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 22, 2015


We often start the year with hope and promise, then fall so hopelessly behind that we forget about our planned course of action to end up where we started – thinking about the things not accomplished (and where all the time we had intended to spend on them has gone), placing them back on our “priority lists” for next year. Following-through on the “fresh starts” you seek this year can only happen when an intentional course is charted – when groundwork has been laid and planning has been done – prior to initiating your journey and intentionally carrying-on - taking life one step at a time.

Before setting (or renewing) resolutions for 2016, you should reflect on how specific actions made a difference during the past year. Were you able to accomplish all you wanted at work…at home…with those you love and care for? Are you in a better (or worse) place than when the year began? What happened to you “in spite of yourself” rather than “because of something you did?” Until you are able to identify “what is” and realize “what has been,” you will never be able to travel down the road towards “what could be” as you seek the possible rather than settling for that which is (and always will be) probable.

Successful individuals define objectives, consider as many possible “roadblocks” as can be reasonably anticipated and plan to avoid these obstacles before moving forward with definitive actions. To these individuals, success is not just a possibility – it is a foregone conclusion! When one sees more “downside” in failing than “upside” in succeeding – becomes hesitant to act for fear of what might go wrong – success will remain an enigma. Success eludes those who think “Why?” as it attaches itself to the actions and words of those who truly believe “Why Not?” We must recognize that SHOULD change happen, only when we accept and embrace the altered paths that open up to us will we assimilate the new realities we are presented.

Are you willing (and able) to accept change IF what you want to happen does occur? When we explicitly resolve to do something DIFFERENT, we must implicitly accept that our comfort, circumstances and situations WILL NOT remain the same!  We must leave our shelter before we can climb the summit if we hope to experience the view of a new horizon.  If we would prefer to remain where we are - to accept the view that presents itself to us as being the best we will ever see - perhaps it might be better to find comfort with what you have rather than wasting time and energy to discover something different that will be left unrealized.

There may have been a time where “keeping up” with the world allowed one to maintain their position in life. We live in a knowledge-driven world – one in which the only constant is change. To avoid another year of failed expectations, approach your “resolution process” systematically. Make sure you exercise your right to live – to make decisions, accept responsibility for change, assume accountable for implementation AND enjoy the praise when your dreams come to fruition (or take intentional action should your path fall short of its intended destination). Some basic things you should consider before closing out your old year and exchanging it for new hopes, dreams and opportunities would include:

Review your last year’s accomplishments. Identify what you resolved to accomplish last year. Celebrate your successes by “shouting them from the rooftops” to a friend or co-worker. Determine if the obstacles keeping you from tasting success were “inside or outside” of your control – and if anything was done to eliminate the roadblocks that prevented you from realizing your goals. Do not forget to list successes from the year that were not part of your resolution process. Just because you did not “resolve” to initiate a change does not mean “credit” should not be taken for its accomplishment. The difference between successful people and those that seem to hover at the edge of greatness is often one of perspective. Some assume success is a foregone conclusion while others think of it merely as a remote possibility!

Clearly define and record your goals for the coming year. Share them with someone you trust to establish accountability. Telling someone, however, is not enough. You should maintain contact with your “support network” throughout the year to keep you “on task” and focused. Secret goals are rarely accomplished and no (or low) expectations rarely result in significant change.  While "shooting low" will keep you from being disappointed, it will never reward you in a meaningful way, either..

Believe that “Nothing is impossible.”  Too many people confuse “impossible” with impractical or improbable. All things are possible - our only limitations are typically fiscal, physical, timing, confidence issues or a lack of knowledge. We will inevitably face detractors and naysayers whenever we try something new. Do not add to your apprehensions, doubts or inadequacies by questioning yourself before beginning!

Regardless of what your goals might be for 2016, remember that the only bad resolution is one never resolved. The only wrong action is action never taken. The only unforgivable mistake is one that did not teach. Reflect on last year’s successes - replicating the positive actions that “made a difference” while thinking about your failures just long enough to understand what went wrong so you can avoid repeating them.  When you consciously resolve to move forward - taking one step at a time - the sky will be your only limit!

Friday, December 18, 2015


People react to challenges differently.  Some seek comfort from every storm – preferring to remain within the safe harbors of life, never venturing outside the protected coastal waters as they accept the remnants and wreckage that wash up to shore.  They allow others to seek new adventures – to conquer unknown territories and discover treasures far beyond their ability to imagine.  They are gulls finding sustenance in things discovered and discarded by others.  To them, a gentle breeze may become a raging storm – the tranquility of their calm disrupted by even the smallest pebble tossed into the sea.

Others seek adventure – preferring to face the storms of life head on rather than finding comfort within anyone’s harbor.  They hear the howling in the wind and seek to identify its source – wish to find where it came from before watching it go away.  They recognize that the wind cannot be contained nor captured but often dream of riding upon it – of soaring above the earth that holds them as they seek new horizons not yet discovered.  They prefer to identify opportunities as they move boldly forward in life rather than seeking comfort in what they have accomplished.  Where some could not fathom being a hawk – hurtling down towards an unknowing prey – these individualists could not tolerate being a scavenger – relying upon the efforts of another for sustenance.

