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, March 23, 2016


Change happens regardless of what we may do, think or try to influence.  Growth, however, comes only through (and because of) our intentional actions.  People both love and hate change – though we often like to immerse ourselves in the familiarity of keeping things the same (comfort, security, job, environment, friends, relationships, etc.), we really want our lives to improve by providing us with new opportunities and rewards (with minimal risk, discomfort, negative change or inconvenience in our lives).  While wanting to be rewarded with more responsibility, money, influence, friends or power, we often prefer to reap a new and bountiful harvest after planting the same seeds we have used in the past – to gain the prize without entering the contest.  We often refuse to invest the necessary “sweat equity” to make change happen.  Hoping that good things will come to those who wait (without doing anything to initiate a difference), we are more than happy to accept change when it is handed to us without risk of failure or disruption of status quo.  If we have to identify areas needing change AND intentionally act to overcome them so that we can move forward – leaving what we know while seeking a reward at the end of a rainbow we have not yet investigated – THAT is a different story.  When we hoist our sails to move towards a new tomorrow, we may not always know where the winds will lead us.  Simply catching hold of the wind, however (IF we are willing to raise our sails to harness their limitless power), can help us move from the comfort of our existence to the potential of what could be but has not yet been imagined.  We must be willing, though, to push ourselves from the shores of tranquility should we wish to experience any new opportunity that might await.  Some thoughts, attitudes and perceptions that might help you maintain focus while bringing your dreams to fruition as you sail into and through life’s challenges would include:
The only way of identifying (and negating) what limits our possibilities is to push those inhibitors aside while seeking what might be considered to be impossible (or at least highly improbable) to those around us.  When we restrict our actions, reactions and responses to the ways and methods with which we are familiar, nothing will change.  Only when we dare to act in ways we have never before acted – to think in ways we have never before thought – will those things that were once beyond our reach become possible.  In order to maximize the potential of success, we must recognize the resistance we will face, respond to the concerns our detractors will present, and devise a plausible, acceptable alternative to the status quo that often holds us back with a false promise of security.  To move from where you are to where you wish to be, and perhaps even beyond to where you cannot even imagine, tear down the walls that limit your reality to what you have always known and what you have always been.  Unless (and until) we are willing to accept the ramifications of our actions – to continuously move forward towards an ever-changing target rather than finding comfort and settling down along the way – we will never accomplish more than has previously been completed nor receive greater rewards than have been previously received.

If we spend all of our time identifying why something WILL NOT work, how can we ever hope to initiate recognize (or realize) what just might be possible if only we were to try?  How can we change or become someone we might wish to be if it entails doing things that have never been done or accomplishing things we never thought possible if we limit ourselves to those thoughts and actions that are as much a part of us as the air we breathe?  Allowing an individual to learn from failure is possibly one of the best gifts we can give.  When a person must turn back due to unexpected turbulence after charting a course and setting sail, two things happen.  First, the individual will (hopefully) learn from his or her mistake by recognizing the signs of turmoil and acting to avoid them before being hopelessly overcome – either by setting a course that circumvents the problem or returning to safety and planning safe passage prior to embarking again.  Secondly, and perhaps more important, they learn to correct their error in a way that allowed them to move forward towards the accomplishment of their goal.  While staying down after failing may be easy (particularly if someone else is there to pick up the pieces and comfort you after your fall), picking oneself up after falling down is the most important part of learning from failure.  Unless (and until) we move ahead we will never advance.  Learning by experience is much more beneficial than listening to someone else say which way to go or what road to take – for doing another’s bidding is never a good or adequate exchange for initiating and accomplishing our own dreams.  We should plan, anticipate and think of reasonable alternative approaches prior to starting any task BUT must not delay our journey by succumbing to “analysis paralysis” (caused when our fear of failure diminishes our chances of success by preventing us from ever beginning the race.   When we stay behind the starting line it is impossible to finish the race as a journey cannot be concluded unless it has begun.

