The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Friday, April 24, 2015


Communications must be transparent, credible, and honest if anyone is expected to trust the message and believe the messenger.  When entering a situation where good employees are working hard to do what they feel best – but losing effectiveness because of misdirected activities and inefficient processes – employers must continually ask questions such as, “Why are you doing this?” “How could this be done differently?” “What can I do to make your job more efficient?”  When observing a situation in your personal life where someone is “doing all the right things” for “all the wrong reasons” – failing to find satisfaction in whatever results might be achieved – we should gently and gracefully point out not only what is being done wrong BUT ALSO what should be done differently.  In order to create change the individual (or group) responsible for performing an activity must have the authority to make change happen. 

Communicating effectively with employees is a process.  If viewed as an event, change will not be lasting.  Employees must become involved in transition, their ideas encouraged and fostered, with credit for positive change being given to them while “blame” for failure is (mostly) assumed by management.  Failure is a necessity for change – but learning from failure should be a positive one-time experience rather than something repeated without consequence.  When employees are involved, engaged and provided with transparent communications BEFORE change happens, they tend to pull together for the good of the organization 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 process 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 (or often before “the top” even recognized the need for change).  Effective communication happens ONLY when two (or more) people talk, listen and discuss prior to acting in a manner that is in the best interest of all parties involved. 
In regards to individual relationships and communications, people must recognize not only what another is thinking but WHY they have established that thought pattern as their “norm.”  We must hold our comments back long enough observe not only what they are doing but WHY they might be choosing that path, what will be the “logical conclusion” to their course of action and whether or not the decision might be “fatal” or simply inconvenient.  Allowing another to make a mistake, and to learn how to overcome the consequences of their decision, often strengthens their ability to thrive in the world rather than simply acting out the suggestions or preferences of someone else.  If someone is always allowed to “take the easy way out” by avoiding the tough decisions, he or she will be unable to contribute to a relationship as an equal.  A low tide allows the flock to feed but does not provide sustainable nourishment.  Similarly, an individual taking “the low road” to avoid conflict or confrontation learns to “keep his or her head down” but will rarely lead (as they are too content following).

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 thought processes can be applied to ANY relationship into which we enter – personal or work-related.  Praise, recognition, credibility and trust become the driving forces that make our communications effective AS LONG AS WE RECOGNIZE that effective communications should be viewed as a journey rather than a destination.  Our journey should begin with but a first step – proceeding one step at a time – allowing us to move forward with caution as we keep our eye on the goal ahead rather than finding comfort where we began.  We must not become so obsessed with our goal, however, that it cannot be refined, improved and modified by the input we receive and/or experiences we gain along the way.

Friday, April 17, 2015


True leaders emerge during times of trouble, turmoil and strife – riding the strength of their convictions to success – then thrive as conditions improve.  While there should be very little difference in your leadership style when facing unexpected hurdles (whether at work or at home), far too many “competent” individuals excuse their actions (or inactivity) by blaming them on or deferring them to others.  They bend to fit into their surroundings rather than standing firmly against life’s storms.  Seeking short term-gain (popularity, acceptance, being “liked”) often damages long-term credibility (predictability, consistency, being “fair.”).  Some examples of BOTH an appropriate action AND a “fall back” reaction would include the following:

A company is experiencing tough economic times and has asked Management to trim expenses.  Two approaches to this situation might be:

