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!

Thursday, October 27, 2016


The Beach is quiet now.  The sun-worshippers have gone – abandoning her as the warmth of summer waned and she entered the lonely days of cold desolation…
Builders – once freely constructing their dreams upon her shifting sands – have returned to the daily routine of their work and their classrooms…
Friends and lovers have gone their separate ways to pursue individual realities after making empty promises to meet again next year…
The gulls – so active during the seemingly short season – have moved on in search of a more bountiful harvest.
Leaving only the Keeper of the Harbor – the Guardian of the Shore – to look after his Sea as he tends his lighthouse…

The Keeper stands facing the wind – cold and alone – seeing the sea and the beach in a different light than those who feel only her warmth and experience but the happy sounds of crowds while failing to recognize the beauty portrayed in isolation…
He sees past her surface into the depths of her soul – feeling and experiencing her power as she pounds relentlessly upon the empty shores of the now deserted beach…
He braces for an incoming autumn storm – feeling the biting cold of the sea’s loneliness lashing out to escape the confines of her reality upon the winds of change…
He becomes entwined in nature’s struggle to make sense of the shortening days and protracted nights – seeking meaning and life within the expanse of the sea’s depths and turbulence…
He sees the danger spread across her face as she awakens from the comforting calm provided by night’s shroud of darkness, beginning a new day of restless searching that keeps ships in safe harbors…

The Keeper treads gently upon the shores as if in a sacred temple abandoned long ago by a distracted and disinterested world…
He feels the strength of the Sea as he walks beside her – sensing her cry out for one who might understand, her tears driven towards his unprotected face upon the wings of the wind…
He struggles to face the rising storm – pounded relentlessly by the Sea as he tastes her salty loneliness and leans towards her into the wind…
He falls to his knees – absorbing her pain while sharing her suffering as he immerses himself within her sorrow – joining the Sea in her confusion as he protects his head from the torrential rains…
Then slowly rises to share the moment when she spills from her confinement – lifted up by the relentless winds of a storm – experiencing freedom from the constraints normally imposed upon her by the shore before returning to her reality as the winds recede…

The Beach is quiet once more – the storm having passed leaving the Keeper at rest with his Sea…
New life appears upon the shore as the tides fall – life that could never survive the crowds of summer but thrives during the lonely and undisturbed days of seasonal isolation…
The Keeper returns to his lighthouse – seeking the solitude it provides him as he directs others through lurking danger hidden by his Sea…
He celebrates the possibility of new beginnings brought about through the passing of seasons rather than dwelling upon the finality of stormy ends – upon what could yet be realized rather than what has already proven itself to be…
Standing alone – The Keeper of the Harbor and Guardian of the Shore – finds peace and comfort in the beauty a desolate shore provides while awaiting the return of those finding pleasure upon the summer sands.  He finds hope in each season life provides rather than living life (and finding comfort in) but one preferred season.

Those who see only their current reality rather than the potential of a different tomorrow – who focus on the disruption of the moment rather than the possibilities that each disruption might bring – are among those unfortunate enough to have left the beach at the end of summer.  Those who abandon life’s potential to accomplish that which is known to be achievable – that walk away from discovering “what could be” by accepting the comfort that “what is” might provide – become blind to the beauty that each new day might bring and tend to accept only what they are able to accomplish (see, touch, feel or explain) as all that is possible rather than seeking things that might at first seem impossible then celebrating each one as an opportunity to accomplish great things.  Remain true to yourself (and those around you) as you pass through life, stopping to see all sides of a story and experience each season of the beach before relentlessly moving forward to intentionally accomplish great things.  Thrive as you experience life’s storms by striving to become who and what you wish to be rather than accepting what others expect of you as being “good enough.” 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


While words and promises can be compelling, the true measure of a person is not what is said but rather what is done.  Following a leader’s actions is much easier than believing promises – especially if what is said changes like the winds (or the weather here in Michigan).  Though a zebra may think itself a horse it cannot lose its stripes.  A child’s storybook once portrayed a porcupine that thought himself to be “fluffy” rather than “prickly” but his actions spoke louder than his words.  We have often been told that “if we can dream it, we can do it” but unless (and until) we take intentional action to move from where we are to where we wish to be, nothing changes from what it is to what it could become.  In order to lead effectively we must let go of the misconception that people will listen to what we say (and ask) without regard to what we do (or expect to be done) to accomplish what we want (without appropriate explanation) as we seek different results (without leading by example).