We move through life leaving each season behind as we anticipate all that the next might bring.  We might do well to fill our emotional pantries with thoughts of grandeur – with hopes and promises – rather than doing as we have always done while expecting different things to happen to us.  As you begin (or refresh) your journey through life, take time for the little things to become big.  Do not move so fast that you fail to enjoy the journey as you seek a destination.  Find time to help others along the way – for when the going gets tough others may be the only lifeline available to keep us going.  Live life to its fullest – focusing as much on the joy in the journey as you do the gold at the end of the rainbow.  More than anything, find peace and joy in all that you say and do – seeking comfort from your discoveries rather than being satisfied to discover comfort within the status quo.  Should you begin to feel that “where you are” is better, safer or more secure than “where you could be,” remember that:

·       Dreams take time, patience, sustained effort, and a willingness to fail if they are ever to become anything more than dreams – Brian Linkoski
·       It may be that those who DO the most, DREAM the most – Stephen Leacock
·       The greater danger for most is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that it is too low and we reach it - Michelangelo
·       We know what we are, but know not what we may be - William Shakespeare
·       When the winds of change blow, some people build walls while others build windmills - Chinese proverb

There is no limit to what we can accomplish when we seek results and conclusions rather than recognition and credit.  We can find ongoing satisfaction when we claim success during the journey – acknowledging each step taken as we run the race rather than waiting until our quest has ended to find satisfaction in the efforts we exhibited.  We accomplish many things not yet imagined and bring to fruition countless things not previously realized when we allow our dreams to materialize.  We gain much from life when each step is celebrated as an accomplishment rather than looking only to the goal at the end of our journey.

It takes commitment, determination and intentional action to move beyond the storms that often darken our lives to the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  As we end one year and begin another, think about all you have accomplished BUT do not sell yourself short by resting upon past glories.  Identify the reasons things may not have turned out as you wished, internalizing what you may have learned from those challenges, BUT do not allow yourself to dwell upon your failures or shortcomings.  Think about what has yet to be realized and chase your dreams with unbridled enthusiasm.  The winds of change can be felt but never captured – controlled but not contained – but will carry us through life as long as we keep our wings outstretched and our eyes upon our goals.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Were we to live in an ideal world, everyone would focus more on new beginnings than on conclusions or endings.  “Drawing a line in the sand” would define more our intent to move forward than keeping us from stepping back – to establish that we are initiating a new path or direction rather than highlighting where we would prefer to leave.  Far too often, people think that closing one chapter is more important than opening the next – that finding closure is somehow more critical than initiating change.  As the year winds down, many give thanks for the blessings they received AND establish lines in the sand to initiate changes in behavior for the coming year – mentally placing barriers in place that “prohibit” them from doing what was considered “wrong.”  Personally, it would seem that a line in the sand should serve as a springboard that launches one into the not-yet realized reality existing deeply within their imagination rather than a blockade that prevents them from slipping into bad habits without offering an alternative course of action.

In order to initiate change, we must recognize that what we are doing could (and should) be done differently if we are to expect altered results.  In order to accomplish this we must receive more “gain” than we experience “pain” in the transition.  We must reflect upon the past, embrace the present, and seek to clearly differentiate our dreams and/or goals, then (and only then) act intentionally to bring them to fruition.  Rather than artificially ending each activity before starting another, allow each day’s sunset to bring closure to life so that morning might offer a fresh new beginning – learning to anticipate what is in store rather than holding on to (or beating yourself up) over what has passed.  Far too many well-intentioned individuals stagnate just across their line in the sand because they were more concerned with defining where they had to move from than they were with charting a new path and moving forward in a new direction.

As the year winds down, rather than making resolutions to be something differently, resolve to become what you wish to be.  The next time you draw a line in the sand, think about the new realities that will be established through the actions you will be taking rather than focusing upon what will no longer be done because you stopped performing or acting in an unacceptable manner.  We build the future upon dreams that become reality – not on the actions taken to avoid negative consequences.  Should we build our world around what we wish NOT to happen, how can we ever focus upon the dreams and aspirations of what COULD become reality?  Refuse to live in a world of “what is” as you walk away from “what has been” if you seek to exist in a land of possibilities.  Aspire to become all that you can possibly be (rather than extending what you have been into what might be comfortably different) and you will find yourself pursuing an existence of “what if” or “what could be.”  Unfortunately, too many individuals accept change that unintentionally presents itself as being all that is possible rather than actively and intentionally seeking that which has not yet been revealed, tested or considered by others.

When you decide that change is necessary (that staying where you are is no longer a tolerable option – that moving ahead holds more potential reward than remaining within your established comfort zone), refuse to limit your potential by focusing upon what you wish to leave behind.  While we can achieve short-term change by blindly running away from our fear of falling back to what we have always been or doing what we have always done, lasting change happens when we intentionally move forward towards destinations not yet known – seeking to establish new realities upon which to build future dreams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


America was built upon the concept that great individual effort can result in unprecedented personal reward - that individuals can realize unlimited opportunity through hard work and the effective utilization of their abilities and resources.  It is also a country born of rebellion seeking a place to exhibit religious freedom.  We strive to leverage our potential to achieve endless possibilities yet our “roots” establish within each of us a morale and ethical duty to provide for all.  We are created equally BUT, having different gifts, interests, abilities talents and capabilities, should not expect nor feel we are entitled to receive EQUAL REWARDS unless we invest equally to create results.  While we all taste success, life is a reflection of equitability rather than of equality. Our efforts do not create EQUAL results - they produce results that reflect EQUITABLY against the abilities we have developed, the intelligence we apply, the effort we put forth and the outcomes we achieve.  Rather than expecting to receive equally because we were blessed to live within this great country we should be thankful we can receive proportionately to the efforts we put forth – that the American Dream of becoming whatever we wish to be can become a reality in the lives of those willing to invest their time, talents, abilities and resources.