  • Inform employees that cutbacks and layoffs might be necessary due to reduced sales and increased inventory.  Task departments with the responsibility to find ways expenses might be cut with a minimal impact on staff by identifying productive work that could be done so that all staff can continue working while contributing to the bottom line. 
  • Tell staff to “look busy” because “top management” is out to cut employees and you do not want any of “your people” to be impacted.  In showing compassion to employees by “building a bridge with staff based on a mutual fear of top management,” this type of manager may avoid the “blame bullet” but will never earn recognition as a leader.  Deferring responsibility to someone else moves an individual from being an integral part of the solution to being an expendable part of the problem.
A Leader takes ownership of his or her actions.  By taking ownership of a situation rather than blaming another for an unfortunate circumstance, a good manager accepts and faces reality.   He or she affirms that things are tough (most employees probably already known this and are waiting for affirmation).  After stating facts, employees are asked to be involved in the development of a solution (getting “buy-in” will make even a mediocre idea achievable).  Painting a realistic picture of what could happen establishes ownership of the situation and adds urgency to resolving the problem.  Blaming someone else in order to remain friends or be popular is not a long-term solution.  A Leader, by the very nature of his or her work, leads (if not, he or she should either follow or get out of the way!).  Though accepting responsibility for decisions (even when they negatively affect the lives of others) is not always the easiest thing to do, it is always more acceptable than deferring the decision to another (“management says I have…”).  Your employees may not see you as their “friend” when you personalize your supervisory responsibilities but you will earn their respect when you are fair, consistent and predictable.
An individual has made a “bad decision” that could seriously hurt another’s feelings and tarnish his/her reputation.  No lasting damage was done nor was any long-term relationship destroyed but issues of trust and credibility may be involved.  There are always more than one way to address and resolve our personal failings but which of these three approaches might most match your first response (and is that the same as the “best” alternative)?

  • Ignore the situation and hope it goes away.  The individual whom may be harmed has not heard anything of your actions and you do not believe he or she ever will.  Adhering to the tenant “if it is not broke, do not try to fix it,” you walk around the elephant in the room and move on as if nothing ever happened. 
  • Come forward and tell part of the tale – enough to scratch the surface so if something “leaks” the person will be prepared and aware even if the full extent of the discretion has not been revealed but not enough to “spill the beans” or establish responsibility.  If additional details come out you can always discount the account or blame someone else for putting you up to it.  It is easier, after all, to ask forgiveness than to seek permission.
  • Fall on the sword, so to speak, by telling all and resolving to change.  Do not blame another – accept responsibility for your actions and deal with their repercussions.  Do not needlessly or intentionally hurt another in the recounting of your tale but make sure that you have learned from your mistake so that it does not become a recurring habit.  
Gaining respect and credibility is far better than trying to be a friend to those you manage.  Learning how to ask the right questions when investigating a situation – then listening to hear the truthful answer – will help you see “the forest from the trees.” Fools rush in – leaders learn to step back so they can ask why something was done rather than constantly pushing forward to address only  what happened.  A Leader takes his or her personal obligations more seriously than their work expectations.  Trust cannot be exhibited for a day unless it is consistently demonstrated throughout an individual’s life.  While taking the easy road (ignoring a situation or partially revealing a truth) may be less painful and create fewer short-term disruptions, individuals preferring to dodge responsibility for their choices and actions will never be seen as credible leaders when they are provided the opportunity to lead.  Great leaders thoughtfully and carefully consider all their decisions BEFORE they are made, making sure they are willing and able to accept the results of their actions so they can move forward with confidence to accept the rewards (or deal with the repercussions) of their actions.

We are bound to fall victim to our human vulnerabilities as we strive to become better leaders UNLESS we intentionally take the road less traveled rather than the easy path as it often produces a more ethical direction.  Remain true to your values – transferring the skills and aptitudes you demonstrate on a personal level to the workplace – as you say what you believe and do what you know to be right.  Praise often and loudly – criticize only when necessary (then only constructively) and in private.  Be the leader you were destined to become by equipping yourself with the tools necessary to accomplish the task – seeking and participating in training designed to maximize your ability to motivate others.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Far too many people try to be who they wish they might become rather than who they really are without investing the “sweat equity” required to initiate change.  In order to change our core beliefs and abilities so that we become whom we hope to be, there must be more gain from the change than pain from NOT changing.  People change very little once they have established their basic values, patterns and thought processes.  It is often easier (and more effective) to leverage an individual’s strengths than it is to try to build up their shortcomings.  As Dr. Seuss so 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."  We are who we become because of the choices we make and the roads that we take.  Should we wish or hope to be anything different we must consciously and intentionally decide to move from where we are to where we wish to be to satisfy and please ourselves RATHER THAN trying to do it for another – for what others think or feel really does not really matter when it comes to fulfilling our personal potential.