How can we expect our employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if our day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty – with errands extending lunch and personal phone calls, internet inquiries or text messaging disrupting us from fulfilling our responsibilities?  (Forget about the fact that you might have been doing company business the previous night, or that lunch was really an important business meeting or that breaks are not part of the daily routine…people SEE you coming in late or leaving early, your actions screaming far more loudly than the undertones of reality.)  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere), to respect their teachers (as they complain about the “boss that does not know anything”), and to take time to enjoy life (when they are “too busy doing their own thing” to play catch in the yard).  Many sales organizations make unrealistic promises to customers (in order to “close the sale”) that must be kept by employees working long hours (evenings, weekends and Holidays) while the people making the promise spend time with their family.  While this “customer service” reality may be hard to avoid, repeated abuse of the time of others while no apparent “self-sacrifice” is perceived by those putting in the time will minimize the credibility of the “abuser” and create hard feelings within an organization.

As humans, we are not perfect.  We must learn to lead effectively by acting in a consistent and predictable manner (NOT necessarily doing the same thing in the same way all the time but rather by thinking in a logical manner that recognizes and considers the factors influencing success before acting in a way that those being led can understand).  If we wish to be who we truly are rather than presenting ourselves as what we wish we could be, it would be wise to remember:

1)                  Words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of our actions.  People more often believe what they see than what they hear.  Those around you establish their perception of you by what you do – by how you act – not by the things you say, ask or request.  We may try to reinvent ourselves with words, polish and packaging but we are truly only what our actions establish us to be in the eyes of others.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many volumes would a day’s worth of our actions (be they good or bad, consistent or random) write upon the pages of the lives of those we interact with on a regular basis?
2)                  Look for the good in others, publicly praising their positive actions and interactions to raise their attitudes and abilities while privately addressing their shortcomings by helping them to learn from their mistakes.  People usually see what others do wrong – rarely recognizing or acknowledging what they do right.  Parents rarely say to their children, “You are really being a good shopper today!”  Rather it is, “don’t touch,” “wait until we get home,” or “I’m never going to bring you shopping again!”  Though we need to address and constructively correct negative behavior, we should make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well.  Far too many Managers feel that good performance is an expectation needing no acknowledgement (we pay people to do their job) while poor work must be immediately addressed and corrected (far too often in an excessive or potentially abusive manner). 
3)                  It is better to compromise than to criticize – to live in the house you have built through your actions than in the rubble of another’s house you destroyed with your words.  Criticism is destructive.  Competent leaders do not tear others down to make themselves look better, they build others up to make ALL improve.  One cannot lead by pushing from the bottom – leadership leverages the abilities of all to move the group into a singular direction that benefits the whole – to raise the abilities of all so that the team can achieve an ever-increasing level of competence – pulling others along with them as they rise to the top.
4)                  Look inwardly when assigning blame.  People often defend their inappropriate actions by shifting blame to others.  Rarely does an individual come out and say, “It was my fault.”  Far more often it is, “Sam over there did something much worse than I would ever do.  Address him before you talk to me.”  When we measure ourselves against the actions of others, we will never truly see value in what we may have done (nor the full impact that our mistakes may have) – we see only the relative value of how our actions compare to another’s (concluding that “better than another” is “good enough” rather than striving for the best).  Far too many politicians blame all failures on their predecessors while claiming all success as being their own – or (as is currently being done) deflect and defer rather than speaking boldly and acting with confidence. 
5)                  Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others.  The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves.  Truly great generals lead their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” for their children.  Managers cannot expect full productivity without giving it themselves.  Anyone in a meaningful and sustainable relationship must share equally and contribute proportionately to a mutually beneficial outcome (rather than expecting another to be you or do things exactly as you would do them).

