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, May 24, 2017


One of the key principles in any relationship – be it professional or personal – is that much can be accomplished IF you do not care who receives the credit.  Though it is human nature to want recognition for successfully implementing an idea, an individual becomes a leader (OR truly contributes selflessly to a relationship) when he or she realizes that being responsible for advancing something – for seeing an anticipated result come to fruition – is often more important than receiving credit for its accomplishment.
Any relationship – be it business or personal – will be strengthened by actively engaging in cooperative (two-way) reasoning – through openly discussing all possibilities before intentionally acting to travel upon the “best” road (not necessarily the “only” road or what you had considered the “right” road prior to your conversations).  Originating alternative ideas or concepts is critical to initiate change BUT the implementation of change can often be more effective if the “doers” are empowered to act so that the “dreamers” can more freely innovate.  Maturity within a relationship (or success in a managerial position) comes when the originators of ideas internalize the reality that while “doers” tend to receive credit for their performance in bringing ideas to fruition they would never have acted had not a new idea or direction been brought to the surface by a “dreamer.”  As Leaders (AND Dreamers) we far too often try to push everyone in the direction we want to go (you should realize that it is far easier to pull a string than it is to push it – so why do we try to push rather than pull people?) or walk over those that appear to be in our way (stepping on someone feels SO much more satisfying than taking the effort to circumvent the problem!) rather than leading them through our actions and lifting them up upon our shoulders (rather than climbing upon theirs).  Conversely, some misguided Leaders (or participants in a relationship) attempt to “overly involve” those around them in the “germinating” process hoping that a single great idea will grow from a collectively-generated seed (this may be how hybrid plants come into being but rarely can a single solution come from a fragmented collection of thoughts and suggestions).  Sometimes we must determine what is appropriate to share so that “group-think” can occur while recognizing that decisions must be made and/or direction established (often singularly) so that collective action can take place to reach planned objectives (allowing the group to take the credit).
We unleash the potential of those around us to create change when we formulate an idea, expand and enhance it through conversation with stakeholders (anyone involved in necessary change or the accomplishment of alternative results), determine the best possible course of action (which will produce the best answer having the most support to minimize detractor disruption) then communicate the course we have chosen to those that will be implementing the change, acknowledging their role and contribution to determining the path we will be taking (rather than telling them what to do and how to bring our thoughts to fruition).  We create dependency upon our oversight – validating and confirming our control over each and every situation and within our relationships – when we tell others what to do and when to do it (rather than by defining goals and/or expectations then monitoring progress towards their accomplishment).  A relationship constructed upon a foundation of dependent reliance on the thoughts and ideas of another cannot be healthy or meaningful.  Growth or success beyond that which one has already achieved cannot occur until a Leader equips those around him or her with the tools (talents, experiences, training and abilities) which will lead to and openly allow independent actions.

Great leaders originate ideas, communicate expectations then move on to consider new alternatives as they monitor the progress of those left to accomplish their initiatives.  They are rarely around when the initiated tasks are completed (they will have moved on to consider a new problem) so the Dreamers will not often receive direct recognition for the results.  They WILL celebrate in the accomplishments of others, however, recognizing that great rewards will ultimately come to those who can selflessly initiate change as they continuously seek new opportunities. 

Those that seek recognition for their ideas and actions often lose sight of their long-term objectives and fail to meet their ultimate goals.  To achieve greatness, seek it within the accomplishments of those with whom you have relationships.  Leverage the capabilities of those you have equipped to act upon their ideas rather than limiting your potential to only those things you can accomplish on your own.  Define yourself in the celebrations you share while leading others through their darkness so they can help light your way as they begin to utilize their gifts, abilities and talents – planted by you but nurtured through their own intentional actions - while discovering all that they can be, learning from their mistakes without fear of reprisal or being reminded of their failures.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Leaders inspire others to change.  Rather than telling another what must be done (or what has been done wrong) they show individuals a better way.  Rather than dwelling upon an individual’s negative behavior and their shortcomings they acknowledge positive efforts and reward positive results.  A leader paints a picture of “what if” or “what could be” rather than “what is” or “what always will be,” making sure that stakeholders within the process are included in the “painting” as easily recognized key contributors.  We cannot make an individual do what they choose not to do but we CAN provide positive reinforcement and identify potential negative consequences should they choose NOT to act appropriately.

