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 30, 2014


With January’s arrival, we face a “return to reality” and an opportunity to start anew.  The Holiday season has ended and we must get back into the swing of things quickly – our feet hitting the ground running lest we be left behind by an ever changing world.  As we transition from what was once a slower time (though we have seen more work and less play making many people a bit more frantic coming out of the Holiday season) to a more active New Year (full of hope, promise and the realization of dreams), we should think more about what really matters AND how we can ensure it becomes reality than spending our time focusing on frivolous resolutions or insignificant change. 

We must never try to be someone we are not – or do something ONLY because others are doing it.  Many individuals return to work with fresh “resolutions” to do something (or be something) different BUT do not adequately prepare themselves to address and accomplish the transition.  Unless there is more gain from the change than pain from NOT changing, such mid-stream corrections rarely prove effective.  People change very little once they have established their basic values, patterns and thought processes UNLESS they are equipped with the tools needed to initiate change AND internally motivated to maintain it once accomplished.  It is often easier (and more effective) to leverage an individual’s strengths than it is to try to change their shortcomings.  As Dr. Seuss aptly proclaimed, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

The Holidays are a great time for people to sit back and dream – about what they have (or do not have), who they are (or who they might wish to be), and what they want to do differently (so that they can achieve an altered results).  Stephen Leacock stated, "It may be that those who do most, dream most."  One must first imagine something as being a possibility before it can become a probability – must see the need AND the potential for transformation before it becomes a “need” rather than a “desire” but must also remember that “Dreams take time, patience, sustained effort, and a willingness to fail if they are ever to be anything more than dreams." (Bryan Linkoski). 

While “failure” is not necessarily a desired outcome of change, it is often the initiator of transformation.  We rarely change unless our current circumstances dictate that we move on.  We are more willing to run from life’s storms than we are its sunshine – to seek comfort from misfortune rather than to risk leaving a comfortable place.  Dreamers often recognize that just because they DESIRE change does not mean they will achieve it without tasting failure before they feast on success while those living within the “here and now” may not be willing to risk what they have for the possibility of gaining something greater.  Robert F. Kennedy said, "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."   Individuals whom have truly made a difference in this world understand that "Failure is not the worst thing – the worst thing is not to have tried."  While much intentional thought and deliberate action is required to succeed, those who are most successful recognize that "Failure is the path of least persistence."  Further, if thoughts and dreams are to become our reality, the word “impossible” must not be a part of our vocabulary (replaced, perhaps with “improbable” or “difficult” but couched in the grey of possibility rather than the black and white of perceived finality).  While facts, information and well-considered alternatives are often the building blocks of change, Dexter Yager described the essence of change by saying, "If the dream is big enough, the facts don't count (nor really matter)."

Life is a series of starts and stops – of closed chapters and of new beginnings.  Insanity is doing things the way they have always been done but expecting the results to change.  If we are to see change as we move from one year to the next, it is important that we not only recognize the need for altered behavior but that we intentionally ACT to make it happen.  Knowing the facts and understanding how to make change happen does not necessarily ensure that our resolutions will be accomplished or our transformation made complete.  Will Rogers appropriately stated, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."  As our seasons change – accompanied by our actions and our attitudes – we should embrace the thoughts expressed by William Osler ("We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it").  If we seek only what is handed to us we will never realize a life that is unique, self-directed and independent from those more than willing to direct our actions and determine our course.  Sadly, many seem to seek equality rather than equity in the world.  They pull down those who are successful, taking from them the fruits of their labor in an effort to narrow the gap between “those who have and those who have not” rather than providing “those without” the tools necessary to narrow the gap through their own productivity.  While good, hard-working individuals seeking employment often find they do not have the requisite skills to perform available jobs (and seek the training needed to bridge that gap), far too many jobs remain unfilled because the sting of not working is more than sufficiently salved by an ever-expanding system of safety nets, entitlement programs and “social reforms.”