Before we can achieve we must identify what needs to be accomplished and visualize the path we should take to begin our journey – recognizing that the trail we take may force us to start and stop many times along the way but will deter us only if we allow ourselves to be distracted.  It may be that those who do most, dream most (Stephen Leacock).  We should dream about what we have (or do not have), who we are (or might wish to be), and what we want (and how that differs from our present circumstance).  One must first imagine something as being a possibility before it can become a probability – yet "Dreams take time, patience, sustained effort, and a willingness to fail if they are ever to be anything more than dreams." (Bryan Linkoski).  Dreams become the destination to which life leads us.  Those without dreams – without hopes of accomplishing more than they have or having more than they have been given – may live comfortably but will never achieve greatly.

While “failure” is not necessarily a desired outcome of change, it is rarely fatal.  We must realize
success rarely occurs without failure and that gain does not stand alone without loss.  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 in the world – the worst thing is to have never tried – to not “get up” after being knocked down by life.  Much intentional thought and deliberate action is required to succeed – failure becomes but the path of least persistence should we choose to avoid the pain associated with gain.  If we are to transform thoughts to reality, the word “impossible” must not be a part of his or her vocabulary.  While facts, information and well-considered alternatives are often the building blocks of change, perhaps Dexter Yeger appropriately described its essence saying, "If the dream is big enough, the facts don't count.”

Life is a series of starts and stops – of chapters coming to an end as pages are turned to reveal new beginnings.  It is important that we not only recognize the need for altered behavior but that we also intentionally ACT to make it happen.  Knowing the facts and understanding how to make change happen does not ensure transformation.  Will Rogers stated, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."  As we accomplish change – accompanied by our actions and our attitudes – we should embrace that we are here to add what we can to life, not to get from it what might be offered.  We cannot hope to be any different unless (and until) we consciously leave what we have as we reach for what we would prefer.  Comfort may be the result of one coming to terms with who they are and what they can do but it discourages change.  If life were meant to be stagnant we would not have been provided with a mind, a spirit and a free will to exercise our abilities.  We would have been rooted in place rather than being allowed to wander.  We would be comfortable and content within “the box” rather than seeking to stand upon it seeking new opportunities, discovering what “could be” rather than accepting “what is.”

Many 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.”  Would it not be better to provide “those without” the tools necessary to narrow the gap through their own productivity – to encourage them to dream then provide them with the ability to chase their dreams?  Mark Twain once 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 identify what it means, seek it without limitation then INTENTIONALLY ACT to make it become a reality.  Think big, act audaciously (without fear of failure) and keep your eyes focused on the prize (even if you begin to slide backwards along the way) as you incorporate the lessons learned from failure into success.  Then, and only then, will we become what we were meant to be rather than settling for what we are or living within the past glories of what we once accomplished.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Education, once a privilege, has become a necessity if individuals expect to find work within our ever-changing, constantly evolving world.  Life-long learning is a requirement for success and innovation – for any kind of job advancement – as we compete within a tech-driven world.  A high school education qualifies few for meaningful work as some form of specialized training or higher education is needed for even well-paying factory employment.  Life-long learning has become the standard for success – we cannot “arrive” and thrive anymore as we must view each accomplishment – each step of the ladder – as but a resting point rather than a final destination.  Mediocrity is the reward of the complacent – only those willing to invest (their time, their talents and their resources) will achieve excellence.  Unless we (as individuals) proactively and intentionally move forward, we will find ourselves drifting upon a becalmed sea without hope or direction – without a course we can chart that would take us from where we are to where we might wish to be.  Unless we identify AND move towards new opportunities as they present themselves, we will live like gulls as they scavenge through the debris that others have left behind.