Leaders typically demonstrate the ability to influence by example to gain the support of others that choose to follow them RATHER THAN forcing them to follow a lead they do not believe in or trust.  Successful leaders put more effort into selling than they do telling – into securing “buy-in” and sharing ownership than they do in making excuses or assigning blame – recognizing that people contribute more if they WANT to do something than if they HAVE to do it.  They anticipate “what might be possible” and preparing to advance that objective rather than reacting to “what did happen” and blaming others to avoid accepting the consequences.  Gaining respect and credibility in the eyes of those being led is far better than trying to be a friend of those being managed or protecting them from tasting defeat.

Leaders remain true to their values – transferring the skills and aptitudes they have learned onto others by saying what they believe and doing what they know to be right.  Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed in order to accomplish their stated objectives without really caring who gets the credit for the work AS LONG AS the anticipated results are accomplished.  Saying what you mean (then doing what you say) are the two greatest attributes that a leader can exhibit.

Exceptional leaders (within a work or a personal setting) recognize that their actions speak far more loudly than do their words.  They look for the good in others, loudly praising their positive actions, interactions and attributes while quietly addressing their shortcomings privately and behind the scenes.  Though negative behavior needs to be addressed, they make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well along the road to accomplishment.  Great leaders would never ask another to do anything they would be unwilling to do themselves.

Words describe what one wishes to accomplish but actions lead to the results that define success.  An individual blessed with the gift of communication can paint a picture with the words he or she speaks.  An individual blessed with the gift of accomplishment can achieve great things with or without the help of others.  The rare individual possessing both gifts can accomplish things not yet imagined by engaging the abilities of others to raise both the floor (elevating those things once seen as minimally acceptable) and rip off the ceiling (allowing them to grasp for the things that were once beyond their reach).

When all is said and all is done our emphasis MUST be on recognizing accomplishment rather than rewarding effort OR people will continue to try tested and proven ways of doing things rather than attempting the unconsidered to achieve the unimaginable.  While all individuals SHOULD be able to play on a team – to share in the rewards of a group’s efforts and work together to accomplish more than any one individual could have done on their own – every team needs a leader to monitor its activities, measure its efforts and acknowledge its accomplishments or the “wins” will become insignificant events while the “tries” will become praiseworthy.

There is no limit to what can be achieved when one seeks results rather than recognition – when the goal becomes to accomplish our objective rather than making sure that we receive what we believe to be the appropriate credit for our individual (or our team’s) efforts.  While doing things “as they have always been done” will often result in an “acceptable” result, is it not better to strive for excellence (rather than to thrive on mediocrity) and to push the boundaries out towards the unexplored horizon (rather than living comfortably within defined silos and contained fields)?

Before we can move from “what we have” to “what we hope for” we must realize that one journey must begin before another can begin – that before we can wrestle with new opportunities we must free ourselves from the constraints (and restrictions) that hold us back.  We must acknowledge that, before taking a new path to an unknown destination, we must abandon the old and familiar roads that have taken us safely to places in which we have found comfort.  All change begins with the deliberate consideration of an intentional action that, if initiated, will forever alter where we are as it redefines where we are going.

Without a goal – an aspiration to accomplish that which has not yet been achieved and to imagine that which has yet to be considered – and a way to measure progress towards its accomplishment, one will never know how far they have come nor how far they have yet to travel.  The secret to being all that you can be is in setting realistic goals that stretch your reality from what it is to what it has not yet been accomplished.  How can one move forward if they do not know when to begin their journey NOR where to cease their wandering?

In order to MAKE a difference in life we must be willing to BE different.  We cannot remain “one of the crowd” doing things the same way that have always been done if we expect change to occur.  We all choose which path we wish to travel – neither path being totally “right” or completely “wrong.”  We all live with our choices – holding fast to the possibilities (or the probabilities) that our actions dictate or choosing to pursue the unknown.  Whether you are a seeker or a planter – a dreamer or a doer – you will receive back in direct proportion to what you have invested in – limited ONLY by your own acceptance of (or refusal to accept) reality.