Effective leaders seek truth rather than distributing consequences.  They focus more on what they are doing than on what others may not be doing – leading by example rather than by edict.  In order to lead effectively we must recognize that nothing we say will overcome the things others see us do – that our actions are the clanging symbols of a band while our words are the whispering flutes.  Were we to live each day as if we lived in a glass house having no shades or blinds to mask our actions, would our words reinforce our reality or would our reality overcome our words?  Only when we can accept the results that come from others doing what they see us do rather than performing as we tell them to act will we fulfill our leadership potential.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Leadership and management are not synonymous.  Though some feel they must be “fully in control” if they are to be “in charge” of a situation – that to acknowledge challenge or criticism weakens their position of authority – they lose the power of leadership when they force others into being managed.  Many feel that leading and managing are synonymous – that to lead they must actively and overtly establish themselves as being in charge – of managing and controlling the actions of another.  What they do not easily realize that leaders are often rugged individualists able to assume power and authority by the sheer presence of their strength while managers are instruments necessary for the accomplishment of assigned tasks but often fail to rise above their surroundings.  Managers need to plan, measure, monitor, coordinate, solve, hire, fire, and so many other things. Typically, managers manage things. Leaders lead people.  The definition of a leader is someone who has followers – people who believe in the leader’s values, abilities, and judgments enough that they are willing to support him or her as they are led towards a shared destination.  This is far different from managing someone’s actions or directing them to accomplish an assigned activity as no loyalty or belief is required when direction comes from a position of assumed power rather than one of sincere trust.  At the risk of over-simplifying a complicated issue,


·         Coordinating and directing activities in order to accomplish defined goals or objectives
·         Telling others what to do (and, often, when/how to do it)
·         Assigning and overseeing specific activities that must be performed by others to complete work or projects in a predictable and proven way
·         Directing, measuring, and correcting work activities intended to accomplish assigned tasks
·         Accomplishing personal or corporate objectives through the efforts of others
·         Top down directives with little room for self-expression
·         More autocratic than democratic – often accepting responsibility for success
·         Minimizing chaos (maximizing order and control) to produce structured results
·         Working through others to accomplish objectives
·         Expecting others to do as they are told so things are done correctly
·         Making sure people are doing things right


·         Defining objectives then facilitating discussion on how best to accomplish them
·         Asking for input from others before telling others what should be done
·         Assigning responsibility for and providing accountability to others for the work they do
·         Demonstrating practices and welcoming input that will improve results
·         Accomplishing shared objectives through the efforts of the team
·         Lifting (and holding) the team up so it can accomplish great things
·         More democratic than autocratic – but responsible for both successes and failures
·         Allowing controlled chaos to create effective solutions
·         Working with others to accomplish great things
·         Not asking others to do what they would not do themselves
·         Making sure objectives are being accomplished and credit is being given appropriately

Those who cannot differentiate power from authority often diminish their ability to rise with their team – choosing instead to raise themselves upon the work, effort and accomplishments of others OR minimize the work of others so they appear to have risen without doing anything to advance their cause or purpose.  Individuals unable to accept success as a stepping stone rather than a destination – as a point from which to leap rather than a place upon which they settle – often find themselves chasing windmills rather than harnessing the wind.  They find that coasting downhill is easier than pedaling up and accept living in the valley rather than climbing to the next peak – choosing to manage their current situation rather than leading in the discovery of a new solution.  Those seeking power often do so at the expense of gaining respect – mortgaging their long-term integrity for a short-term taste of recognition.  Seeking power focuses efforts on the means rather than the ends – on how something should be accomplished rather than on what must ultimately be achieved – often inhibiting creative efforts that might exceed (rather than simply meeting) expectations.  Those accepting authority find themselves given more power than they could ever have imagined for when authority is assumed the responsibility (and reward) for outcomes is freely given.

To bring others along with us as we accomplish great things we must lead rather than manage – pull others with us rather than pushing them from behind.  We must establish and demonstrate confidence in our own abilities before we can expect anyone else to have confidence in us.  Anyone can manage by imposing their will upon those around them – by forcing compliance through a position of power.  Only those willing to learn, to apply their knowledge and exercise their authority (by sharing successes and assuming blame) will become leaders – finding the most effective passage through whatever obstacle presents itself - at work, at home or in their personal relationships.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Have you ever noticed that people tend to blame others much more frequently than they accept blame when something goes wrong?  Our children do it ("It was not my fault!"), our employees do it ("I could have had it finished if only I had received it on time from..."), and we often even do it ourselves ("Had I done it by myself it would have been finished long ago…").  Blaming is easy.  One must only open his or her mouth, shoot off a couple of random statements that shift responsibility to another, then sit back and keep out of the crossfire.  While blame can be deferred, however, it does not change the fact that someone did (or did not do) something that derailed a project, process or activity.  Unless (or until) we address or correct the behavior it will most likely continue to happen – each time becoming more acceptable than the last.  Unless (and until) we address the behavior (action or decision) that leads one to produce poorly we will never rise above the obstacles that surround us. 

