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, January 26, 2016


Life holds limitless possibilities – often influenced by the choices we make (or avoid making) every day.  We have many opportunities to make a difference – most influenced by the way we perceive an issue, problem or situation – yet often choose to obfuscate our influence by neglectfully doing nothing rather than intentionally doing something.  Successful people decide to act when action is necessary (and INTENTIONALLY choose NOT to act when allowing a situation to run its course).  What many of us do not recognize is that taking no action can often create as much significant and meaningful change as planning and implementing for change as long as we are willing to accept the results of our inaction.  When we preface failure with validators such as “but,” “if only” or “it wasn’t my fault,” we discount any learning that our efforts may have produced by excusing our shortcomings and minimizing the need to succeed by accepting less than our best. 

Complacency is the strongest of emotions – possibly more powerful than love or hate because it represents an acceptance of everything and a lack of conviction for anything.  Complacency cannot be argued or discussed – it is simply “existing” without living.  Complacency obscures any thoughts of change behind the mask of “But,” then buries it forever beneath the surface of “If only”.  People often justify their inaction by using these deferral words only to find that avoidance not only fosters failure, it encourages unsuccessful endeavors by presenting a plausible alternative.  When we impose the “I would have accomplished something if not for…” or “We would have succeeded but…” excuses, we are accepting failure as a reasonable expectation and removing any need to achieve.   

Awareness – and the taking of action based on that awareness – is the key to eliminating complacency as you chart the path upon which you choose to travel.  Some examples would include:

  • “I could have made a difference in that organization (or in life) but I was fired (or dumped) for no reason!”  While some people lose their job for “no apparent reason,” and others end relationships “through no fault of their own,” more often people DO (or do not do) the things that create (or lead to) their own situation.  If an individual COULD HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE, why was “the difference” not made when the opportunity was presented?  If a relationship “went bad,” what were you doing to nourish and maintain it when it was “good?”  In order to avoid blaming others for “things gone wrong” we must often take intentional action aimed at preventing things from going bad rather than waiting for the book to be written (and published) before wanting to rewrite the final chapter.
  • “I should have done things differently but I knew nobody would have listened anyway.”   How could
    you know if nobody would have listened if you chose not to speak?  Most people using this excuse assume that they won’t be heard.  Did they truly have something worth saying when they had the opportunity or do they typically talk so much that nobody would know if what they had to say was “suddenly important” should they have made a suggestion?  It has been said that the only bad question is one not asked.  Likewise, the only poor action is one not taken.
 Nearly as frustrating (and equally as hopeless) is the individual who hides behind “If only…”

  • “I’d be living on easy street if only I’d been recognized for the contribution I personally made to my job (or my relationship).”  Far too often people expect an immediate “return” for their efforts and are disappointed if they are not given one.  Few people can find reward (or satisfaction) in their individual accomplishments or progress made towards the completion of a goal (rather than the completion itself).  Most, it would seem, require verbal recognition or visible rewards to come from “outside” rather than “inside” to be meaningful.  If every situation (or relationship) were blanketed by an attitude of “how much can I give” rather than “how much will I receive,” we might find ourselves too engaged in basking within our accomplishments to seek excuses for our failures.
  • “I’d be happy if only someone cared about me as much as I care about them.”  It is not possible for a person to make another feel good about him or herself. Caring about others is an admirable quality.  Doing it with the expectation that another will return the feeling is folly.  I have never seen a “conditionally caring” person happy – nor have I often seen the recipients of conditional caring return nearly as much as they receive.  Giving freely – with no expectation of anything being given back – often produces an exceptional return on your investment.
Self-defeating (and action deferring) statements might make sense to someone looking to take the easy way in life, but not for someone passionately believing in maximizing the human potential.  Success will come ONLY when we replace “if only…” with “what if?”  It will touch our lives ONLY when we eliminate the concept that “I would have done this but for…” and replace it with “I’m glad I did this because…”

Friday, January 15, 2016


We often seek to understand people by observing what they do then try to determine what causes them to act in a particular way RATHER THAN trying to establish why they continue to act the way they do.  People invariably act in ways that provide them comfort, security, an escape, protection, or some other perceived benefit.  If we truly want to share a mutually beneficial relationship with and better understand people, we should focus on why they CONTINUE to act in a certain manner – determining what the personal benefit is for them to act that way – rather than trying to determine what happened to make them act that way in the first place.  Shifting one’s paradigm a bit from the cause of behavior to the reason it is maintained will help us understand why people do the things they do – and how to better influence behavior when it needs to be changed.

Since so many of our interactions with people are driven by emotions (rather than hard, documentable facts or results), we should acknowledge several factors that must be addressed prior to helping someone change their behavior:

YOU CANNOT CHANGE PEOPLE – THEY MUST CHANGE THEMSELVES.  No matter how hard you try, or how influential you may be, you cannot alter the way another thinks, acts or behaves JUST BECAUSE you think your way is better.  Until someone recognizes that there is a reason to change – that their present reality is not necessarily the way they want the future to be – they will not alter their behavior.  It is better to seek ways to maximize the positive that someone can offer than to try to alter the negative until they can be convinced there is a reason to change. 

THE REWARD FOR CHANGE MUST BE GREATER THAN THAT PROVIDED BY STAYING THE SAME.  People do the things they do because they like (or accept) the results of their actions.  If you want someone to change their behavior, you must provide a greater benefit for their changing than they would have received without alteration.  Many people break the speed limit because they feel their risk of “being caught” are relatively small compared to the time they gain by going fast.  Once ticketed, most slow down (at least temporarily) because the pain of compliance is greater than the gain their behavior created. 

