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!

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.