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, May 20, 2016


This posting is an excerpt from the recently published PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO LEADERSHIP available through Amazon.  Thank you for following, commenting and encouraging the publication of passages from Dave’s Deliberations and may you find pathways through life that take you to places you never dreamed possible.

There are three ways we can try to change another’s behavior.  We can order someone to change, enforcing the altered behavior with penalties or threats (coercion).  We can provide a reward or some other external recognition that is of value to them should they change (motivation).  We can provide a path that will make them a better person or allow them to be something different than they are (inspiration).  Whether in a business or personal relationship – or any role in which we find ourselves interacting with another in order to accomplish a single objective – positive and meaningful change results from an intentional action (even if one intentionally decides not to act) rather than an accidental happenstance.

Supervisors often coerce individuals to change.  They issue orders, give directions and tell people what to do (and often how to do it).  Theirs can often be a world having few opportunities for independent action so they provide even fewer chances for people they supervise to act independently.  While supervision IS (thankfully) changing, many individuals leading work that can be accomplished without much training or preparation spend much of their time assigning work, reviewing processes and measuring results, leaving little time to invest on motivating or influencing altered behavior.  Rather than asking or laying the groundwork for change, they direct and monitor activities so they can achieve on a personal level but often negate individuality when coercing change.  In personal relationships, individuals who coerce others often tear them down to build themselves up, focusing on “what went wrong” rather than celebrating “what went well.”  Coercive individuals tend to get what they want but may get ONLY what they want, with their gains being short term and of limited value.  Telling someone how to do something produces quick and focused activity but rarely the best possible results.

Managers often motivate individuals to change.  They identify alternatives, provide choices and give people reasons that make them want to alter their behavior.  When combined with punishment for not changing, motivation can be a powerful means of producing results.  The problem with motivation, however, is that an external force must initiate the change.  In a working relationship, a manager often identifies what is best for all involved parties then initiates action by spelling out what will happen if change does not occur (coercion) but also what will happen should favorable change occur (motivating the alteration).  As long as a manager is present to identify a suspect behavior and provide reason to change, good things will happen. Rarely, however, will an employee used to constant motivation see the need to change unless they continue to receive external impetus.  Much can be accomplished when individuals are motivated to change – the problem with motivation, however, is that an object at rest (or an individual whom is content to do what he or she is doing) tends to remain at rest (or doing what has proven to be comfortable).  Until one is convinced that they must change their behavior if they are to receive different results, they will not experience growth.

Leaders inspire others to change.  Rather than telling people what must be done they show individuals a better way.  Rather than dwelling upon an individual’s negative behavior they reward positive efforts.  Leaders paint a picture of “what if” or “what could be” rather than one of “what is” or “what will always be.”  A leader makes people want to change in order to achieve something they wish to have, accomplish or become.  Inspirational change goes beyond telling (coercion) and past selling (motivation) – it leads another towards self-actualization.  Inspiration causes people to see why changes should take place, creating an internal desire to abandon who they are to become what awaits them.  Inspirational change is often caused by one’s desire to “be like” another or to achieve what someone else has accomplished – to make oneself (or another) proud of their actions.  In a personal relationship, inspirational leadership makes another want to join in (rather than follow) and to share the "road less traveled" (rather than taking the quickest, fastest route to nowhere).  Rarely will inspirational leaders tell another what must be done or how to do it – they allow their actions to speak louder than their words.  When we look to be that which has not yet been identified we initiate lasting change – which becomes the platform for continued growth.
Whether you choose to coerce, motivate or inspire change, recognize that an individual must see a reason to change before they will abandon their ways to pursue a new horizon.  We cannot CREATE change within an individual – we are only able to initiate it.  We cannot FORCE change within an individual – we are only able to guide it.  We cannot make another do that which they choose not to – we can only provide positive reasons to act AND identify negative consequences should one choose not to act appropriately.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Change cannot be happen unless (and until) we identify what needs to be altered, why it needs to be modified, what resistance we might face when setting and embarking upon a new and different course and what we expect to accomplish – what positive outcomes and results might we realize.  We must establish goals that not only define where we wish to travel but address the route we might choose and any detours that could disrupt our journey.  We should include stakeholders whose participation could “make or break” our safe passage as well as those who might be impacted (either negatively OR positively) by a change in course. 
While gathering input from others is a good thing, effective change most typically comes through GUIDED discussions that are focused on an initial anticipated outcome (even if the outcome and objective might change during the facilitated discussion) rather than wide-open agendas having no leadership or coordination.  Good leaders often set goals then gather input from stakeholders as to how they might best accomplish the established objective.  Great leaders often identify what needs to be changed, talk to stakeholders about why the change must happen, then work with others to move towards a resolution that is better than what is currently in place BUT that may end up being but a resting point rather than a final destination. 
In order to initiate (and successfully implement) change, end up in a different place or experience unexpected results, one must:
  •          Set a realistic and attainable goal
  •          Involve stakeholders who may be impacted by change
  •          Initiate action then either lead, follow or get out of the way
  •          Monitor progress and generate (and communicate) reports to maintain momentum
  •          Feel free to change course if conditions change BUT communicate both the new direction   AND why the focus must shift – defining the new destination – prior to acting
  •          Be willing to persevere (potentially against all odds) if the reward is worth the risk
  •          Praise loudly and publicly when actions or activities deserve recognition
  •          Criticize quietly and privately when needed BUT NEVER without offering alternative solutions or actions to the path that did not produce anticipated outcomes chosen by the individual or group
  •          Place the value of change above being recognized as its initiator or the one responsible for its accomplishment
  •      Internalize the belief that much can be accomplished if one does not care whom receives the credit for its being done
When considering making a change, be bold.  Look at what could be accomplished then set your sights just beyond that horizon.  Anyone can “get by” in life – only those willing to risk more than they have already accomplished will gain more than they might ever have imagined possible.  Set goals that will test your limits yet still be within the realm of possibility if you seek to advance rather than being content maintaining.
Choose goals that, if achieved, actually mean something to you and those around you. Goals based on important, closely-held values will be the most meaningful AND you will be more likely to achieve them.  Our willingness to change is much higher when we WANT to do something differently than it is if we ARE TOLD to act differently.  When seeking change, give yourself the best chance of realizing your goal by directing your efforts towards its accomplishment (while recognizing and rewarding each measurable step towards its accomplishment).  Recognize there is not “right or wrong way” to achieve results.  If you must focus on one step at a time while focusing all your efforts towards the accomplishment of each individual task, establish your expectations accordingly.  If you “multi-task” and feel the need to juggle multiple priorities, establish systems that will allow you to diversify your efforts yet maintain a reasonable timetable for the completion of a variety of activities.
Change WILL happen regardless of what we may say or do. The keys to managing and accomplishing successful change cycles would include:
  •          Identifying what must be improved (deficiencies) and objectives (outcomes)
  •          Planning alternatives
  •          Reacting to disruptions
  •          Anticipating objections
  •          Responding to detractors (and distractions)
  •          Monitoring activities
  •          Reporting progress, and
  •          Maintaining momentum
  •          Concluding efforts and initiating “closure”
  •          Repeat – as often as necessary!
If goals are significant and meaningful, they do not need to be numerous nor earth-shattering.  We all must learn to walk before we can run.  So too, we must be able to handle “the little stuff” before we can be expected to change the world!