Thanksgiving recognizes the sacrifice made by many AND the relationships developed within a new land in celebrating the sweat equity invested to make the harvest possible.   Some farmed, some hunted, some cooked, some served – but all shared in the feast they helped prepare.  We possess different gifts, abilities and competencies so we ARE NOT presumed to be equal in our ability to produce or achieve results.  There are many contributors to the harvest.  If all hunted – or all farmed – there would be very little variety on our thanksgiving tables.  Our Thanksgiving Holiday – one of two truly American Holidays – epitomizes sharing, celebrates the harvest and focuses on giving thanks for the bounty our great country provides.

Our country has survived many challenges from outside its borders.  We have overcome adversity, established ourselves as world leaders in almost every endeavor we choose to pursue, and shared our riches (and resources) with many having less.  If the greatness of our country is to survive, we must brace ourselves to overcome attacks from within – attacks on an individual’s ability to demonstrate excellence, the opportunity to reap the rewards of individual efforts, and the belief that one is limited ONLY by his or her own shortcomings – by embracing the freedoms and unlimited possibilities we currently have available to us.  

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, consider not only the harvest but also the work that went into preparing for it.   Hold tightly to the freedoms we enjoy while striving to provide similar opportunities to those less fortunate RATHER THAN diminishing our own rewards in an effort to minimize the gap between those who “have” and those who “have not.”  Celebrate the effort and be thankful for our abilities rather than focusing upon the rewards the efforts produced during this Holiday season.  Recognize the sacrifice that allowed us to live as we do and the ongoing commitment needed to maintain our abundance.  Maximize our potential by leveraging the gifts and resources we have been given to provide appropriate rewards (that can be shared freely and willingly with others) rather than attempting to tax or restrict the fruits of those that labor so that the rewards can be distributed equally to those unwilling to invest in their own futures.  Be thankful for the investor as much as you are for the return on his or her investment.   

Do not allow football, “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” to overshadow Thanksgiving.  Enjoy time with family and friends, holding dear the hard work that brought the dreams of those who came before us to fruition.  Pray our efforts can help fulfill the dreams we hold dear while establishing new possibilities for those who will follow as we celebrate the unique opportunities our great and free country provides.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving this year, focusing upon the many blessings you have received (rather than worrying about the things you have not yet achieved) and the bountiful harvest we enjoy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Every relationship has its own unique and individual characteristics that makes it work well.  When a person becomes involved within any relationship – be it a working or a personal commitment – he or she begins to look for the underlying culture of trust and respect that has been established (or can be developed) as both a confirmation of their decision to participate or an indicator of their choice to leave.  The actions and behaviors of those in leadership create a corporate culture (the efforts and beliefs of employees working within the organization help it grow to maturity) much like each participant within a relationship offers input when choosing which road should be taken (the final selection being influenced by the degree of trust that has been established within the relationship).
High Trust organizations (and relationships) share characteristics that lend themselves to a higher level of productivity, efficiency, personal investment and effectiveness because they believe that trusting others to do the work with little or no oversight does not “negatively impact” the achievement of established goals. 
High Trust Relationships are:
·       More productive and efficient because they need less layers of management or redundancy. Projects, assignments or the resolution of situations can be given freely to others because a high level of trust has been established that provides confidence the work will be done (correctly).
·       Cost effective because fewer follow-up meetings and discussions are required so individuals can “actively supervise” less while expecting (and receiving) independently generated results.
·       Dependent upon open and honest communication allowing for two-way suggestions, clarifications, input and advise.  If one party within the relationship begins to feel “left behind” by the conversation or ignored when choosing the resolution of a problem, he or she will begin to “do what they are told.”  Rather than becoming a vital part of the solution they begin to be an extension of the problem.
·       Celebratory to the work (and accomplishments) of others.  They look for and find the “positive” accomplishments of others and build upon what is being done well rather than focusing on the “negative” of what went wrong or was not done correctly.
·       Accepting of others.  They let go of the need to control with the understanding that mistakes happen and learning occurs.  The DO NOT allow others to continue to make the same error continuously without modifying the behavior that caused the problem.  Trust must not be confused with poor judgement.  High Trust Relationships provide for “walking beside” others rather than always clearing the way of obstacles so that detours or obstructions are never encountered.
·       Always seeking ways to improve outcomes by encouraging participation, engaging individual passions, leveraging abilities and rewarding positive contributions.  They solicit input from “the team” as a critical part of any effective solution – knowing that a good solution the team supports often produces better results than the best solution imposed by others.
High Trust relationships are value centered and rely on others to be open and honest about the status of their work and ideas.  They teach the importance of letting everyone own the results of expended effort (sharing in the rewards).  Most formally (or informally) assign a “leader” to monitor progress and help clear the way for effective decisions to be made but do not give that person the authority to impose his or her will in an unimpeded manner.  It is hard to convince a team that “we trust you have the best interest of the organization in mind” if we never allow its individual members to make decisions (or learn from failure).  
High Trust relationships clearly communicate that all individuals involved are responsible for the work that needs to be done, expected to speak up if barriers to getting results are encountered and accountable for the results achieved (accepting both the rewards of success and the need to respond and react to failure).  Trust cannot be established within any relationship until we are able to demonstrate (not just say) that we let go of the control most seek, give responsibility AND accountability to others (genuinely seeking the thoughts, ideas and opinions of others before moving in a new direction or changing a well-accepted process.  Unless (and until) we are able to trust others we cannot expect to be fully and unconditionally trusted by others.
Trust is difficult to attain (but easy to lose and sometimes almost impossible to recover).  Trust cannot be claimed – it must be earned.  Trust is not a “nice-ity” within a relationship – it is a necessity.  It is not an objective or a destination but rather a path and a process.  In order to effectively move towards a high trust relationship we must increase communications (both verbally in our “saying” and passively in our “active listening”), discuss openly the things we often consider privately when making significant decisions that impact others and clarify our expectations (someone CANNOT be trusted to do something if they do not know what needs to be done).  In order to establish trust we must create more open doors (rather than closing ourselves within an impenetrable fortress) and open more windows (so that questions can be asked AND heard) while providing (and accepting) any support that might be required to bring a concept to fruition.  Until we open ourselves to experience all that is around us as it contributes to the realization of our world, we will but view our surroundings rather than immersing ourselves in the dream of accomplishing all things possible. 

