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, March 29, 2017


Everyone makes decisions throughout their life.  Whether meaningful or insignificant, life is an ongoing realization of the possibilities we consider, the decisions we make and the actions we take.  As much as we try to research and analyze our destination before beginning a journey, people typically take multiple detours along the way by making decisions based on “what feels right” rather than on an inflexible course of action and a reaction to current events or conditions rather than an analytical weighing of all that the facts.  Good leaders win more than they lose when faced with making quick decisions based on incomplete data.  Great leaders gain the respect of others by making a high percentage of “judgment calls” that turn out to be successful decisions.  In seeking to understand how great decisions are made, some thought processes that come into play would include:

Great decision-making requires us to utilize experience-based judgment when determining the likelihood that the road we choose will lead us towards our destination.  An inexperienced driver may think he or she knows what to do when encountering a patch of black ice on the road because of the study they went through during a driver’s training class but lose control before being able to intentionally act.  An individual having experience driving in winter may react more quickly – out of a “conditioned response” to the situation – taking control of the situation without really thinking about what to do if presented with the same challenge.  Experience allows us to act without having to consider all the ramifications of our actions before taking them because we already know (without thinking) what will be more likely to lead us to success.  Rarely will a truly exceptional leader step into a position of authority until he or she has performed many different jobs within an organization, demonstrated competency in a wide array of responsibilities and experienced (and taken credit/responsibility for) both success and failure.  Gaining life experience through watching, seeing and participating in a variety of different activities is critical to the decision-making process. 

Many individuals rush to act without thoroughly investigating all potential ramifications of their action so they will not lose what they see as a potential opportunity to excel.  Truly successful people take the time to consider the “possible” as they move forward to accomplish the “probable” before attempting what others might see as being “highly unlikely” or presenting too much risk.  Conceptualizing as many possible outcomes that could occur as a result of the actions we take – being willing to accept or respond to them appropriately using knowledge we have gained through experience – establishes a far greater potential than would doing what we know works in an environment that we know breeds success.  Before acting, great leaders tend to (quickly and without hesitation) ask not only “what should be done” but, more importantly, seek to determine “why” action should (or should not be) taken, CONSTANTLY weighing the potential benefits of doing something against the repercussions (or ramifications) of doing nothing.  A validation of any decision is whether one is in a “better place” after acting than they were before.  If doing nothing provides a preferable result, it is often more advantageous to intentionally hold back rather than to foolishly rush forward.

Great leaders ensure that the organization will continue to benefit from good judgment in the future by developing it in those with whom they work today.  They 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 so that they can experience resolving them rather than continually sheltering them from harm’s way by removing the risk of loss from the equation.  Unless (and until) an individual is given the opportunity to overcome the limitations of today’s reality by moving beyond “what works” towards “what has yet to be attempted,” developing a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based, he or she may never be able to make important or significant decisions.  Involving the people needed for implementation in the decision-making process, adding to and gaining from their experience along the way, will allow them to make better judgment calls in the future.  Helping others to make better decisions will minimize the number of critical calls we must make ourselves.

Great leaders gain credibility and respect by allowing those around them to grow through exposure to new and different situations (often allowing them to grow by failing), rewarding progress as they move towards success (always monitoring the decisions they make to minimize catastrophic disruption) and encouraging others to analyze risk before acting (to recognize both the rewards of accomplishment and the ramifications of failure). 

The key to making great decisions is to maintain “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 UNLESS you act without first considering all the ramifications involved with the actions you take.  It is never wrong to INTENTIONALLY CHOOSE not to act UNLESS your failure to act is due to a fear of the unknown or an unintentionally missed opportunity.  Being unafraid to make a mistake from which you can ultimately learn is critical as our greatest rewards are often born through the painful experiences of our losses.
 As you move forward in decision-making skills, seek that which is possible rather than settling for what might seem probable.  Do not limit yourself to what you can see – reach for what you dream.  Recognize that dreams and imaginings often initiate great discoveries if we allow them to lead us to action.  Avoid, however, pushing others ahead as you go.  Pull them along with you as you discover new and exciting opportunities – allow them to reap the benefits of your work as they seek to establish the courage of their own convictions.  Take control of your life by deciding to act (or intentionally choosing NOT to act) – inspiring (or getting out of the way of) those seeking to advance.

