” would he ever have invented the steam engine?  Would the Wright brothers have launched their dreams into the air had “the crowd” determined the way?  Is our nation stronger and more stable because our leaders make decisions based on polls that measure what the majority think they should do – taking the more acceptable route – rather than seeking potentially unpopular counsel?  Might we be in a better place if our leaders simply acted to bring the promises made to the people that elected them to fruition?

What might YOU be able to accomplish – what potential might you be able to realize – if you “marched to your own drummer” rather than listening to the tunes sung by others?  Make the most of your individuality in whatever you may say or do.  While many people try to be something or someone they wished they were or would like to become, there is only one you in the world.

As the “old year” winds down and the curtain is drawn on a new act, resolve to be yourself in whatever you
say and do – to seek your own answers to life’s complications rather than living as someone else might wish.  Claim your “wins” and admit to your failures – accepting (and sharing, when appropriate) the credit for things done “right” while assuming responsibility for mistakes (and resolving any hardships they may have caused) as you move towards the discovery of new opportunities.  When we misrepresent facts or exaggerate the truth we often find ourselves tangled within an inescapable web formed from our initial deceit (white lie or misrepresentation).  Rather than “living larger than life” during 2014, accept the life you were given and build upon it.  Leverage your strengths and identify any areas that might need to be improved.  Once identified, act to initiate necessary change so you can move forward.

Take a stand this coming year to do what is right REGARDLESS of the personal ramifications or pain that might result.  Remember that the hardest lie to live is one you have internalized as truth – particularly if those around you believe similarly.  Being true to yourself is one of the most noble and admirable decisions you can make – surpassed only by your being true to those around you.

Monday, December 2, 2013


We live in times of transition – of change from one existence to another.  Is it best to seek change at any cost OR approach it with caution, looking before we leap?  How much should we consider what we have before reaching for those things that have been outside of our grasp?  We may not know the road upon which we wish to travel or realize a final destination in advance of our journey BUT only by acknowledging we are not where we want to be will we ever become more than we currently are.  Until we actively and intentionally seek those things we have yet to achieve, we will never ever contribute beyond the level we have already attained.

Does the reason we change make a difference or should we consider any change positive?  Before leaping towards change, make sure you consider what you are leaving, why you are leaving it, what you wish to accomplish and how you plan to proceed.  Think about the positive AND the potentially negative ramifications of change.  Decide whether the unknown to which you gravitate is truly a better place to be than the comfortable place you have come to know and love before you jump as acting without passion is often worse than deciding not to act at all.  Consider the following when seeking personal or professional change:

LOOK TO BUILD UPON THE STRENGTHS YOU HAVE – THE THINGS YOU ENJOY DOING WITHIN YOUR PRESENT SITUATION – BEFORE TRYING TO ELIMINATE THOSE THINGS YOU SIMPLY DO NOT ENJOY.  When discussing change, many say their boss is intolerable, the environment oppressive, the work is not what they thought, a partner is not what he/she once was – the list is endless.  Unless one seeks to identify (and accept) his or her role in each negative, however, it is difficult to create lasting change by running from a bad experience.  Before blaming someone else for a bad situation, examine what role YOU may have played in its becoming tarnished and consider how YOU
might be able to help restore the luster.  Whenever you feel “the other side is greener,” consider that you once thought you were on “the green side.”  Identify not only “what changed” but also “what was right in the first place.”

IDENTIFY YOUR STRENGTHS WHEN CONSIDERING CHANGE.  Few people dwell upon what they like most about their situation – rather they carry on endlessly about what is “bad” about it.  If seeking a new job, people tend to seek positions having a similar title.  Individuals able to accomplish change tend to identify and build upon their proven abilities as they transition from one place to the next, leveraging what they HAVE rather than dwelling upon what they do not have or wish to achieve.  If seeking change, identify the strengths that have contributed to past successes then leverage them to create different opportunities or accomplish new things.

ISOLATE (AND ADDRESS) THE NEGATIVES WITHIN YOUR CURRENT SITUATION TO AVOID BUILDING THEM INTO YOUR NEXT OPPORTUNITY.   We often find the things we dislike most have little to do with our duties, responsibilities or actual day-to-day activities.  Many times the “things” driving us to distraction are environmental, people we work with, the level of responsibility (or lack of responsibility) we are given (or assume), the boss, the lack of attention we are receiving (without thought about the fulfillment we receive) – the list of “dislikes” could go on forever.  If these are the reasons for change, make sure to resolve them before transitioning to something else.  Before taking action to disrupt your existence, make sure that it needs disrupting!  A relatively minor issue should not force you into giving something up that you otherwise enjoy.

Change often requires you to take the “road less traveled” if you wish to arrive at a location with which you are unfamiliar doing things you have never done in order to complete something you have not yet accomplished.  We are often more comfortable doing what we have always done – and blaming others for what is not to our liking.  Those seeking change must act intentionally to do things in a manner that will allow for alternative results.

When seeking change it is important that we run towards opportunity rather than away from failure.  We tend to see the neighbor’s “greener grass” as we ignore our own lawn’s possibilities.  We see the results of another’s effort before fully investigating our own potential.  The precursor of change should be determining what you like most about what you are now doing and building upon that foundation.

When should we seek change?  ONLY when we are willing to walk away from the world we know to enter one we can only imagine by leveraging the strengths we possess rather than those we wish we had (or are only trying to find).