Friday, November 6, 2015


The world has become a place in which change is the only constant.  If we stand firm without seeking to improve ourselves or increase our contributions we may find ourselves “on the outside looking in.”  While many seek work, the sense of security offered by a solid job can become a prison from which one cannot escape if it fails to provide the opportunity to grow and advance – the ability to contribute, receive appropriate rewards and be adequate challenged. 

In today’s competitive environment, people can find contentment with what they have accomplished (becoming stagnant within their lives) or they can reach beyond “where they are” to a place not yet imagined (if they hope to taste success, fulfillment, recognition or growth).  Looking back (instead of ahead), remaining content with the present (rather than using it as a window into the future), and doing what works (as opposed to seeking what might be more efficient, productive or require less effort) are signs of terminal stagnation.  When we seek nothing more than we have and wish to do nothing differently than what has been done in the past we can expect to achieve only what has been previously accomplished.

Everyone faces failure during their lives – it is how we REACT TO failure that defines us.  Some avoid risks and the possibility of falling short by travelling ONLY upon the paved highways that lead to well-established destinations.  Others welcome the difficulties that enter their lives as being flames that temper steel – the rough times that challenge us in life (as long as we learn from them rather than allowing them to defeat us) strengthen us and our resolve to reach heights not previously discovered.  In order to climb these mountains, however, we must recognize that before every summit comes a valley – that before any accomplishment comes many times of trial – and that a truly innovative leader does not ALWAYS win (but he or she DOES have many “false starts” before finding the correct path to follow).  As we travel this long and winding road we must recognize some of the pitfalls that limit our potential – that minimize our ability to bring dreams to fruition – as recognizing these traps can help to keep us from a self-imposed prison that could, if left intact, become our reality.  In order to ensure success – to learn from our mistakes as we seek to leverage our experiences towards future success, recognize and actively avoid these precursors of failure:

·         Continually upgrade and apply your skills and abilities, refusing to accept “what is” as an end but rather as a means to “what will be.”  We once felt that “learning” equated itself to earning – that once we “arrived” in the world we had reached the top and could climb no higher.  What was once necessary to maintain life-long success is no longer sufficient in today’s world.  A secretary needs word processing proficiency (rather than relying upon exceptional “typing” skills).  Many production workers need to run automated machinery or understand statistical process controls (rather than performing repetitive roles or jobs requiring limited skill sets).  An HR Professional must maintain his or her knowledge of legislation impacting the workforce to insure compliance (rather than simply staffing an organization and maintaining a respectful community in which to work).  A homeowner must understand the demand for energy when rewiring his or her home (or the circuitry will not withstand the demands placed upon it by our reliance on electronics).  Individuals who “fail to know” typically fail to grow.
·         Do not confuse being efficient with being effective or keeping busy with being productive.  An e-mail may be efficient, but a conversation could more effectively resolve an issue without extended “replies and clarifications.”  Leaving a note as to where you are might be efficient but calling someone to give a personal explanation can be much more effective.  A person may appear busy but unless a concrete objective is accomplished – a sense of urgency linked to the completion of a stated Organizational Goal – the activity is no more meaningful than dust in the wind.  Effective people make sure that every investment of time and/or energy has a direct and measurable impact – whether it be in their business OR their personal relationships.
·         NEVER believe you are irreplaceable.  In the workplace, when an employee feels that nobody could EVER do what he or she does, that employee has probably limited what he or she could ever accomplish.  If nobody else can do your job, then you will never have time to do anything other than your assigned tasks.  Individuals who believe they are “critical” to the Organization within their limited and specialized role do not typically grow – they simply reinforce stagnation and the acceptance of mediocrity.  If nobody else can do the things you do, you will never be able to seek new horizons or accept new responsibilities.  Individuals feeling self-important within their relationships often lead lonely lives as it is difficult to be important to anyone else when you become self-absorbed in your thinking and self-important in your priorities. 
·         Do not fool yourself into thinking you know all the answers.   One must always be open to new ideas, techniques, and ways of doing things in order to grow.  Innovation comes from applying new ways of doing things to accomplish existing tasks.  One can truly contribute ONLY after identifying the limitations of current systems, policies and procedures, asking questions as to how they might be improved then moving forward towards the adoption of more effective resolutions.  In reality, people who know all the questions (and are unafraid to ask them) are often more valuable than those who feel they know all the answers
·         NEVER forget (or refuse) to give credit to others – particularly when assigning blame to others should they fail.  People recognizing and acknowledging the ideas and actions of those who have taken risks to make things happen – and assume the blame if things go wrong – will win loyalty, be recognized as leaders, and become vital contributors to the activities around them.  When one assigns the responsibility AND holds an individual accountable for results (providing the opportunity to rectify mistakes should they occur), others are able to spread their own wings as they soar high above those simply doing what they are told or performing strictly within established boundaries.  Think about how much we could accomplish in life IF ONLY we did not care who received the credit!
·         We do not establish confidence and credibility if we always assume the lead.  A delicate blend of “me first” and “I am right behind you” is needed to gain another’s confidence.  A person is measured more by his or her actions than by their words (as actions shout while words simply whisper).  To retain credibility, others must be encouraged to grow up through the ranks – forging a path that the group can follow – with you “watching their back” to minimize the consequences of a fall.  A good leader cannot always be first – but must never push the team into avoidable trouble from a “safe position behind the lines.”

