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, February 9, 2017


A manager mobilizes others to act in order to accomplish a defined goal or objective.  Managers identify (and communicate) expected results then train, direct or tell others what must be done to accomplish specific tasks.  The shortcoming with managing, however, is that doing things “by the book” and “as expected” inhibits innovation, creativity and change.  Unfortunately, many managers put what is accomplished above how it is done, inadvertently demonstrating that the ends are more important than the means.  Managers who dictate who does what, how is it to be done and what is an acceptable outcome can accomplish much BUT will rarely inspire others to greatness nor improve upon “what is” by discovering “what could be.”  Through the application of a specific and highly honed skill-set, managers successfully:

·         Identify objectives
·         Communicate expectations
·         Monitor progress and modify processes and
·         Acknowledge results

We know that when someone moves into their first management role it is common to do what their favorite manager did OR intentionally act differently than their worst supervisor.  Far too often, however, employees are promoted into management because they were great “performers” and are expected to pass their exceptional abilities on to others (without being equipped with the tools necessary to make this transfer).  Managing tends to be accomplished through “carrot and stick” directives – with an emphasis on the stick and a minimization of the carrot.  These traditional methods of managing people at work, however, are being challenged by social and cultural factors within today’s workforce.  Some Managers get frustrated with this emerging reality as they keep behaving the way they always have (believing that if they show consistency of style and predictability of reactions employees will eventually adapt) expecting to motivate a different workforce. 

A leader accomplishes transformational change through people.  While great leaders are typically good managers, a strong manager does not necessarily have the ability to lead.  Leaders accomplish change by inspiring others to act (without fearing failure) rather than expecting them to act as directed.  Leaders are able to leverage the strengths of employees having diverse backgrounds, experiences, values and expectations to achieve a common goal or shared outcome.  A Leader must be willing to change course while keeping sight on the objective, recognizing that anything worth accomplishing often presents risks and challenges that must be overcome – that changing conditions, new information, or unexpected obstacles are temporary obstructions in life’s pathway to success.  Leaders who embrace change and welcome different perspectives are open to new ideas and often accomplish much more than could have been done individually.  Successful leaders must periodically reflect upon “how” things are done rather than focusing solely upon “what was done” and must work with (rather than through) others in order to achieve success.  A great leader accomplishes much by consistently:
  •         Building and maintaining relationships
  •         Identifying and satisfying the needs of all those invested in an outcome
  •         Motivating and rewarding individuals while acknowledging the contributions of a team
  •          Establishing trust and showing respect
  •          Setting goals, communicating expectations and providing feedback, and
  •          Allowing people to learn from (rather than punishing them for) failure

It is difficult to get employees to act independently and take accountability for their actions – embracing both the lessons of their shortcomings and the success of their accomplishments – if they are “told” how to do what they have been assigned rather than being “sold” on why something must be done and allowed to participate in choosing how it might be best accomplished.  The days of an autocratic and directive management style are long gone, replaced by a need for adaptability, responsiveness and oversight.  A good leader NEVER lessens the requirements or expectations of a job nor diminishes individual performance standards or overall results.  Today’s leader must, however, understand how to leverage (and acknowledge) individual strengths to accomplish corporate objectives.  Clearly communicating expectations then effectively engaging others to establish processes and procedures that will accomplish required objectives then monitoring and measuring activities while staying out of the way of progress are the keys to successful leadership.  While managers can still help to identify problems, strong and effective leaders become a vital part of most new and innovative solutions.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Why does it seem lately that when the “going gets tough…” many people start blaming rather than fulfilling the phrase (“…the tough get going”)?  It is rare that, during the heat of an argument, someone will stop the conversation to take responsibility for the misunderstanding by saying, “Stop worrying about it – it was not entirely (if at all) your fault.  This is my responsibility, not yours, and I totally take the blame for the problems we must not address.”  More often than not an argument is peppered with “It is your fault!” or “We never would have been in this position had it not been for what you did without asking!”  Many find it hard to accept responsibility for a mistake but far too easy to claim recognition for success (whether or not it is truly warranted) – a flaw that does little to demonstrate professionalism, ethical behavior, intrinsic values or help develop and mold impressionable individuals looking up to their leader for guidance and direction.  In today's world, far too many people live their lives "behind the curtains" as did the Wizard of Oz - dictating what others are to do rather than "showing them the way" to act, live and succeed. 