As the “old year” comes to an end and a new beginning presents itself, perhaps we could gain from both the wisdom and reality of Mark Twain when he said "Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."  We are not “owed” success – we must first seek it then act to make it reality.  Make 2015 a year of successful transformation by thinking big and acting audaciously without fearing failure – then incorporating the lessons learned from each temporary setback into intentional actions that result in long-term success.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Change, like life, happens with or without any help from us.  Growth, however, comes only through our intentional actions.  People love and hate change at the same time.  While wishing for things to remain the same in our lives (comfort, security, job, environment, friends, relationships), we really want them to get better (rarely wanting discomfort, negative change or inconvenience in our lives). Wanting it “both ways,” we often refuse to invest the necessary “sweat equity” to make change happen.  When handed to us, we are more than happy to take it.  We are less likely to actively identify areas needing change then intentionally acting to put them behind us while moving forward in a different direction – leaving behind what is comfortable (and holding us back) while hoisting our sails to capture the winds of a new tomorrow (venturing into unknown territory holding not yet realized opportunity).  Though we may not always know where the winds will lead us, simply catching hold of their endless power will help us to move from our current reality to a future possibility without becoming caught in the calm between what was and what could be.

Some random thoughts to help maintain focus along the journey from what we know to what we might only imagine – from what is to what could be – would include:
·         The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. (Arthur C. Clarke)

When we restrict our actions, reactions and responses to the ways and methods we have always used, nothing will change.  Only when we dare to act in ways we have never before acted – to think in ways we have never before thought – will those things that were once beyond our reach become possible.  In order to maximize the likelihood we will succeed, however, we must acknowledge the resistance we will face, respond to the concerns our detractors will present, and present a plausible, acceptable alternative (which is more desirable, beneficial or providing of more opportunity) than the status quo.  To move from where you are to where you wish to be, and perhaps even beyond to where you have not yet imagined, tear down the walls that limit you to what you have always known or you will end up doing what you have always done and being what you have always been.

·         Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.  (Samuel Johnson)

Allowing an individual to learn from failure is possibly one of the best learning techniques we can use.  When a person must turn back due to unexpected rapids after charting a course and setting sail, two things happen.  First, the individual will (hopefully) learn form his or her mistake by recognizing the signs of turmoil and acting to avoid them before venturing into the unknown again (recognizing the need to continue as being the critical component of learning).  Secondly, though, and perhaps more important, we must identify the reason success was delayed and correct the error, mistake or poor judgment in a way that allows us to overcome the obstacles that kept us from progressing towards the accomplishment of our goal.  Learning by experience is much more beneficial than listening to someone else say which way to go or what road to take.  We should plan, anticipate and think of reasonable alternative approaches prior to starting any task BUT avoid “analysis paralysis” (refusing to move forward if there is ANY chance that something might go wrong allowing our fear of failure to diminish our chances of success).  When we never leave the blocks we cannot compete and it becomes impossible to finish the race.

·         The only person who never makes mistakes is the person who never does anything.  (Denis Waitley) 

Life is not a carefree path we take while moving towards an idyllic destination.  Life is fraught with pitfalls, traps, snares and impossibly steep embankments.  It would be nearly impossible to go through life without making a mistake so quit trying to be perfect!  Some of the world’s greatest inventions have been the unexpected outcomes from failed experiments.  Our greatest presidents frequently tasted defeat before they were elected.  Many business owners have failed in an endeavor before experiencing success.  Once a path has been taken that leads to a dead end – a process selected that results in set-back – learn from it so your next steps can be successful.

  • Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Willing is not enough; we must do.
    (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Value is established not by what we know but rather by how we can apply it.  Wisdom is the result of applied knowledge.  Knowing that a car needs an engine, a transmission, an electrical system and a variety of other mechanical parts does not make you a mechanic.  You must apply what you know to be of any use to anyone.  I could THINK about fixing a car all day long but nothing would happen until I pick up a wrench (then without proper education, training and knowledge my efforts might cause more harm than good).  Any action creates an opposite and equal reaction, both in physics and in life.  Intentional action is a prerequisite to change.  Plausible and acceptable actions – often outside the normal realm of reasonable and expected responses – are the precursor of success.

