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, August 16, 2016


Individuals often succeed by “being in the right place at the right time,” making a mistake that turns out to be revolutionary (post-it notes, as an example) or “carrying on” a legacy handed down by someone else.  More often, however, much planning, analyzing, forecasting, modeling, and “sweat equity” go into bringing dreams to fruition.  We must selflessly invest our time, money and effort to realize the returns that inevitably come when sacrificing short-term leisure time for long-term opportunity.  While the creation of jobs and the return of wealth to a community may be offshoots of successful business, they are simply the byproducts of dreams, the results of hope and the culmination of focused (and intentional) effort.  In order to realize great accomplishment, individuals AND organizations must imagine the future, consider alternative options as to how it might be realized, then steadfastly advancing towards its ultimate accomplishment – recognizing that effort without goals are often fruitless and actions without intent regularly fall short of hoped for results. 

Once set, one must closely monitor progress and constantly identify obstacles that could hinder the accomplishment of goals – minimizing disruptions to the successful actualization of intended consequences – to help ensure success.  Changes to established plans and procedures should be considered carefully before initiating new processes or practices because intentional actions that foster anticipated results are more predictable and prone to replication than are reactive responses that resolve temporary conditions or situations.  A business will never reach its full potential should a leader focus too intently upon the path (particularly if the path is well traveled by others or often frequented by its competition) rather than the prize at its conclusion (recognizing that even “the prize” is but a resting point upon the continuum of time) NOR will an individual reach his or her full potential until the “ends” become the intended reason for the “means” (rather than a functional by-product of effort put forth to accomplish the assigned dreams of another).

Business success can be directly linked to Management’s ability to motivate and encourage employees to freely and creatively contribute to organizational growth (without fear of failure).  In order to leverage the power of people, an organization must foster and encourage personal development equipping individuals to contribute (rather than simply trained to listen and do what they are told).  An organization should continually challenge and encourage employees to imagine the future and consider where he or she may wish to fit.  Questions that should be asked should include what does one WANT to be, WANT to accomplish, or can realistically EXPECT to achieve (with AND without additional training)?  To taste success one must start with a conclusion - a goal or set of expectations – before starting down the path towards accomplishment.  Without an end point, one will never know when one chapter has concluded so that another can begin.  Life without purpose can be eventful but is rarely satisfying.  It may be full of new beginnings but is strangely at a loss for “ends.”  Taking stock of what has been done, what is in progress and what is but a thought should become a part of everyone’s daily routine IF he or she truly wishes to achieve success – for without a roadmap, how can we hope to move from where we are to where we wish to be?

After establishing a goal – organizationally or individually – we must determine how it can be best accomplished.  Must additional knowledge be attained or abilities be enhanced to achieve the goal?  Who must be brought into the solution to make it happen (and who should be excluded from its execution to minimize disruption)?  Must the power of a team be brought into play or is the goal more individualistic?  Too often, training is an afterthought to the accomplishment of a dream – our hopes taking us places where our abilities fear to tread.  When we start “doing” without thinking we may taste limited success but it will be realized in spite of ourselves rather than because of anything that was intentionally done or could be repeated.  Organizations can play an active role in this process by providing the time for employees to think, the environment in which they can experiment, the tools they may need to become accomplished, and the climate in which they can succeed.

To achieve greatness, people MUST steadfastly advance towards the realization of their dreams – recognizing that detours will arise (but are simply temporary disruptions rather than insurmountable obstacles) and that reaching a destination may require one to occasionally step back in order to move forward.  In order to enact meaningful change, however, with any degree of efficiency and urgency we must develop and utilize systems that allow us to anticipate and avoid obstacles that could hinder progress whenever possible while justifying the initiation of warranted changes when necessary (EVEN IF the change forces us to abandon tried and true activities that provide trusted and consistent results).  An individual will never reach their full potential should he or she focus too intently upon the path rather than the potential at the path’s conclusion.  An organization will NEVER leverage the power of its people if they are kept in the dark (expected to “do” rather than to question “why”), stifled through fear of reprisal (rather than being allowed to grow through healthy experimentation) and rewarded for doing things as they have always been done (rather than for challenging the status quo and being recognized for creating new alternative processes that produce better results).