Lost in the call for change is the definition of reality.  Should we prepare for the future by dwelling on what may have worked in the past to accomplish what needed to be done or by seeking new avenues and processes that might lead us to destinations that have yet to be realized?  Far too many people look into the tunnel seeking shelter from the storm rather than beyond it to seek opportunities yet to be realized.  It is important to live life recognizing both perspectives that a tunnel provides.  One can look into a tunnel as if it were a portal into the darkness, not knowing where it may lead OR as an entrance to the possibilities revealed when we look beyond the tunnel into new horizons not yet discovered or experienced.  

To succeed within a changing environment we must look back just long enough to acknowledge our
shortcomings so that we might analyze why our actions may have caused undesirable reactions (OR identify choices that led to success so they can be implemented elsewhere).  Understanding yesterday’s mistakes and acting to prevent them from recurring allows them to become tomorrow’s memories.  Repeating the same actions and activities hoping for different results becomes but a predictor of a future reality filled with disappointment and failure.

The only way we can thrive is by learning to accept the previously unacceptable - to innovate rather than dwelling in the comfort of our accomplishments.  We once sought knowledge so we could succeed by applying our "learning" to known, well-defined situations.  We learned to do specific activities, using tried and true techniques, to produce a known product, service or activity.  Today we must learn to think rather than simply thinking that we can "do as expected".  We must move away from rewarding effort towards encouraging accomplishment.  We must strengthen our relationships by focusing on the establishment and fulfillment of mission-based objectives.  We must accept the reality that people are not equal (so do not treat them as if they were) but rather are “built” with their own unique characteristics, skills and abilities.  

Greatness comes from leveraging the power of divergent thoughts, gifts and individual perspectives to create a consensus solution that will accomplish much more than could been individually imagined – from treating individuals differently while measuring their performance against defined standards and communicated expectations rather than comparing them to each other.  It comes from recognizing the value of those we choose to include within our lives around – to build them up so we can rise together to exceed our highest individual potential rather than tearing them down so we fall together to our lowest collective depths.  Our knowledge helps to establish our potential – our values (and how we treat those around us) determine our success.

Embracing the possibilities an uncertain future offers is much more productive than worrying about things we cannot control or obsessing over change that will happen with or without us.  Knowledge is power that, when utilized appropriately (ethically, consistently and with the good of the whole as a guiding principle) allows us to accomplish much BUT it can be gained ONLY when we seek (and act upon) opportunities to learn.  Pause momentarily to celebrate each victory, every milestone, significant anniversaries and worthwhile accomplishments but do not consider such achievements as being a final accomplishment.  Steps are but the path we should take as we move towards our final destination.  In order to realize our fullest potential – to build a limitless future from our present realities, we must celebrate progress as much as accomplishment.  We must recognize the importance of succeeding as much as we do success.  We must recognize the need for process and progress before we can expect to realize results.  We must innovate by applying all we know and learn to each new situation we face – by drawing upon our understanding of basic principles that can be extended to define a new reality not yet been imagined.

Each relationship we enter or task we begin becomes a path leading to an ever-changing destination or a destination in and of itself.  The former – a destination providing comfort, security and a “sense of sameness” that satisfies all needs and meets all expectations – may allow us to experience successes in our lifetime but we may never fulfill our potential.  If we choose to live life by celebrating the path upon which we travel as a continuum of wins and losses – of short stops and new beginnings – we will not only realize our full potential, we will achieve it.  Life is not measured by our time on this earth – by when we were born and when we die – but rather by what we do during our time – by who we touch, what we accomplish, how we live and how much “difference” we are able to make in the lives of those around us.  We can achieve what has not yet been realized ONLY when we realize (and act upon) all that has not been achieved.