Learning from the mistakes of others is easy (since there is no personal pain from their thwarted gain).  Assuming accountability for our own shortcomings or failures is far more difficult.  Though most people would say it is ridiculous to think that one would subject themselves to the added pressure of constantly assuming another's mistakes, think about the way that our culture has evolved.  We come to the rescue of those in need.  We try to create an “equal playing field” whenever possible.  We reward effort rather than results.  We provide limitless opportunity to succeed while sheltering, buffering or protecting from failure.  How can we expect to instill a degree of accountability into others when we are unwilling to implement the “effects” that should be a direct result of their “causes?” 

We teach to the masses, trying to bring all to a defined level of competency rather than pushing those capable of more to their maximum potential.  Rather than grouping kids by learning (and achievement) levels, classrooms are "blended to better reflect the environment that will be experienced in real life."  We make sure that kids are SOCIALLY adjusted - but at what cost?  Why be the "good kid" when those creating havoc are the ones receiving all the attention?  Why do we reward "improvement" or “effort” rather than "achievement?"  Do our extreme inclusive and recognition efforts encourage good behavior or reward bad?  Think about the ramifications of our actions - who gets most of your time and attention?  Do you spend more time with those doing all that is expected or the one needing constant attention and continuous reminders as to what needs doing next?  Our continuous excusing of bad behavior (or accepting a marginal result) is possibly the worst behavior we could display – and it seems to run rampant in the name of equality (rather than equity), living wages (rather than competitive market rates),  and relative worth (rather than absolute value).

We tend to reward bad behavior in business, too.  Sometimes individuals rise to their highest level of incompetence unless we are willing to identify and address inadequacies along the way.  I once knew an employee who had excellent technical skills but could not supervise people.  Rather than providing him with the tools needed to perform his job then holding him accountable for his performance, he was promoted into an upper management position so the company could retain his knowledge of the industry but “insulate him from making daily supervisory mistakes.”  Failing to evaluate performance honestly – not communicating expectations and establishing consequences – often allows a person to rise within an organization by moving from one frustrated supervisor to the next.  Though we may not intentionally reward someone for acting poorly, accepting the results of negative behavior without consequences unintentionally validates the poor behavior being displayed.  Supervisors often look the other way when employees make mistakes but very few employees (or people) will initiate behavioral change without first feeling a little pain of reproach – a conundrum created by silent acceptance of inadequate behavior.

Everyone has rules designed to control actions, increase productivity or quality, reduce losses or provide a safe, socially acceptable environment in which to work.  When writing or implementing rules, however, we should identify the intent or behavioral change expected.  Before publishing the restriction, consider the “why” of a rule more than what the rule says (allows or disallows).  Should a rule violation occur, we must address inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, point out what was done wrong AND detail how it could have been done correctly.  In addressing an unacceptable result we must not minimize the individual responsible but cannot excuse bad behavior but rather should embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes.  We must allow individuals to recognize and acknowledge the obstacles that stand between where they are and where they wish to be – and to address them (rather than simply moving around them).  Pure avoidance rarely results in lasting change – the very action you wished altered often reinforced when there are no consequences.

Nobody can stand up without first falling down nor run without first walking.  Why do we expect more from people in a work situation than is necessary to live and grow?  When actions are overly regulated, we penalize individuals making a mistake by removing their opportunity to change – to learn from failure.  Rather than being a part of the problem, address the negative actions of others (in a positive way) to become a major factor in the implementation of a solution.  Learn from personal failure while remaining tolerant of shortcomings.  We tend to receive no more than we expect and achieve no more than we believe possible.  When we accept poor behavior (and its resulting poor performance), how can we ever expect to achieve greatness? 

Identify inappropriate actions, correct them, then monitor the resultant changed behavior to make sure a mistake becomes “the exception” rather than the “rule.”  People can learn from their mistakes and move forward ONLY if they are constructively confronted when the behavior occurs (AND their actions or results addressed appropriately should the behavior not change).