Friday, March 10, 2017

PERCEPTION SHOUTS – reality whispers…

A person can show great proficiency without exhibiting imagination but an individual will never exercise their imagination by simply accomplishing the work assigned without asking “why” (or, “why not”).  Delivering a standard or anticipated response to a directive often satisfies those willing to do nothing more than the minimum. An understanding of what must be done as well as a verbalization of what might yet be accomplished is demonstrated when one researches enough – or is interested enough – to ask “why not?”  It seems that we often believe what we see without ever looking beneath the surface to identify “the other side of the story.”  Why is it that reality can seem so distant and removed from our everyday existence while what we think and feel - what we perceive - can become such an overpowering force in our lives?

Given the choice between being a “doer” or a “visionary,” between being “realistic” or  “lost in dreams,” many would prefer to hold tightly to the concrete – to those things that can be seen, touched, considered and accomplished.  I would prefer to live within my imagination than within my reality – to do those things that I might conceptualize rather than those that have been previously accomplished – yet in life our imagination is often tempered by our perceived sense of reality. 

A realist accepts what can be defined and demonstrated – rarely “making waves” or disrupting the status quo – being content to accomplish the dreams and desires of others.  Many people live within a sheltered world of previous accomplishments, dwelling in thoughts of the safe places that brought them happiness and security RATHER THAN seeking new beginnings and opportunities upon an uncharted path. When life is contained within established thoughts of “what is” and memories of “what has been,” can one ever realize his or her full potential – can he or she even identify “what could be but has not yet been considered?”  When our perceptions of comfort, success and accomplishment become a destination rather than a starting point for a new journey, how can we acknowledge the quiet whispers of a changing reality?  True innovation (and success) springs from those who imagine what has not yet been proven for they will accept nothing less than the great things they know can be accomplished in this world.

While our memories are necessary to remind us of what we have accomplished – of the things we can do – our dreams provide an indication of what has yet to be, leading us to places not yet discovered. As we bring today’s dreams to fruition, they become tomorrow’s memories, leaving behind the safety and stability that yesterday provided.  Only when we cast off the limitations of “what is” or “what was,” walking away from the perceptions of reality that we construct by choosing to reach for the promise and possibility of things not yet imagined, will we be able to bring to fruition our dreams.  When we truly consider how things might be different, believing that just because something “was” or “is” does not mean it will “always be,” the soft call of a reality far removed from the oppressive perceptions that dominate our everyday lives will begin to be heard.

For you who find fulfillment within the "way things are" and travel obediently upon the straight and narrow path that leads to a defined destination – good for you!  The world needs individuals that will “do without questioning” as it seeks to fulfill the mundane tasks required to close out each day while moving towards a new and predictable tomorrow.  The world needs people to fulfill the expectations of others and find comfort in the perceptions of peace and tranquility that a complacent life can create.  For those unwilling to live another’s vision or accept another’s explanation of “why” as they seek their own “why not,” however, endless possibilities that have yet to be imagined are waiting to become reality.  In whatever you do, look beyond the obvious to experience all that life might provide.  Seek what might be “possible” rather than settling for what might be the “probable” solution.  We need only our eyes to see that what we perceive as being real – and our ears to hear what others say is acceptable – but casting and pursuing a vision which defines a new reality requires our imagination.  We must imagine what might be possible THEN act intentionally to bring that vision to fruition IF we are to rise above our perceptions of accomplishment by managing the risk that prevents us from identifying, reaching for and realizing the potential of new realities in life.