Before we seek safe passage, we must first dream – for without dreams we cannot establish goals and targets that have not yet been considered so that we might be able to achieve that which has not yet been discovered.  Before we determine which path we will follow we must immerse ourselves in all things that could be possible rather than seeking only those things of which we can be assured.  Allow each pathway you take provide safe passage to the fulfillment of your dreams – never giving in or giving up no matter what obstacle may block your way.  Seek greatness (rather than settling for adequacy).  Reach for the stars (rather than being content to bump against the ceiling).  Live within your potential (rather than limiting your success to those things that have previously been achieved or engaging only in the things you know how to do).  Success is not measured by how many times you have tried nor even how much you have accomplished but rather by what you learned each time you stumbled – by the number of times you have gotten up after being knocked down – as you positively influence the lives of those around you while persevering to do those things once thought to be beyond your reach.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Every individual makes choices in life.  We choose to look at each obstacle or disruption as either an opportunity or a roadblock – something that keeps us from achieving our goals or something that strengthens us as we overcome adversity.  We make intentional decisions to live in the past, to be content with the present or to seek a not yet defined future – but nothing can be achieved without a decision being made and an action being taken (even if the decision or action is to do nothing).  While environment and upbringing may have much to do with how we view things, perspective, ambition and values tend to define what we believe is possible while comfort, ambivalence and acceptance keeps us from reaching for more than has been accomplished.

Much of who we are, what we accomplish and how successful we will be is defined by our perspective in life.  The way we look at things – see the potential rather than the probable, the possible rather than the obvious – helps to establish the kind of life we lead, the relationships we maintain and the future we can expect to realize.  Consider the following:
  • Do you measure what you have gained or what you have lost in life?  Some people look at life as being a series of accomplishments and a list of opportunities that have yet to be realized.  Far too many focus upon what “could have” or “should have” been – wallowing in jealousy, self-pity and the unfairness of life.  When we begin to measure life by counting our losses rather than by celebrating our gains – by relying upon what we know to be reality rather than seeking to establish new realities – we become but a participant in history rather than a part of its creation.
  •  Do you look ahead towards what has yet to be realized or find comfort in what you have accomplished?  Individuals finding comfort in what they have done tend to live in the past.  They find value in the things they do – often establishing their identity in what they are rather than who they are.  Those looking towards what has yet to be revealed – leveraging their knowledge, abilities and experience to solve new problems and reach new plateaus as they fearlessly walk where nobody has yet wandered – will lead by example rather than being led by others.
  •  Is your world one of endless beginnings or the beginning of constant ends?  Some look at accomplishments as the end of a successful journey.  They see effort, hard work and sacrifice as the raw materials from which rewards are created – often finding comfort in their destination without wishing (or needing) to leave the “safe haven” they built.  Others see each “end” as but a beginning to something new.  They pause to catch their breath before starting a new climb – finding contentment in reaching new heights.  These individuals draw lines in the sand so they can cross them as they move forward rather than using them to establish boundaries or limits to keep them safe.  They find joy in the journey – pride in their progress – rather than needing to identify an end to their efforts or building a harbor from which they will never sail.
  • When you see a shadow do you focus on the lack of light or on the light that created the darkness?  Too many people see (and are satisfied with) the symptoms or results of a situation rather than asking “Why?” or seeking the root cause of an issue.  It is good to recognize that something exists – be it an obstacle, an attitude or even a shadow – but it is something else altogether to seek a reason for its existence.  Treating a symptom may provide temporary relief but it will not resolve the reason the symptom exists.  Ignoring a grinding noise in your car (or turning the radio up so you cannot hear it) will not resolve the problem UNTIL you are no longer able to stop because your brakes have failed (though that WILL stop the grinding).  Choosing NOT to talk to someone that bothers you may reduce your interactions with them but will not help establish a healthy, productive environment.