COMFORT IS THE BIGGEST INHIBITOR OF CHANGE.   INTRODUCE AN UNDESIRABLE DISRUPTION INTO A COMFORTABLE LIFESTYLE IF IMMEDIATE TRANSFORMATION IS WANTED.  Why do New Year’s Resolutions rarely come to fruition?  Typically people seek to exorcise the “biggest elephant in the room” when setting New Year’s Resolutions.  They identify the one thing that has eluded them all year – if not their whole life – and decide to eliminate it from their innate behavior patterns overnight.   After a day or two of intentional change, most individuals fall back into their daily routine – to their comfortable patterns – often abandoning the desire to change because it is not critical to their lifestyle.  I was hesitant to change jobs once NOT because I received continual challenge and opportunity from my work but rather because I was comfortable doing what needed to be completed, liked my peers, and had gained respect and credibility from my workforce.  I was not actively seeking to change employers UNTIL I realized the organization I worked for might cease to exist in a year or two.  A disruption of my comfortable lifestyle initiated a life-changing transition – but not until I recognized that the risk of leaving was less disruptive (and much more controlled) than the alternative of staying.

All people can change should they choose to – and all will change if they are properly motivated.  As you work with people (or even try better to understand yourself), focus on what value current acts or actions provide AND on how that value can be increased should a different path be followed rather than on trying to change your actions or acts to “something different” without knowing where you might wish to land or what you intend to accomplish.

When one begins a journey having no destination in mind, he or she will never be lost along the way (because they do not know where they wished to land).  One may never experience personal failure when doing ONLY what has been specified, directed or dictated by another BUT they will never taste individual success.  One may be at peace when finding comfort and safety within their present reality BUT may be disappointed should they ever question “what could have been” rather than accepting “what is” as all that could ever be.  People CAN and DO change but all we can hope to be is the INITIATOR of change in others – they must seek alternatives and follow-through with actions in order to accomplish transition.  We can, however, be the originator and implementer of change within ourselves if we hold onto what we have just long enough to become committed to what we seek until we can realize what might be possible (rather than accepting what is).

Monday, January 4, 2016


We must never try to be someone we are not.  Many individuals start the New Year with fresh “resolutions” to do something (or be something) different.  Unless there is more gain from the change, however, than pain from NOT changing, such corrections rarely prove effective.  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 change their shortcomings.  As a “well known philosopher” (Dr. Suess) once 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."

The Holidays are a great time for people to sit back and dream – about what they have (or do not have), who they are (or who they might wish to be), and what they want to do differently so that they can achieve an altered result.  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).  Unless (and until) we dream of something different, nothing will change.  If, however, we wish to have change without recognizing where we are or what we are currently doing and consciously initiating a course of action that will move us from our present towards our “wished for” future, we will never feel the “thrill of victory” as we will be helplessly mired within the “agony of defeat.”

While “failure” is not a desired (nor welcome) outcome of change, dreamers often recognize that there is a very real possibility they may not achieve immediate success.  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 that might happen to them – failing to try is a far more impactful (and personally devastating) choice.  While much intentional thought and deliberate action is required to succeed, individuals making a difference in life recognize that nothing of significance is ever accomplished without having to overcome criticism, conflict and doubt as they move from the established road to a path less traveled.  Further, if thoughts are to become reality, the word “impossible” must never be considered.  While facts, information and well-considered alternatives are the building blocks of change, when our dreams become real to us – taking on a life of their own as we strive to fulfill the possibilities that they present – the facts do not really matter.  What we BELIEVE we tend to ACHIEVE – it is those things we only wish and hope for (without acting upon) that often fail to materialize.

Life is a series of starts and stops – of closed chapters and of new beginnings.  Most have heard that insanity is doing things the way they have always been done while expecting the results to change.  If we are to realize change it is important that we not only recognize the need for altered behavior as we plan for a different outcome but that we also intentionally ACT to make it happen.  Knowing the facts and understanding how to make change happen does not ensure transformation.  Even if we know what must be done AND recognize our role – realizing the path that must be taken should we choose to leave where we are in pursuit of what we wish to be – we will be run over and left behind if we just sit and consider what the next steps might be.

During times of change – of altered perspectives and intentional actions that create potential conflict and send us into uncharted waters – many seek to follow individuals more willing to take risks.  They hope for the rewards earned by those willing to risk much by hitching their wagons to another’s star.  They seek equality rather than equity in the world – often pulling 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.”  Think about how much could be accomplished (and achieved) if “those without” would be willing to accept the tools necessary to narrow the gap and learn how to use them to elevate themselves (rather than hoping to receive what they feel they deserve).

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 WE consider to be success before seeking ways that might move us from possibility to probability then INTENTIONALLY ACT to make our hopes and dreams become reality if we are to start fresh and experience change.  What might be possible if everyone worked towards an elevated goal rather than accepting their current reality as an end?  Imagine the heights we could achieve if all attempted to reach the top of their mountain rather than being content to rest in the shadows and valleys.  Think of the dreams that might be brought to fruition if all viewed their present position in life a starting point rather than a destination – a beginning rather than an end.  Make 2016 a year of transformation by thinking big and acting audaciously – embracing (without fearing) failure and accepting (without hesitation) each opportunity or challenge that enters your life.