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, 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.