There are many ways to learn.  While learning from the failure of others is often easiest, acknowledging our own shortcomings AND moving forward from them is somehow a much more effective (and rewarding) road to follow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Communicating effectively is a process.  If viewed as an event, change will not be lasting.  People must become involved in transition, their ideas encouraged and fostered, with credit for positive change being given to them while “blame” for failure is assumed by whomever is truly responsible – and often by Management (or yourself) if no one act or event can be identified as being “at fault.”  We must focus on “fixing the crime” rather than imprisoning the perpetrator.  We should draw a verbal line in the sand and discuss “going forward” rather than stressing over things already said and done that cannot be taken back.  What good is it if we take the time to identify WHO left the barn door open while the animals are wandering further from home with each passing moment?  We must prioritize our communications to make them part of an effective process – beginning with what must be accomplished or resolved before taking the time to establish who is at fault or what was done to cause the problem.  Sometimes we learn more from failure than we do from success – failure often being a necessity for change – as long as learning from failure is a positive one-time experience rather than something repeated without consequence.  When others are involved, engaged and provided with transparent communications BEFORE change happens they tend to pull together for the “common good” rather than for their own personal gain.

As employees become invested in the organization, management often is seen as the galvanizing communicator of change rather than the initiator of hysteria.  Decisions regarding processes change and workforce adjustments are easier to implement when employees feel involved in the business’ direction.  Knowledgeable employees having the ability to speak up (being heard rather than ignored) usually understand the need for change, often anticipating it long before Management is willing to act.  In personal situations, communicating effectively by seeking input from those involved and asking for ideas rather than ALWAYS providing solutions will help us to accomplish more by expending less time, effort and energy.  It is always more effective to have two or more invested parties working towards the resolution of an issue or concern than it is to “do it all alone” (even if you think that doing things yourself will get them done right). 

Whether large or small – manufacturing or service – privately or publicly owned – businesses must exhibit a
“selfless, thankless perseverance” if employees are to become key initiators of change.  Praise loudly (while correcting softly) must be the mantra of leadership-driven change.  Credibility is the cornerstone of employee involvement (which, if tarnished, must be painfully rebuilt over a long period of time).  Providing feedback on the accomplishment of key outcomes is necessary to measure the effectiveness of change.  Involving employees (whenever possible) in the decision-making process helps both good and bad news be more readily accepted.  The same principles, when universally applied to any relationship (not just those we have in a work setting) will accomplish great things through the “pulling together” of diverse thoughts, ideas and perspectives as new paths are discovered and unimagined destinations are revealed.

Communications must be transparent, credible, and honest if employees (or those you speak with on a regular basis) are to trust the message and believe the messenger.  When entering a situation where good people are working hard to do what they feel best – but losing effectiveness because of misdirected activities and inefficient processes – we should ask questions (IF we want to make a difference) such as:
  • Why is this activity (process/choice/conversation) being done 
  • Is there “redeeming value” to the effort or is it needless busy work that takes time that could be better invested elsewhere?
  • How could this be done differently?
  • How much am I to blame for the situation?
Unless (and until) we ask to clarify – to identify the “what and why” of any given situation – we cannot begin to resolve an issue or truly make a difference (other than continuing to be a part of the problem rather than the initiator of a solution).
Effectively communicating with anyone is a journey rather than a destination.  As with any journey, begin by taking one step at a time then move forward while keeping your eye on the goal ahead (rather than seeking validation from where you have been).  Living in the past tends to isolate us from our “present” and prevent us from reaching our future.  Do not seek absolute comfort in where you are and what you have accomplished.  Being content with having become all you think you can be allows us to accept less from ourselves and others around us – giving up on all you might yet become or holding another back from reaching a new plateau from which to move forward.  Do not become so absorbed with yourself that you cannot hear other voices around you – becoming so locked into the accomplishment of your goals, aspirations and objectives that you fail to recognize new and unexpected opportunity. 

We communicate effectively ONLY when first we listen (using our two ears) and observe (with our two eyes) BEFORE speaking (using our one mouth) or acting (guided by our uniquely singular brain).  When we fail to prioritize our communications in this manner – when we act before observing or speak prior to listening – our efforts will be critically flawed.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Some people sleep without dreaming and awaken rested.  Others dream while sleeping and awaken inspired.  We must dream what we wish to accomplish before we can expect anything to happen.  What kind of life could be based on the premise that what “is” will never change – that bringing the beliefs, values, ideals and accomplishments of several together should serve only to advance the group to a position that society might deem as “possible” rather than elevate each proportionately based on the individual effort expended?  How can light be shed into the darkness if we are afraid to open the window to a world of possibilities?

Some (particularly those afraid or unwilling to learn from failure) proudly proclaim that setting low expectations will keep them from ever being disappointed.  They live life by meandering aimlessly upon roads paved by others – avoiding unexpected detours or excursions – finding comfort and security in the things that they know (and have seen) work.  Those setting no (or low) expectations – fearing the pain of failure more than anticipating the rewards of success – may survive in life but will not experience the “thrill of victory OR the agony of defeat.”  While accomplishing that which is expected and predictable they will rarely thrive or achieve their full potential. 