Potential achievement is not measured by what someone has done or an accounting of where they have been but rather by what they are capable of doing and an anticipation of where they are going.  While some may hold onto the dreams of their past, reveling in the memories of what was or has been accomplished, if we are to achieve our full potential we must transform our thinking to consider things that never were (or have yet to be realized) – asking “Why not?” rather than questioning “Why?”

Monday, August 8, 2016


When people perform individually, it is relatively easy to identify and measure the effort expended and the results achieved. It is human nature, however, that people prefer to accept credit without blame, exhibit authority without wanting accountability, and make decisions without assuming responsibility for potential negative consequences (but are more than willing to accept accolades for positive outcomes). Organizations embracing the formation of teams before recognizing these human characteristics may never fully achieve their anticipated results – often thinking that great things happen when all contribute equally without considering that every team needs focus, direction and a driving force. When building teams, we should ALWAYS consider the following:

Management should provide the “content” to be considered (overall direction that defines authority, scope of activity and any boundaries that may exist) without controlling the “context” of a team’s considerations (allowing it to operate independently within established parameters).  
An effective team must provide workable solutions that receive the group’s endorsement and “buy-in” if it seeks to make significant contributions yet it must also be empowered to move forward towards a solution (without necessarily needing to see a destination prior to beginning the journey) and be allowed to learn from failure (without fear of immediate negative repercussions).

Do not expect team members to take untested ideas through a non-monitored process OR make decisions based on a “risk vs. reward” litmus until they have been equipped with the appropriate team-building tools to maximize their chances of success.
Teams must receive training to understand how each member fits into the process – leveraging every member’s unique abilities to make the “sum of all parts” a greater contributor to the Organization’s bottom line than would have been their potentially conflicting individual efforts.  A single focus must also be identified prior to “releasing” the power of a team with someone (formally or informally) designated to keep all efforts directed appropriately – tolerating detours but keeping them from distracting or delaying progress.  A formal (or informal) leader will serve to keep teams “on task” and focused - to push through individual preferences and outspoken contributors as solutions are developed. While teams are great “action units,” they often need to rally behind a champion to accomplish their collective goals.

Work teams should enhance individual contributions and refine singular efforts by stretching the limitations of each person’s knowledge, experiences and abilities through the power of group thought and interaction.  
When properly leveraged, the power of diverse thoughts and an inclusive culture can create new solutions not previously considered by applying different ideas and perspectives to tried and true processes.

Think of an emerging team as a young bird having the ability to fly but not yet knowing how to accomplish that objective.  If raised within a cage, a bird can learn to fly but will do so ONLY to fulfill its natural purpose of flight but without reason or purposeful destination.  If allowed to fly freely, however, a bird will grow, strengthen and explore previously uncharted regions but may wander to new territories that seem more inviting than “home.”  If trained and nurtured properly before being allowed to leave the nest, the bird will soar to the heavens, explore and accomplish much then return home to celebrate what was done before embarking anew the next day. 

When properly assembled, trained, and allowed to function without disruptive outside interference (from management, policy, practice or established procedures), teams pay dividends to those investing in their development and success.  Allowing a team to run free without parameters, training or oversight control provides complete flexibility but often inhibits its ability to produce desired results UNLESS the collective spirit of individual entities can be leveraged towards a single objective by an internal filter (leader) who makes sure all interests are served.  An overly controlling or inadvertently disruptive leader, however, can hinder the growth of teams AND their ability to contribute.

As with a young bird, when the team is trained, developed and allowed to explore within an area having defined parameters – knowing its potential AND its limitations – it will grow, contribute and find comfort “at home.”  If allowed to seek its own rewards for non-monitored activities that enter uncharted areas without at least passive oversight and control, a team MAY become successful but will often be without loyalty to its originator, accountability to organizational expectations or responsibility for the intended (or unintended) consequences of its actions – flying freely upon the wings you intended it to utilize for the accomplishment of a common good and a corporate objective.  Take time to nurture and build your team BEFORE setting it free IF you seek to harvest the fruits of your labor and share the resultant rewards with an empowered and effective team.