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, June 29, 2016


Most books about leadership portray the stellar qualities and personality traits individuals have leveraged to bring them success with the expectation that others having the desire but not yet exhibiting the ability can emulate their thoughts and actions to create similar success.  Many of these books rail to recognize that knowledge alone does not guarantee success.  Only when we APPLY our knowledge to change an unacceptable situation by systematically identifying and eliminating those things keeping us from success (then replacing them with transformational thoughts and actions that create and establish alternative behaviors) will an environment that provides the opportunity to succeed be established.  Few “management experts” address the small, commonsense, practical things that often lead to management failure – thoughts, actions or characteristics that MUST be avoided if we are to realize our full potential.  Some of the mistakes a manager often makes that virtually GUARANTEES failure (yet seems to repeat expecting different results) would include:


Successful managers take the time to hone and develop their people.  Individuals perform better when they have a high self –concept – knowing they are fully equipped to perform any job that is assigned.  Managers of excellence recognize that elevating the skills of those working for them will enhance their own ability to contribute more to their organization (and realize the rewards of growth).  Individuals working for you should be capable of assuming more than their basic job responsibilities so that you have time to seek new challenges.  Unless (and until) a Leader’s work can be done by another – the basic aspects and expectations accomplished so that unexpected results can be shown – very little growth will be realized and success will be limited to what is being done rather than expanded to what might be possible.


Treating everyone the same will result in everyone BEING the same.  All organizations need people to “do” and perform BUT must also identify, encourage and retain leaders, dreamers, visionaries and risk-takers to propose new and untested pathways that create safe passage to previously unconsidered destinations and rewards.  Successful managers will reward excellence rather than celebrating mediocrity – identifying and recognizing individuals and their specific contributions to the greater good rather than defaulting to the “easy” way to go.  Treating all employees the same tends to encourage those who can truly contribute to take their talents elsewhere, leaving behind only those who are happy to receive good money for producing adequate (but average) results.  Nobody has ever ascended the corporate ladder while being weighted down by an anchor.  One must climb from a solid base of support in order to grow. 


Finding out who caused a major loss and addressing him/her publicly may serve to make sure that a mistake is not repeated – and the example will help to make sure that nobody else will make a similar mistake – but what is really gained by addressing the individual WITHOUT correcting the action that caused the problem?  We tend to protect and insulate people from the repercussions of their actions far too often in our “politically correct” lives, making excuses for them or forgiving them without consequence.  While people learn from their mistakes, they must be given the tools and the opportunity to change their behavior if they are to become the foundation of an organization’s success.  Weak managers critique and criticize – effective managers identify root causes and provide tools that minimize the chances of reoccurrence.  Good leaders NEVER attack the offender NOR do they ignore the offense.


Life is not static – it is a continuum of change.  The sun rises and sets each day.  Life begins and ends.  Relationships come and go.  Managers who expect their accomplishments to withstand the test of time without moving forward – viewing their successes as destinations rather than steps along the road to success – will be forgotten as quickly as their contributions fade or their successes are equaled by another.  Great leaders never accept the status quo as being sufficient – they seek to expand it.  They never accept “good enough” as adequate.  They see today’s end as tomorrow’s beginning – leveraging what has been finished as the starting point for what has yet to be accomplished rather than accepting it as an temporary pause within an ongoing concentric story.  While good things may come to those who wait, successful leaders often create their own future by acting in ways that are noticed by others – their results gaining them recognition without having to raise their own banner inviting praise.  

A leader’s success in not measured by what he or she is able to accomplish alone but rather by how much can be accomplished through the power of the team.  Leaders lead – plain and simple.  Unless (and until) the individual talent within an organization works together for the “common good,” creating a unified solution that is exponentially better than any individual’s singular contribution, goodness may be achieved but greatness will be allusive. 

I recently published PATHWAYS AND PASSAGES TO LEADERSHIP, a book encouraging and supporting leadership excellence by helping individuals:
·         Identify and achieve success
·         Proactively anticipate and work through change
·         Accept the responsibilities of leadership, and
·         Recognize the need for life and relationships outside of work.

Available on Amazon or through Barnes & Noble, Pathways and Passages to Leadership (by David J. Smith) identifies pathways (through pictures) that will provide safe passage (in words) through life’s challenges and opportunities.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


As summer returns, we are filled with the hopes of warm (but not too hot) days, peaceful nights lit by the flickering of fireflies, the sounds of laughter upon our plentiful Michigan beaches and a bit more free time to enjoy the environment in which we live.  If only life could remain as simple as our seemingly endless vacations portrayed it to be when we were young.  Perhaps we make life more difficult than it needs to be because we have abandoned some of the lessons we learned while running carelessly along a sandy shoreline – that if we were to look at life through our “inner child’s eyes” we might be able to accept things as they are while seeking what they could be rather than dwelling upon what went wrong or could never be accomplished.