We de-energize our relationships when we focus upon the shortcomings of others.  When we pull others down – highlighting their deficiencies in an effort to elevate ourselves – we may rise to the top of a pool of mediocrity but will rarely reach the pinnacle of individual success to which we can pull others.  How can we expect our accomplishments to be maximized if we focus upon what could go wrong rather than trying to identify what alternative path or direction might provide better results?  Rather than seeing failure as a destination that should be avoided at all costs (or exploited for personal gain), perhaps much could be gained by viewing it as a springboard to success – a flexible base that could bring us back from the depths to an innovative or previously untested solution.  Believing that the “light at the end of a tunnel” is an opportunity not yet realized rather than a train heading towards us on a collision course reflects the assimilation of dreams into daily reality.

Accepting that our own (or another individual’s) weaknesses are insurmountable results in our believing failure is a probability (or at least an acceptable end result).  If, however, we acknowledge deficiencies as bumps in the road, relentlessly moving forward as we seek to accomplish our dreams – refusing to accept a disruption in our expectations as an “end game” to our efforts – we will find new ways to make things happen.  Destiny becomes an inflexible reality only when we allow ourselves to be limited by a lack of expectations and a fear of failure.  

All individuals have a past comprised of actions taken, relationships forged and things accomplished and a present comprised of the things they choose to do and relationships they maintain.  The future, however, is defined by what we allow ourselves to accept as a destination.  If it is the memories of what we once had, we limit ourselves to things already experienced.  If it be the comfort of what we have achieved, we limit ourselves to that we have achieved.  If, however, our future is defined by the dreams and expectation expressed within pages of a book not yet written, our possibilities will remain pathways to a reality limited only by our blind acceptance of those things we accept as truth or beliefs we accept as unalterable.  When our dreams become the things we anticipate and expect rather than simply things held tightly within the privacy of our individual hearts – when we awaken to the inspiration of our dreams as we accept the reality (and probability) of things once thought of as but possibility – ONLY THEN will we begin to realize our full potential by embarking upon paths once hidden beneath the sands of time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Have you ever thought about how much is said AFTER you agree, compliment or encourage a person when you clarify the comment by saying “but…,” “have you considered…” or some other extension?  When an employee comes to you with a suggestion or solution to an issue, do you stop yourself at, “Great work…let me know how it works!” or do you clarify by saying, “Great idea…what about…?”  Far too often we assume an idea is implemented once it is stated and gravitate to the “what’s next” phase rather than providing praise and validation for the idea or concept that was developed.  We move to the “next steps” without considering that the person initiating the solution has not yet put it into practice so our “it was stated so it must already be done” thinking may be a discouragement to them.  What we meant as encouraging is often heard as being condescending – minimizing the value of their solution by building a tower upon their foundation without acknowledging the work and effort that went into the initial phases of construction.  Recognizing the reality of this flaw does not eliminate it from happening.  I often find myself acknowledging that what was suggested is a great start BUT that I assume it is well on the way to implementation SO where can “we” go from there?

Relationships can also suffer unless we be careful about what is said after the “but.”  “That dress looks great on you BUT you should try something in blue.”  What do you think is focused upon – that the dress looks good or that the color is wrong?  “The lawn looks nice BUT what can we do about the weeds?”  Was your work appreciated or did you NOT do something that was more critical than what you DID?  Other examples might include:

·         “Thanks for helping out with the cleaning BUT you missed a spot.”
·         “I’m sorry BUT you started it.”
·         “It’s been a great vacation BUT I can’t wait to get back to work.”

Think about what comes AFTER the BUT in these statements.  THAT is what people around you hear.  Would you like to build a relationship with someone that focuses on what you did NOT do rather than what you DID?  With someone who deflected responsibility by sharing blame?  With someone that liked to be with you UNLESS given an alternative?  What is said after a clarifying extension can be disruptive in a work relationship BUT it can destroy to a personal one.

How many times have you complimented an employee, a friend or a family member only to be disappointed they did not respond to your praise as validating or uplifting?  Might you have minimized your compliment with an ill-placed “but?”  Have you been guilty of telling a child, “I’m happy you got an 89% on that test BUT I know you could have done much better?  You are smarter than that!”  What do you think they heard – that you are happy for what they did OR disappointed that they could not have done better?  Talking to an employee, if you say “Great work today – tomorrow we will be able to do even more!”  What do they REALLY hear – that you thought they did well OR that they should have done better? 

Acknowledging our tendencies to minimize the efforts of others is a great first step – accepting them as potentially destructive and committing to do something about them is more important.  As you communicate with others, think about what HAS happened rather than focusing so much on what COULD have happened (or on what has yet to be accomplished).  Give credit and praise rather than extending your comments or compliments with “BUT…,” “WHAT IF…,” or “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED?”  If extensions are needed, address them within a separate conversation RATHER THAN putting them behind a “but…”  Make sure that what is important is heard rather than being lost as insignificant noise – whether at work or in your personal life – as you focus on what really matters to others as well as yourself.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Most studies find that pay is not the most important reason people join (and stay with) an organization.  The way they interact with peers, are treated by management, and their overall satisfaction with job challenges (and opportunities) are far more critical than pay (and/or benefits) when attracting or retaining talent.  Pay and benefits, however, must be relatively competitive in order to attract qualified candidates (people will take a pay cut but typically only when offered the opportunity to advance or the chance to do something they were not previously doing).  In order to retain talent once attracted, however, compensation MUST be internally equitable (noting that “equitable” does not translate as “equal”).  During this time of strong talent demand and relatively soft candidate availability, retaining employees is much more cost effective than hiring replacement workers – and building an internal talent pool is a much more reliable source from which to identify individuals able to contribute to an organization’s growth.  To help in this regard, consider the following:

1)      Organizations without an objective means to establish a job’s value or worth (that will link value to defensible compensation practices) tend to pay employees more based on who they are and how long they have worked than what they contribute.  Whenever employers make pay decisions based on who is in the job rather than on what the job does for the organization, favoritism and inequity (whether real or imagined) will begin to destroy internal employee relations. 
2)      Strong merit pay systems tend to attract and retain high performers (and over-achievers) while “time in job” based systems tend to attract risk-averse employees and retain mediocre employees.  When goals and objectives can be established AND FULLY COMMUNICATED that link additional pay and/or bonus opportunities to their accomplishment, capable employees will step forward.  Systems that pay all individuals equally, regardless of their results, tend to equalize abilities (at a minimally acceptable level) along with pay (typically at an “average” rate).  Paying for time on the job, for effort or for “acceptable performance” fosters and promotes mediocrity within the workforce.  High achievers will not tolerate mediocrity as understand that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  The very individuals that most companies seek will flee an organization that allows (or tolerates) sub-standard performance.
3)      Internal equity is much more important than external competitiveness – and consistency is MOST important.  Employees who know (and trust) you will be fair and equitable (not necessarily equal) in your dealings with them become a big part of the organization’s ongoing success.  When employees doubt management credibility, or see the inconsistent application of policies or practices, they become more a part of the problem than the solution. While employees do not (nor should they) like everything we do as an organization, consistent and predictable practices must exist.
4)      Do not be fooled into thinking that business has established a “new normal” in regards to paying people at reduced rates.  Paying people the minimum for their talents, thinking they cannot find work elsewhere, is a “penny-wise” practice that may generate a short-term profit BUT will prove to be “pound-foolish.”  High-performers will abandon such a sinking ship quickly, leaving for organizations that recognize (and will reward) their value.  It is strange how many organizations will pay more for an “unknown replacement” than they will pay to retain a known commodity! Pay, however, is not the ONLY reason employees join (or stay with) an organization.  Some companies have found that raising their “entry rates” by $2.00 to $3.00 per hour MAY help them to attract workers but that, in and of itself, will not overcome a negative environment.
5)      Compensation Administration IS NOT a static science.  You should review pay ranges against market regularly to reflect changing conditions.  Individual pay rates should be adjusted (based on an organization’s ability to do so) to reward exemplary performance.  You should also review benefit offerings (and costs) annually to insure that adequate competitive coverage is provided in a fiscally responsible manner.  Finally, equity is potentially more important than competitiveness OR equality.  Remember, fairness IS NOT equality (many top achievers have left organizations when treated “the same” as everyone else) and culture IS often more critical than “being competitive” when managing talent.

Some have said that “attracting talent” is easy but retaining talent is a lot harder (as it takes a personal investment of time and energy).  Establishing INTEGRITY, however, is potentially the most important aspect of managing talent.  As with any relationship, when we say what we are going to do then do what we said, we establish and gain credibility.  Not everyone will LIKE you when leading through change BUT it is your role to “make a difference” in the lives of those around us.  Begin by making a difference in YOUR OWN life as well.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Their aimless wanderings lay behind them…
Their paths weaving desperately through the wilderness…
Coming near then veering away…never quite crossing or becoming one. 
They stood at a crossroads…
Looking back in an attempt to see how their lives had unfolded...
Looking ahead towards a future not yet defined.
   Increasingly tired of their struggles within a thankless world…
They sought a path that would lead towards truth…
An obscure trail that would carry them to a brighter future... 
Deliberately they turned, moving forward into the vast unknown…
Leaving behind the comfort and security their past once held…
Intentionally embarking upon a path that would change their lives forever…
                                                                           An excerpt from “Life’s Path To The Promise of A Dream” by Dave Smith 

Why do people seek change?  What makes us decide to do things differently – particularly if the things we are doing provide us comfort or bring us success?  What makes us wander from “the familiar” in search of unknown opportunities?   With summer’s passing and a new, hectic fall upon us, we all tend to seek different ways of doing things - resolving to change in ways that will allow us more free time, success or tangible rewards.  Several factors must be recognized, however, if we wish to move beyond our current station in life – beginning with the deliberate consideration of an intentional action that, when taken, will forever change where we are as it redefines where we are going (one cannot do the same things they’ve always done and expect different results).

Everyone desires success (though success cannot be granted to another for we all define it differently).  Far too often, however, success breeds arrogance, which leads to complacency.  If we ride a single success beyond its effective lifespan…thinking “our way” is the only way…someone else will either assume our market share (by improving upon what we do), force us to change (by revealing the shortcomings of our established approach), or disrupt our stagnant but comfortable existence (by offering a more exciting option).  We must actively appraise the things we do…both in our work and our personal relationships…if we wish to remain vibrant and relevant.  By continuously analyzing our strengths and weaknesses, identifying those that hold us back and enhancing those that pull us forward, we will remain effective.  Recognizing that the only constant in life is change will allow us to accept the possibility of failure (and the learning it brings).  Success does not come, however, from frantic movement without direction or purpose - we must occasionally stop what we are doing so we can start something else!

