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, October 6, 2014


Society tends to minimize the importance of learning from failure, encouraging positive self-esteem and equality within all individuals, in order for them to be confident in taking the risks required of success.  Unfortunately, life is not always fair – and people should look to receive “equitable consideration” (based on their individual needs) rather than “equal treatment” (as “one size does not fit all”).  What is good for one IS NOT necessarily good for all – we must focus on what will help each individual with whom we interact rather than what is good for the majority.  Rather than making everyone feel good by trying to meet the lowest common denominator in all that is said or done, we could gain far more by focusing on the development of strengths rather than holding back our leaders until the followers catch up.

Schools have elevated “self-esteem” to one of the more important aspects of a student’s education, wanting students to feel better about their self-concept than about what they can accomplish.  An elementary teacher once said it was her job to make everyone an equal contributor to the classes’ success – leaving nobody behind.  While there is immense value in helping those who do not understand, perhaps the system should provide help to those that need it without holding back those that might be able to perform at a higher level.  Having seen some of the work students perform today only reinforces the need for transformation.  Little attention is paid to proper spelling (“spell check” will handle that) and basic math concepts are not emphasized enough in the lower grades (“that is what calculators are for”).  Some high school teachers retest multiple times (allowing students to study their test so the right answers can be found) in an effort to have students pass rather than focusing on their learning.  In sporting events, schools tend to focus on the equality of playing time (regardless of an athlete’s ability), effort and sportsmanship rather than on winning.  In moderation, these are not bad concepts.  In practice, however, our future leaders are being rewarded for simply trying rather than for actually achieving.

Business often tends to reward “the masses” through the application of inconsistent employment policies and practices.  Many employers avoid confrontation by giving performance reviews that establish “average” work as being proficient.  Giving an “across the board” pay increase minimizes friction but rewards mediocrity.  Adjusting an employee’s work schedule to “meet their situation” does not necessarily address their inability to show up on time or work as needed to accomplish the job.  We tend to reward the good that people bring to the organization but ignore their negative characteristics until they become more hurtful to the group than they are helpful – at which time it is often too late to salvage any positive value.  Allowing everyone to participate in each decision-making process is a noble intention – but the tactic could cause unnecessary delay or the adoption of workable solutions that may be popular but not the best possible.

Our fervor to make people “feel good” often removes the motivation for individuals to achieve their full potential.  In order to constructively establish and maintain an individual’s self-esteem – whether in business, education or personal relationships – we should always try to create situations that maximize the chances of another’s success if we wish to reward and build upon results.  Things that often stand in the way of recognizing accomplishment include:

  1. Rewarding efforts, good intentions, hard work and/or the willingness to accept new responsibilities
    rather than the actual work accomplished
  2. Placing unqualified individuals into a positions they want or think they can handle without providing the tools required to accomplish their new expectations – a move often made to reward an individual’s past performance that will potentially breed frustration and failure
  3. Praising an individual for “trying hard,” hoping that such attention will encourage better performance down the road.  In reality, recognizing effort as a result tends to establish progress (rather than results) as the driver of success
  4. Providing equal pay adjustments to all rather than paying for individual performance in an attempt to minimize confrontation with employees.  “Across the board” pay adjustments actually help to retain under-qualified workers (who may not be able to achieve elsewhere) by rewarding mediocrity while demotivating high achievers (who can easily find recognition from someone else)
  5. Treating all people the same in any given situation or expressed expectation.  Each of us have unique and individual skills, abilities, aptitudes, attitudes, strengths and weakness – to maximize contributions we must recognize our differences
  6. Distancing ourselves from all associations with failure rather than acknowledging and recognizing them while growing from the experience.  When we live upon a pedestal – whether intended or inconsequential – we spend so much time and effort maintaining the expectations of others that we have little left to bring to fruition our own realities

Some would say that a good self-concept breeds success.  I would offer that success creates a good self-concept.  We have been told that students (and workers) need to work as equals within teams to accomplish anything.  I would offer that all teams need a leader – a collector of ideas or champion – to accomplish change.  We have been told that rewarding the process will enhance creativity, thereby minimizing the fear of failure.  I would offer that rewarding accomplishment, while constructively addressing sub-standard effort, fosters creativity and encourages risk-taking behavior that can eliminate the fear of failure.  Some might say that failure should be avoided at all cost – that we should catch others before they fall so they can focus on all things positive rather than having to face negative consequences.  I would offer that seeing failure as a new beginning rather than an end result allows us to achieve much (Edison never failed while inventing the light bulb – he simply refined his attempts by recognizing why something did not work and correcting it until he reached a satisfactory conclusion).  Some say that individuals involved in a relationship must contribute equally to its success or it will fail.  I would offer that each individual must contribute equitably – based on their individual strengths and abilities – and the ability (or inability) to communicate expectations, hopes, dreams and desires predicates failure more than equal contribution to results.

Which is more critical – self-esteem or success?  This “chicken or the egg coming first” conundrum has been around since the beginning of time.  While we should acknowledge the work needed to achieve results, we must reward successful outcomes.  Rather than praising each attempt – regardless of its significance – sustainable self-esteem emerges when we reward accomplishment.  All organizations need willing and capable team members, good interpersonal relationships, and an adaptive learning environment BUT they also need leadership.  We should recognize and support effort but NEVER should it be rewarded at the expense of results!