A brave new world awaits those willing to question the things that are held as true because of past practice or long-accepted policy - those courageous enough to act in a manner not yet imagined by others to accomplish things not yet considered possible. While known actions result in predictable results, untested and unproven actions cause equal and opposite reactions - creating new opportunities and fresh challenges that will transform things once considered only possible yesterday into probable advances as we move towards tomorrow – allowing us to move from a perceived sense of reality to one that is quietly (and confidently) new.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Whenever a significant change in life occurs – whether it is something personal, professional or as seemingly insignificant as a store closing or a company being sold, the lyrics of a ‘60’s era song performed by The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn) comes to mind.  Though rearranged slightly, the words were taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, the recipient of great wisdom as evidenced by his insights into human nature, change and moving forward through adversity.  The song, often used to promote peace while denouncing war during the Vietnam era, tells us there is…

·         A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted
·         A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up
·         A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance
·         A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away, and, above all,
·         To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens

Though probably not intended to stir feelings of remorse or deep thoughts during a closeout sale, these words came crashing down upon me recently as heard about the closing of stores that were around to help me grow.  Sears, Family Christian Stores, MC Sports – all West Michigan landmarks that provided clothes, tools, toys and food for thought – are closing.  Our landscape is changing – what was once significant has lost its value and things not imagined have rushed to replace them.  We face the choice of holding on to the past by immersing ourselves in the memories of what was OR of reaching towards the future by discovering the opportunities that have yet to be revealed.

While life does go on – everything having its season, time and purpose with new ideas and concepts replacing the old (which will eventually be replaced by other new ideas and concepts) – a sadness cloaks us whenever a landmark business or store must shutter its doors forever.  The nearly empty racks – their substance stripped from them by customers eager to find a bargain – stand as barren as the carcass of a living creature pounced upon by scavengers seeking sustenance.  The organization – once a provider of jobs for many – is but a final resting place for the few left behind to turn out the lights before locking the doors upon their last exit. 

Whenever an enterprise shuts down or a relationship ends, a cloak of darkness covers what were once fresh starts and new beginnings.  Even when the bright promise of a dream is replaced by another, it was seemingly discarded after losing its significance.  Life mirrors the finality that changing seasons bring to time – every end ushering in a new beginning, often from an incomplete perspective that shows us only the beginning of a new journey rather than the whole trip that is ahead.  It is hard to fathom a Phoenix rising from the ashes to fly once more if we dwell upon the decline and ultimate decimation of an organization (or of a person or relationship) that helped to form our beliefs, values and lives rather than on what could become of a new organization, opportunity or relationship IF ONLY we looked ahead rather than back.

Though it is hard to let go of our past familiarity when forced to enter an unknown and unexpected chapter in our life – whether it might be a change in personal relationships or the business interactions in which we participate – it is unhealthy to dwell upon the loss each season’s passing brings.   When faced with the reality of change, some choose to hold on to what will no longer be while others prefer reaching out to identify dreams that will provide opportunities to succeed anew.  We can stay silent in our suffering as we mourn the past or speak out in anticipation of events not yet realized – focusing our energies on what might become rather than clinging to what has been but will be no more.  If we hope to turn towards a better tomorrow we must cast away those things holding us back as we gather up new opportunities upon which we can establish a new foundation.  Our perspective determines how we embrace opportunities in life – how we “Turn, Turn, Turn” when given the chance to begin anew.  Our willingness to accept what has been as history and look ahead to what could be possible as our emerging future will transform our dreams and aspirations into reality as long as we truly believe that each end is but the beginning to a new sense of purpose.
The closing of a business can feel much like the end of a relationship.  No matter how much we may seek comfort in “what was” we cannot hide from the fact that each new season brings change.  How we react and respond to change determines whether an unanticipated event or action will result in crippling anxiety or exhilarating opportunity.  Our world is filled with choices that bring us new beginnings – that allow us to either “keep or to cast away” as we “plant or reap.”  It is up to us to make the most of our opportunities – to continue turning from each end towards each new beginning – if we are to thrive in the life we have ahead of us (rather than seeking refuge as we hide in our past success).

In regards to Sears, MC Sports and Family Christian Stores (and others that have closed or are yet to face change), remember the impact they had upon your life yet move beyond the past to express your hope the next time you witness the misfortune of others by reaching out to cushion their fall.  Make the most of your life as you close each chapter you have experienced to begin anew – as you turn the pages within the growing book of your life!  See in each void the light of hope – in each fall the chance to rise – as you turn from one season to another by embracing the finality of change and welcoming the opportunity to achieve a fresh start that each new beginning brings.