As a child, dreams are built with and upon shifting sands.  Children spend hours building intricate castles upon the shore only to have them swept away in an instant by the tide – or plowed over during an impromptu game of football on the sand.  Though the fruits of their labor are washed out to sea or destroyed by an uncontrolled act, children tend to pick up the pieces quickly and rebuild their dreams as if they had never been taken from them.  Why is it that as we become older (and more experienced) we worry so much about WHY our efforts failed and what we might have been able to accomplish IF ONLY our dreams had not been squashed rather than moving on like a child to recapture the magic and make our efforts even more productive?  Much could be learned from rebounding like a child – from drawing a line in the sand as we move forward rather than trying to draw a boundary to keep others away from our creations.

“A line in the sand” can initiate a plethora of new beginnings for a child.  Asking someone to step over a line in the sand can be either an act of acceptance or an invitation to aggression.  It can be either a new beginning or the beginning of an end.  Drawing a line in the sand often implies that things are about to begin fresh with no holding on to unpleasant memories UNLESS we use it to isolate our belongings or represent a wall around us within a milling sea of humanity.  The pure innocence of acceptance is often lost as we age.  Adults often talk about drawing a line in the sand but rarely empty the memories and concerns that weigh them down like a millstone around their necks.  If our actions could return to those of a child – accepting another for what he or she is (rather than for what we remember or wish them to be), for how they act (rather than how we think they might act based on their past performances) and for what they seek to become as they cross the line (rather than what they may have been before it was drawn) – perhaps then we could truly “draw our lines in the sand” and move forward rather than continually falling back or holding on to things long past rather than seeking those yet to come.

While walking along the shore a child will find many lost and forgotten objects floating upon the waters – learning at a young age that one person’s waste can become the basis for another’s wonderment – that something considered to be trash by one can, with a little imagination, be another’s treasure.  The clutter left upon the shore at the end of the day tends to be gathered up by swarms of gulls during the evening, swept away by the pounding surf at night, then scavenged by early-rising treasure seekers in the early morning.  By the time afternoon comes, even the most cluttered beach has returned to its pristine splendor.  We need to recognize that even the biggest mess we can make in life will be swept clean over time – and that good will usually emerge from our failures UNLESS we dwell upon the loss rather than seeking the potential gains..

Children dream of what they might want to become “when they grow up” then engage in play that (they believe) will bring their dreams to fruition.  They do not grasp on to one destination nor activity, however, moving from doctor to policeman to nurse to teacher (though I’ve never heard of a child dreaming to go into Human Resources…imagine that!) – seeking to expand their horizons by stimulating their minds.  As adults, far too many wish to ESCAPE what they have and who they are during vacation rather than attempting to ENHANCE their careers (lives or accomplishments) or “recharging their batteries” so that they can return to their chosen occupation refreshed and ready to thrive.  As you seek to accomplish your dreams during the coming year, recognize that forces outside of your control may take them from you, as a child’s castle may be swept to sea, before they are fulfilled BUT the same forces that could be seen as destroying your dreams are working to provide a pristine surface upon which you can begin your travels anew.  Rather than dwelling upon your hardships of life, embrace the opportunities you have been given to chart a fresh path upon life’s shifting sands. 

As you look forward to summer this year – to enjoying time with family and friends while drawing your line firmly upon life’s shifting sands, remember that such an act can represent two perspectives.  You can either reflect upon what you have done and who you are OR you can relentlessly rebuild what was accomplished before being washed out to sea – seeking what has yet to materialize rather than dwelling upon what has passed.  Refuse to accept defeat when your castles are swept away – rebuild them!  Seek what may be found upon the deserted morning beach while continuously moving forward towards your future rather than taking refuge upon a seemingly safe shelter upon a continuously shifting shore. 