·         Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.  (Cadet Maxim)

As you dive headlong into life, remember that you will get from life only what you put into it.  I have seen individuals slide through life expecting (and receiving) very little.  Some say they set low goals so they will not fail – that when the “bar is low,” nothing will keep them from crossing it.  I choose a different path – and so should you.  Take calculated risks in order to increase your chances of success.   Choose to care more about others than you care about yourself.  You might be surprised how rich and free you life will be in return. Choose to dream enough so that you can experience new horizons when bringing dreams to fruition.  You cannot fulfill another’s dream (no matter how hard you might try), only your own.  As for expectations – you will never rise higher than you expect yourself to rise, nor fall lower than you allow yourself to fall. 

·         Focus more upon “what has yet to be done” than “what has been completed” when seeking change.  Acknowledging and recognizing your weaknesses helps identify the causes of problems – developing and leveraging your strengths produces long-term solutions.  (Dave Smith)

Do not focus upon what cannot be done – continually stretch to achieve those things that have not yet been attempted, reach outcomes that have not been previously accomplished, or choose paths that nobody has yet dared to travel.  Do not seek an escape from reality – embrace the potential around you.  Do not dwell upon what has been done – seek what has yet to be realized.  Always expect more than may seem possible – refusing to accept anything previously accomplished as anything more than a resting point as you seek yet to be discovered destinations – and you will surely taste success during the coming year!

Monday, December 15, 2014


Many individuals establish resolutions they hope to achieve during the New Year – bold expectations of accomplishment that will propel them from who and what they are to who and what the wish to become.  They put together their “wish list” of things imagined in an effort to validate their ongoing efforts to achieve the greatness that should be theirs but (for some unknown reason) has yet to come to fruition.  PERHAPS we should pay more attention to the list of what we must NOT do before we begin to focus on what we would PREFER to do if we truly want to change.

How can one change their direction by simply declaring it so – determine a course of direction that will lead to a new way of doing things – until we identify what DOES NOT WORK so it will not remain a barrier to change?  Perhaps we should spend more time “making our list” of things being done erroneously and “checking it twice” to make sure the things we are ineffectively doing will not be repeated than we do developing a new list without addressing our old habits.  Far too many individuals fail to advance because they continue to rely upon the “old ways” that have resulted in failure.  Rather than seeking new methods based on anticipated results they prefer to find comfort in the familiar – thinking that different results can be “resolved” rather than logically concluded.  A moth will drive towards light – whether it be a bulb that attracts it or a flame that might kill it.  A frog will struggle if introduced to boiling water but will remain complacent within a cool pot brought to a boil – lulled into a sense of security because the need for change was not clearly and concisely defined. 

Until we identify “why” we did something (and what it produced) it is difficult to understand “why we should not continue doing that same thing” (while anticipating a different result).  Unless we truly accept that what we are doing MAY NOT produce the results we seek – come to grips with (and understand that) something we have done forever and wish to continue doing MAY NOT lead us where we might prefer to go – it is nearly impossible for us to “walk away” from “what is” to embrace what “could be.”

To realize change we must “make our list and check it twice” – once to identify what has not worked that must be altered and a second time to identify alternative actions that might produce favorable results – if we wish to realize change.  Remember to resolve NOT ONLY to the accomplishment of new things during this Holiday season but also to eliminate the behaviors, actions and attitudes that may have prevented change in the past.  We can move forward ONLY after we have closed the door behind us – shutting out the “tried and true” while plunging into the “not yet realized” world of possibilities – seeking what “could be” from life rather than accepting only “what is” as a final destination.

Initiate change by listing what you do, identifying why you do it, validating its relevance then measuring it against what must be done as you move forward.  If something works, keep it – do not change for the sake of changing.  If something is not working, identify why it is failing – then take intentional action to leave that process behind.  Fill this coming year with limitless possibilities by leaving behind what does not work before embracing that which does – by seeking what “could be” rather than simply accepting “what is.” 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


My sister recently asked me to look at the world through a black and white filter (literally) by challenging me to a Facebook Photo Contest.  Normally a “shades of grey” person that can find more fulfillment in relative comparisons than absolute positioning, looking through such a filter was outside of my typical paradigm – but it gave me a great opportunity to realize that such an approach to life reflects our daily reality quite well.  Some of the pictures I chose – along with the life lessons they represented – are included herein.  The first came to me easily – a gateway to the world through a restrictive tunnel.  Taken along Lake Michigan in winter, the wonders of the world seemed to open up to me when seeing a tunnel as an open window to the world (yet it could easily become a sanctuary to those seeking refuge rather than opportunity).