The person who achieves greatness often fails frequently.  Should a person never make mistakes it is because they have attempted only things that have already been accomplished OR they seek to accomplish only things that anyone could do.  Life is not a carefree path we take while moving towards an idyllic destination.  Life is fraught with pitfalls, traps, snares and impossibly steep embankments.  It would be nearly impossible to go through life without making a mistake, so quit trying to be perfect!  Some of the world’s greatest inventions came out of failure.  Our greatest presidents frequently tasted defeat before they were elected.  Many business owners have failed in an endeavor before experiencing success.  Rare is the relationship that has not survived at least one catastrophic incident – and rare is the individual who has not survived at least one catastrophic relationship.  Learning from our imperfections – recognizing that mistakes provide the knowledge that can prevent them from being repeated – can lead to greatness. We need not shout our failures from the rooftops or publicly flog ourselves for being less than perfect but, if we are to grow, we must use our shortcomings as a foundation upon which success can be built – and can do so ONLY if we acknowledge their existence, learn from the lessons they teach and refuse to be discouraged by their occurrences. 

Knowing what to do is not enough – we must apply our knowledge to initiate change.  Willing something to be done is not enough – we must intentionally act to accomplish transformation.  Recognizing the difference between right and wrong is a good start – showing integrity in the decisions we make and the actions we take validates who we are.  Value is established not by what we know but rather by how we apply our knowledge.  While knowledge is critical, and we must study to gain fundamental understanding, we must apply what we know and practice to perfect its application for our intelligence to be of any use to anyone.  We could THINK about writing an article, note or memo all day long but nothing would happen until we engage our minds, make some sort of sense from our thoughts, apply the words we think of in a logical order and put them into a format that can communicate our intentions to those we wish to influence.  Any action creates an opposite and equal reaction, both in physics and in life.  Intentional action is a prerequisite to change.  Plausible and acceptable actions are the precursor of success.  Appropriate actions will generate anticipated (or hoped for) results.
Only when we risk more than others think is safe, care more than others think is wise, and dream more than others think is practical can we expect to accomplish more than others think is possible.  Until we truly believe, however, that ALL things are possible, it matters not how great a risk we take, how deep our cares may be nor how significant our dreams may seem for our results will be limited by the probability of success we have established rather than by the reality that anything is possible.  We get from life only what we put into it.  When individuals slide through life applying minimal effort to accomplish easily achieved goals they typically receive very little.  Success is not measured by how few times we fail but rather by what we learn from our efforts and how we apply that knowledge to accomplish great things.  We rarely rise higher than we expect ourselves to rise nor fall lower than we allow ourselves to fall.  When we truly EXPECT to accomplish the most improbable things and seek those things we believe to be barely possible, we will almost always taste success in whatever we say, do or aspire to accomplish.

Friday, March 4, 2016


During the best of times, many of our excellent worker’s abilities are diminished or devalued when we promote them into leadership.  Far too often organizations move their “best technician” into supervision, take their most efficient employee at “doing” and expect them to teach, or ask their innovators to troubleshoot existing processes.  We expect employees that were a part of the team on Friday to become “leaders of the pack” on Monday - without doing anything to prepare them for the transition.  If difficult when things are going well, think about how rebuilding an organization to meet changing business demands when major alterations are needed might compound the problem.  If processes are strong, methods foolproof, product refined and employees experienced we may be able to move a strong individual into a leadership role IF all he or she must do is maintain the status quo.  Unfortunately, the only thing in life that is guaranteed is change – and individuals hired to keep things as they are rarely handle the stress and pressure of crisis transition well.  In order to equip individuals with the resources needed to lead we must identify some of the more significant changes that a promotion might initiate.