A child learns quickly that those who linger too long on the beach without moving tend to get burned (a lesson many adults forget) and gives meaning to life by seeking to fulfill their dreams (rather than blindly running from their reality).  Live your life through the eyes of a child this summer – seeking the pleasure (rather than the pain) and the possible (instead of accepting that which has already been proven real) in whatever you say or do.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Why are some people invigorated by a seemingly insurmountable task while others seem paralyzed by the same situation?   Why do some automatically defer to “I can’t…” rather than stating “I won’t…” or “I’d prefer not to…” do something?  Some see the opportunity to make progress towards the completion of a project while others shut down unless they see an immediate conclusion well within their reach.   Other than the obvious propensity towards taking risks, there are two underlying characteristics differentiating the two attitudes – the ability to question “why not?” before acting rather than needing to understand “why” before formulating a plan and moving forward and the acceptance that failure is a learning experience rather than a stopping point.

Everyone comes to a fork in the road – a decision point that forever changes what they have done, redirecting all efforts and activities towards the accomplishment of what they have yet to become (and often what they have not yet imagined possible).  Many attempt to “define” this moment through resolutions to change but find that shifting directions is a process rather than an event.  We cannot “will” ourselves to eliminate years of bad habits in one moment – it takes time to undo what we often do to ourselves.  “If only…” as an excuse will never replace “what is…” within reality for we justify poor decisions by sidestepping responsibility for inadequate results by looking to what might have happened “if only” we had acted differently, we lose sight of the reality “that is” and may accept a less than desirable outcome as “good enough.”  Dwelling upon things NOT accomplished will never initiate change – it only reinforces your limitations (rather than leveraging or celebrating your abilities).   

Some individuals act in accordance with established policy, practice or procedure whether or not that may be the best way to do something.  A member recently mentioned that they wanted to “promote” an administrator into Human Resources because they were so “black and white” in their thinking that “compliance” would come easily to her.  The problem with their initial thought was that this individual MAY have been detailed and unwavering BUT employees feared her, she NEVER smiled and ALWAYS did things the way they had always been done.  We proposed offering the employee an opportunity to access tools that might help her succeed (TEA’s HR Certification Series) – an opportunity to safely learn about the responsibilities and “grey” world of Human Resources before embarking upon that road as a career choice (the Manager in this case was a Finance person doing HR work so compliance was the litmus upon which she based success).  Others constantly question what they are asked to do as a means to test and temper the validity of an action prior to its being taken thinking “what good does it do to advance an idea unless it makes a difference?” but delay their “call to action” by focusing on whether or not their action might be accepted rather than on whether it might produce a superior result.  One will never experience their full potential by seeking comfort within a world defined by other’s expectations, experiences or proven success.  Life is not a spectator sport – it requires careful consideration, intelligent planning and intentional action.  Most successful individuals establish basic tenants they use to hold themselves accountable for their decisions and actions.  While everyone lives by some set of values and ethics, some of the rules that provide the “highest return on investment” would include the following:
  • It is OK to make a mistake BUT we must learn from our errors and move forward so that we do not repeat the same mistake.  It is OK to make a wrong decision (unless we decide to act we will never move from where we are) but we should utilize them as springboards propelling us forward rather than anchors holding us in place.
  • Focus on things you can control.  Identify obstacles that are within your sphere of influence and actively seek to eliminate whatever hurdles you can by giving them to someone who has the ability to influence them.
  • Lying, cheating, or stealing is intolerable.  If you are the best performer or individual with the highest results - but those results came through dishonesty or at someone else’s expense - you will not be respected, considered credible NOR working or participating in an ongoing relationship for very long.
  • Results are recognized – effort is merely a means to the end.  Do not seek praise for working hard or contributing greatly – let recognition come your way through the results your effort achieved.  
  • All individuals may speak, question, and have a voice in any decision but that does not mean all votes are equal.  Life is not a democracy.  Input is valued but an individual responsible for the ultimate success of any endeavor must – and will - make the final decision.  Do not confuse “equal” with “equitable” as you seek to identify and establish new resting points from which you can leap forward as you seek change and success.  
  • There is nothing that “cannot be done.”  While some solutions may not be cost-effective, or are simply impractical or beyond our ability to implement, “I can’t,” “It’s not possible,” and other self-condemning attitudes are not acceptable.  Do not avoid discussing the reasons behind “I won’t…” by defaulting to “I can’t…”

Well thought-out solutions to issues you may encounter while doing your job (or during life in general) are not reasons for celebration, they are simply expectations of the way you should continually exhibit and utilize your abilities.  Much can be accomplished when we leverage and build upon our experiences rather than accepting that something “COULD have been accomplished IF ONLY we had not run out of time.”   Seeking “what has yet to happen” provides a firmer foundation upon which to build than does “Why try?"  When we quit caring who receives the credit and begin to focus on how we can ALL gain from the results, much can be accomplished.