To initiate change one, three major issues must be intentionally and consciously addressed:

  • We must acknowledge where we have been, recognize what we have done, and wish to be something different before we can start travelling upon a new path.  How can we better serve our customers?  What can we do to improve a relationship?  Must we alter our behavior so that we can remain relevant within a changing world?  Whenever we recognize our goals have changed we must step from our original path onto one that will refocus and redirect our efforts.
  • We must stop doing the things we are doing – that we have always done – no matter how effective they may have been in the past.  While identifying what must be done to create meaningful change, paths (and methods) needing abandonment will inevitably be revealed.  Can a workforce that values time off from work be effectively disciplined with suspension?  Can an individual communicate effectively without embracing technology and learning how to “entertain” using Power Point?  Can two people maintain a meaningful relationship if neither is willing to see two sunsets in the other’s moccasins?
  • As we identify and abandon the things that hold us back we must continue doing things that produce positive growth and change.  We all have personal strengths…characteristics responsible for the success we have experienced.  Everyone can celebrate a “peak of accomplishment” in their past.  Far too many of us, however, choose to dwell within the quiet valleys while gazing up (and establishing value) on past accomplishments.  In order to realize meaningful change we should continue doing the things that brought us to our heights…and discard those that brought us to our knees.
People must change more than their outward appearance if they expect their path to shift significantly.  We often hear about “new and improved” products only to find nothing but the packaging has changed.  Television networks frequently move a failing show from one night to another in order to gain viewers from a less competitive offering.  If we are resolved to change we must consciously decide NOT to “stay the course” by innovatively clearing a new path into an unknown wilderness.  We must acknowledge our past (both the wins and the losses) before we can define our present (from which we must move forward) if we harbor any expectation of creating a different future. 

A change in season often triggers a desire to alter our behavior and move forward to a more promising future.  In order to accomplish change it is important that we continually take stock of what we are doing and where we are going – then actively seek paths that will lead us from complacency to new destinations, new relationships and new opportunities – within this earth we call “home.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Much has been written about success.  Recent articles have identified successful individuals as having persistence, ambition, and the ability to see a process or project through to its inevitable end.  Many view success as “winning” rather than “losing” (but winning for some might be losing for others).  Success could be viewed as having reached educational benchmarks within predetermined time-frames as measured by “passing” or acceptable scores on objective tests.  Success could relate to one’s work (are you fulfilling your potential?), to one’s personal life (are you significant?) or to one’s status (are you SEEN as having “arrived and achieved” by others?).  In each of these typical definitions, success is considered more of a destination than a journey.  While it is not wrong to measure success by reflecting upon one’s accomplishments, it might be ill-advised to use such an absolute yardstick as the only measuring device.  I would suggest that truly successful people focus more on the “means” than the “ends” as they approach life – and most would (in some way) adhere to at least seven presumptions about success.
  1. You can become anything you wish to be or do anything that you wish to do in life BUT success cannot come from trying to be what others feel you should become or do ONLY what others think you should accomplish.  One can achieve success ONLY if living out their own dreams rather than going through the motions to accomplish the desires of another.
  2. There is no limit as to what can be accomplished when you do not care who receives the credit for doing the work or gets recognized for initiating the idea.  Successful people often initiate processes or suggest destinations while leveraging results (rather than recognition) as the springboard to further discovery.
  3. The only bad decision one can make is choosing not to decide – the only truly wrong action that can be taken is UNINTENTIONALLY allowing something significant to happen in your life.  Successful people recognize that time does not stand still – that conditions, expectations and priorities may change BUT that any course correction must be INTENTIONAL rather than accidental.
  4. Successful people surround themselves with individuals that challenge their decisions and compliment their abilities.  Unsuccessful people surround themselves with people that make them feel good and that agree with what they say or do.
  5. One can either learn from their mistakes or be defeated by them.  Those who are successful often spend more time picking themselves up from the ground than they do running smoothly upon it – learning what did not work as they seek what has not yet been attempted.  Those that fail often look for consolation for their wounds from others and seek refuge from life’s battles within the comfort of the hole they may have fallen into.
  6. When one does not care where they are going it is almost impossible to get lost.  One cannot fail if no goals are ever established.  One cannot “miss the target” when shooting an arrow into an empty field.  Not surprising, though, one will never taste success unless a target is available, a goal has been identified or a destination determined.  Success is a process rather than a result – a stepping stone along the path we travel rather than a ledge upon which we can seek shelter or an island upon which we might become content.  The RESULTS of success may be stability, contentment, popularity power or security but one cannot bring a dream to fruition – or raise another to his or her full potential – without taking intentional action to advance from the “here and now” to a “potentially bright “future reality.” Doing nothing gains nothing.
  7. Success is not measured by how many things one accomplishes but rather by how much is learned along the way and how many people have been impacted during the journey.  Successful people are rarely satisfied with “what is,” choosing instead to pursue “what could be.”
Successful people do not live in a “probable” or “predictable” world.  Things that can be easily accomplished have already been done.  Successful people live in a world of unlimited possibilities – seeking to achieve what others have yet to consider, resting upon their accomplishments only long enough to rest and re-group before moving on.  Whether it be in work, at play or within their personal relationships, successful individuals build their dreams upon a solid and credible foundation.  They seek to experience the winds rather than to capture them – to benefit from their “comings and goings” rather than needing to define them within absolute parameters.  They establish (and achieve) personal goals rather than living to accomplish the expectations of others.  They learn from their mistakes (but do not repeat their lessons more than once) and act intentionally (even if they “intentionally” choose NOT to act at any point in time). 

Success will come when one seeks to be all they might wish to become, invests the time and energy into equipping themselves to accomplish great things, stretches their limits by reaching for new horizons not yet identified, and refuses to accept temporary setbacks as the end of their journey.  Unless (or until), such sacrifices are made, success will be as elusive as an eagle floating effortlessly upon the wind – something mysteriously beautiful to be seen but not to be experienced.