When we ask new managers to prepare for an increase in volume, to undo all that has been done wrong and to improve employee morale without first setting the stage for change (none of US would ever do such a thing!!!), we are making a huge mistake.  There are, however, ways we can maximize the chances of an individual’s success.  Before any employee (or individual) is expected to move into a leadership role (whether at work, at play or within a personal relationship), make sure they are aware of several critical management factors (AND they are given the opportunity to consider what it means to make such a transition rather than simply being given the promotion or being put in a leadership role to steer through a personal situation or resolve a relationship issue):

  • As a Supervisor, you can no longer be a friend to your past peers.  You must elevate yourself to being a fair and consistent “boss” that no longer is one of the gang but is now the voice of the Organization. As a leader, the weaknesses or “negative behaviors” you may have once accepted from your peers must be confronted and addressed.  You may have to determine pay increases or carry out disciplinary action to make sure that each employee is treated equitably (rather than equally).  Where you may have complained with and to others about “oppressive Company policies,” you must accept that you are now part of the “problem” you once complained about so you had better start becoming “part of the solution” or you will be seen as ineffective (by Management) and unfair (by those you have been charged to lead).  Once elevated, you earn the right to question privately while accepting the responsibility to support publicly.  Being respected must replace being liked.  Consistency must become the final consideration for every decision you make.
  • People will usually accept change IF they are consulted first.  Consulting an employee (or someone that might be impacted by an alternative process, direction or attitude) about how to best implement change DOES NOT mean that you are going to do exactly what they suggest.  It DOES mean you have sought their input by asking “what if?” questions so that support can be secured before change is imposed (Why do we do things the way we do?  What if we try doing things differently?  What would make this a better process?  What is the worst that might happen if…?).  Most individuals can accept doing things differently – even if it is not the way they may have chosen to do them – as long as they feel their opinion was considered before change is implemented (and they understand the reason for the change rather than just being told to act differently.
  • Understand that you are now a member of Management and, as such, you must accept
    direction, oversight, goals and visions (rather than poking at the decisions or direction provided by others).  When you were “one of the gang,” you did not have access to the discussions or considerations that went into decisions that were made.  Likewise, your team does not have the insight you now have into the full context, short- and long-term impact or strategic positioning that might lead to decisions or changes from the status quo.  It is YOUR responsibility as a leader to show people not only where your organization is going but also how they can help to make change happen (while painting a clear picture of where it has been and why staying there is not an option).  You must typically “sell” others more often than you “tell” them, encouraging their “ownership” of the change (allowing them to take credit for aspects of the transition even if credit was not due them).
  • Employees can be motivated (or held hostage by) compensation, can be captivated by their work assignments and influenced by their surroundings BUT if employees do not like you, they will leave the organization.  If they don’t like the way you do things they will complain to others.  If employees (or someone with whom you might wish to be in a relationship with) does not like the way you talk to them, they may ignore what you say.  If those you are expected to influence do not see any REASON to listen to you – be it a lack of consistency, credibility or integrity on your part or no understanding on their part as to why they should give you the time or space to be heard – you will be unable to significantly alter, change or in any way influence their behavior.  Recognize that it is your job to accomplish the Organization’s mission by working to fulfill its vision through the coordinated efforts of all those who work for you.  Being popular or liked is not a primary management criterion – being fair and consistent is required.
  •  If you prefer to do rather than to tell, to perform rather than to plan, to create rather than to coordinate, or to react rather than to anticipate, perhaps it would be better that you pass on the prestige of promotion.  Not everyone is “built” to be a manager.  One must recognize their strengths AND acknowledge their weaknesses, acting upon both, to be a valued contributor tasting a degree of success in life.  Unless (and until) one is able to rise WITH others (rather than upon their backs), elevate others to their greatest potential (rather than bringing them down to feel better or more important) and give others individual “credit” for success (so that all can reap the rewards of the efforts), he or she may not be “suited” to lead.  

Moving into management is a huge step for anyone.  When opportunity continues to grow and expectations are high (while resources are low), it is an even bigger leap.  If you ask someone to move into leadership – or are asked to do so yourself – make sure the ramifications of transition are understood AND the tools necessary to make the move are provided.  Leadership provides a unique opportunity to express yourself – through both your own actions and the thoughts and actions of others.  Accept the challenge with humility and curiosity – seeing it as an honor and a privilege while seeking to do things “the way you would have liked to see them done” prior to your being elevated – and new doors to unlimited opportunity will open to you (requiring ONLY that you move forward and enter fully in WITHOUT holding so tightly to the comfortable “past” that you cannot see or embrace “the future”).  The implementation of change without first preparing for the ramifications of change is destined to fail - turning what should be a reason to celebrate into a true disaster!