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Everyone makes decisions throughout their life.  Whether meaningful or insignificant – personal or professional – the decisions we make and actions we take are the building blocks of the life we are able to live.  Unfortunately, many people restrict their decision-making abilities by over-researching an issue or situation keeping them solidly planted “where they are” rather than allowing themselves to move towards “where they could be.” New leaders often feel pressured to take action that results in change to prove their value.  Good leaders typically research their alternatives before choosing the path that will most likely lead to success.  Great leaders go one step farther by learning to anticipate unexpected results – always tempering their intentional actions with an understanding of potential risk – before making what appear to be “judgment calls” that culminate in good decisions.

Great leaders involve others in the decision-making process by leading them to a solution rather than pushing them to a conclusion, allowing them to see both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of any action taken.  They allow others to make mistakes (from which they will ultimately grow) so they can initiate a successful resolution process rather than continually sheltering them from harm’s way.  Involving the people needed for implementation in the decision-making process allows them to make better judgments in the future.  Helping others make better decisions will minimize the number of critical calls we must make ourselves.  When others are involved in the decision-making process, learning from both their successes and their failures, they gain the confidence to lead.  It is important that we enhance and add to the experiences of those working with and for us so that they might be able to contribute (and be ready to take over when we are ready to move up) rather than “doing it all ourselves” and finding that nobody is capable of taking our place.

The key to making great decisions is maintaining “mental flexibility.”  It is OK to change your mind if the conditions or situations driving your initial decision change.  It is never wrong to act – it is wrong only to act without first considering all the ramifications involved with the actions you take OR by simply failing to act due to fear of the unknown.  The only bad decision is one not made, and the only inexcusable action is one occurring unintentionally.  Being unafraid to make a mistake from which you can ultimately learn is critical for our greatest rewards are often born through the painful experiences of our losses.  Far too many people wish to receive results without taking risks – seek to enjoy the rewards offered by doing something differently without investing the effort needed to initiate change. 

Those able to make great decisions seek that which is possible rather than settling for that which is probable.  They tend to reach for what they dream rather than limiting themselves to what they can see – recognizing that dreams and imaginings are the precursors to great discoveries ONLY IF they are allowed to initiate action.  They have learned that if consciously doing nothing provides a better result, it is more advantageous to temporarily hold back (until the situation or conditions change) than to foolishly rush forward.  Before acting one should ask not only “what should be done” but also seek to determine “why” action should be taken – weighing the potential benefits of doing something against the repercussions of doing nothing.  Do not EVER simply fail to take action, however, because unintended consequences often follow unintentional inaction. 

Rarely will a truly exceptional leader step into a position of authority without having first performed many different jobs within an organization demonstrating a wide array of responsibilities and experiencing both success and failure YET many seek roles that would allow them to make decisions that might lead to success having no prior knowledge or experience.  Great decisions cannot be made unless one first acquires the proper tools (training and/or experience) which would allow them to leave the “here and now” without fear of failure as they move towards what has yet to materialize as a new reality.  We would not expect a business owner to “hit the ground running” without any knowledge of operations, administration, or marketing.  We often expect newly appointed supervisors and managers, however, to lead without receiving any transitional tools or training to help them direct the work of others.  We expect new parents to raise their children flawlessly without any previous experience or knowledge. We expect relationships to grow and blossom without experiencing the reality that another must come first (rather than last).  Gaining life experience through watching, seeing and participating in a variety of different activities OR enrolling (and engaging in) training programs designed to enhance a skill set are critical parts of an effective decision-making process.  Good decisions require experience-based judgment allowing us to “let go of what we have and who we are” so we can move from being “great doers” to being a leader who can accomplishes much through the intentional (guided but independent) efforts of others.