Leading by example – by being what you are rather than trying to absorb the accolades given to everything your team has accomplished – goes a long way to establishing credibility, respect and validating the values you express everyday as a leader.  Before taking credit (or assigning blame) for a success (or an opportunity to learn from our mistakes), take a moment to think about the world’s tendency to ask that we “do as it says, not as it does,” and seek ways that your actions (and words) might allow you to lead by example (encouraging others to follow you because they WANT to) rather than by edict (expecting others to follow you because they have been ordered or told to do so). 

It is hard to convince others to NOT do something when they see you do similar things yourself.  How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty?  People choosing the transparency of living life as if they were within a glass house without shades or blinds tend to be more aware of their actions (and the ramifications of the things they choose to do OR intentionally refuse to do).  People tend to believe what they SEE in their leaders - DOING what they observe (as it must be acceptable or “the boss” would not do it) rather than blindly responding to what they are told.  If a leader consistently comes to work late, leaves early or wastes time during the day, how can his/her employees be expected to think what they are told to do is more important than what has been demonstrated as being acceptable?  Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit or are caught in a multitude of “white lies” not intended to hurt anyone).  We expect our kids (and employees) to listen to their teachers (or their “boss”) – often without giving them a valid or concrete reason to do so.  Rather than seeking and earning respect, far too many feel that it is their “birthright” to claim such a prize – declaring themselves to be “legitimate” without being tested or proving themselves qualified.  None of us are perfect so we need "rules" to help us successfully live within our glass houses - guidelines that would include:

1)        Recognize that words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of your actions.  Those close to us may be able to hear what we say (if they are inclined to listen and motivated to act) but anyone having an unobstructed view of what we do will be influenced (positively or negatively) by what they see.  As a child I was taught that “seeing is believing.”  Never was I told that “doing as you are told – without thought or hesitation – makes things right.”  Whether you interact with people as a manager, a peer, a friend, or as part of a family, what you do and how you act are the characteristics that help to identify your strengths and morale character – NOT the things you say about yourself or TELL others to do.

2)         Look for the good in others – loudly praising their positive actions, interactions and
results while quietly addressing their shortcomings, inadequacies or opportunities to learn.  People usually see what others do wrong but rarely recognize or acknowledge what they have done right.  Children are “expected” to be well behaved in public so we rarely hear a parent say, “You are really being a good shopper today – I am so proud of you!” to their child.  Rather it is “do not touch,” “wait until we get home,” and “I am never going to bring you shopping again!”  Though we need to identify negative behavior and act to minimize unwanted consequences as we correct it, we should also make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well.  The next time you are involved in a heated debate with someone you care about rather than saying “This is all your fault!” try to assume some of the responsibility yourself.  People tend to react better when they know not only what they should not do (or have done) but also what they did (or are about to do) well!

3)         Never cast the first stone – especially if you “live within a glass house.”  Even if you take the time to open a window before tossing your criticism out towards a friend or co-worker (intentionally saying EXACTLY what you wanted to say and do), an individual scorned (or addressed) rarely takes the time to open the door before returning fire (choosing to simply cast the rocks back towards where they came from as a means of self-preservation and defense.  I have often heard people defend their inappropriate actions by shifting focus and blame – by saying “…but you did such and such so do NOT blame me!”  When we view life as if we were living in a glass house – our thoughts and actions fully exposed to those around us providing us with no place to hide our own errors and secrets – we find ourselves more understanding not only of what others do but also of the REASONS they do things.  We are less apt to see fault in them when we first examine ourselves to make sure that we are without fault.

4)         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 led their troops into battle rather than following them from behind.  Parents must “walk the talk” if they want their children to learn.  Managers cannot expect loyalty, efficiency and a good utilization of time from their employees without demonstrating it themselves.

We all live in a “glass house” of some kind.  Regardless of how much we may wish to hide our thoughts, actions and attitudes from the world while expressing our wishes, desires and orders, what others believe us to be is shaped by what they see when we think we are alone.  When we view our lives as being acted out within a glass house – one without shades or coverings to hide what we do (even if our voices are muffled beyond recognition by the walls we have built around us), we begin to concentrate on what we should be doing rather than focusing on what others should not be doing.  When our actions speak louder than our words – reinforcing the things we intentionally set out to do rather than expecting others to accomplish what we would not attempt ourselves – what we say becomes a clarification of what we expect rather than an initiator of action.  Much can be accomplished when others act by following a positive example rather than respond to fulfill unclear declarations – when they seek our approval rather than desperately trying to escape or avoid our criticism.