Once through my portal to the possible, a winter storm greeted me with its harsh reality AND its majestic beauty.  While striking as a colored photo, the lake seems frozen in time (figuratively as well as literally) when viewed through a black and white lens.  We often judge people, situations and opportunities by the “color they wear” rather than the depth of their essence.  Perhaps we should all take the time to filter our
initial impressions so we can identify and apply the value hidden within that sense of clarity.

Other pictures (more obvious) were of animals within the San Diego Zoo.  A panda within a tree provided a black and white perspective often lost within the green and brown foliage of its reality.  A resting tiger, majestic within its normal orange and black, became a powerful image of stark contrasts when stripped of its color.  If only we could do the same within our world today – to see others for what they offer rather than losing ourselves their differences.  (I avoided using the zebra that stood perfectly still for me – the reality of his world being black and white enough without being viewed through an altered filter.)  Ask me for my Facebook link to see these specimens.

We all must establish goals for our life (see a past Deliberation for expansion) if we seek to accomplish anything more than we are currently doing.  We came upon a neglected path in Kentucky during a visit to my “challenging” sister and her family.  The leaves along the path were changing colors and the grass fading to brown – the contrast providing a beautiful distraction to a winding path that could lead to most anywhere IF one chose to take it.  We followed a similar path during a trip to Oregon and found a hidden treasure – a waterfall near a wooden bridge.  We all must choose which road we will travel during this life.  Though many will follow highways that make their trip easier and their choices more defined, I would prefer to seek opportunities that may be lost to many by taking the road less traveled – by seeking the beauty hidden behind the colors we see.

Giving a new definition to “peer pressure” were pictures taken in Maine and Virginia Beach.  OK, so you might have to be a bit convoluted to link “pier” pressure with “peer” pressure but seeing a sturdy platform project into the ocean always provides testament to what can be done if we persevere – of what power and might we can harness when we seek to transform “what is” into “what could be.”  I see a pier and think of the storms it has weathered – of the view it has of each sunrise – and how it greets each new day (on the East coast) or welcomes the night into our lives “out West.”  Too often we see only the surface of each situation we face – only the “practical purpose” of things rather than the possibilities not yet defined or determined. Painting with our granddaughter recently opened this door to reality – as she worked to combine colors and fill her sheet with paint I had her close the book on her drawing then open it to see the reflection of her work on the other side.  She was amazed at the transfer and sought to create “mirror images” for the next half hour.  More of us should look beyond what we see in life to uncover the opportunities hidden IF ONLY we could close the book on what is and open it to see what could be.  A pier can be a dock or a window to a
new world – its reality limited by our minds rather than its functionality.

As I continued to look through my traditional pictures of a colorful world, I found waterfalls, rivers, seascapes, sand sculptures, bridges and birds (my wife tells me I have some kind of addiction to birds – perhaps it is the freedom their world presents or the limitless opportunities their flight provides them).  I found myself seeking the subtle differences that a black and white world produces – the shades of grey that exist between “what is” and “what could be.”  I discovered that my vacation pictures could provide a different perspective when the “color of reality” was filtered from them – a perspective we do not often use when living our lives.
Perhaps we could all gain from looking at the obstacles we face, the people we work with and the challenges we wish to overcome through a different filter.  We could take a different path to reach an unconsidered destination.  Life is what we make it to be.

Thanks for the challenge, Sis.  We all share a common earth but look at life through vastly different filters – allowing us to look at the same object or person and see a variety of values, beauty and worth.  I invite anyone who reads my Deliberations to attach a black and white picture with your comments – or better yet, post one black and white picture a day on your Facebook page for five days (then invite a friend to do the same).  Perhaps we can make a difference in the world if we all change our perspective and filter our results!