Life is full of alternative perspectives.  Two people seeing or experiencing the same thing will often realize different realities.  The key to life – to determining whether the “glass is half empty or half full” when observing a conflict or choice situation – can be found within each individual’s attitudes, aptitudes and motivation.  More than being an optimist or a pessimist, our intentional actions (and intended reactions) determine the likelihood of our success – of our ability to lead or be led and our acceptance of “what is” or our insistence upon “what could be.”   Become who you CAN be (rather than being content with who you were before you became who you are) if you seek to advance – to make a difference in your life AND the lives of those around you.  Do not hide in the shadows – become the light that creates opportunity out of darkness.  Do not find comfort in your efforts – seek the potential your abilities offer.  Measure all that you have gained (rather than marking and recording all you have lost) and you will find that the glass is not only half full – it can actually be filled to overflowing so that others can benefit from your excess (rather than suffering from your limitations).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Why is it that people tend to rush to judgment, hurry up only to wait, and do ANYTHING just to keep moving rather than “stopping to smell the roses?” Though time is seemingly in abundance when we have nothing to do, it passes far too quickly when we would prefer it to stand still.  We always have time to do something over when we could have simply done it right the first time. We seem to worry more about how quickly we can finish the race than we do about the results that our practice produce or the joy found along the way. People far too often worry needlessly about things outside of their control rather than identifying the things over which they have (and are able to exhibit) influence THEN intentionally acting upon them.  Individuals too often fear they do not have the time to slow down so they can appreciate the things around them because of the expectations they have placed upon themselves for unrealistic or unreasonable results. We often find ourselves slaves to the very clock we so desperately seek to master as we keep ourselves busy to the point of exhaustion so that we can complete a journey in as little time as possible only to find we are too tired to enjoy the destination once we arrive.  We live our lives thinking that once we have achieved something we can move on rather than realizing that life is a series of “beginnings and endings” which overlap, run concurrently and exist in perpetuity as we move from one event to the next.  We must learn to value our time as we seek results or we will find that our time slips from us without our consent as we chase concepts rather than realizing dreams.

Many people complain about their lemons rather than celebrating the opportunity to make lemonade. The weather is too hot – or too cold – but rarely do we find it ideal. We are too busy to exercise but complain that we do not like what we have become. We do not find satisfaction in what we have accomplished as we tend to dwell upon only what has not been finished – refusing to acknowledge the progress we have made while moving towards an end goal until it has been reached.  We spend more time wishing we had something rather than being grateful for what we actually possess. We have become a nation of complainers and criticizers as we seem to derive more satisfaction from bringing others down in order to make ourselves look better RATHER THAN elevating ourselves in order to pull others up with us.  We must learn to accept that we ARE NOT equal in our gifts, talents or abilities so we should not expect equality in our results.  We must recognize that time spent wisely will lead to the accomplishment of great things while time wasted will result in doing what has always been done and achieving what has already been mastered.

Perhaps we should take the time to ask WHY someone acted in a way we might feel foolish or ill-advised.  Rather than expediting our condemnation while attempting to elevate ourselves in the eyes and ears of those beholding our ranting we should take time to see if OUR perspective might be the cause of exasperation rather than another’s actions – to look towards ourselves first to identify what we may have done to contribute to the problem rather than blaming others to cover up any role we may have played.  Think of how much our words might matter if we offered advice and counsel rather than critically dismissing another’s action as being worthless, wrong or misguided. Doing something for another or telling them how badly they performed because they may have done something wrong (or differently than you might have) provides a short term “fix” as it changes the immediate results BUT it does not alter individual thought processes or behaviors. Rather, telling someone what to do, how to do it and when to act creates dependency (rather than innovation) and compliance (rather than creativity) while creating an environment that caters to the cautious – to those willing to do what they are told – rather than rewarding those applying their experience to accomplish things not yet considered possible.  Removing the time that others might use to learn can resolve a problem quickly but does nothing to foster problem-solving by those directly involved.  Correcting a “wrong” by stepping in and taking over may expedite a solution but will not prevent the problem from recurring in the future.
When people rush to see how much they can do or see they often minimize the enjoyment of what they actually saw or accomplished – always thinking what else could have been done rather than finding satisfaction in what they did. We recently vacationed in the West Indies where people tend to live a different pace and find as much joy in their journey as they do in reaching their destination.  Houses are built from the top down (rather than the bottom up), living quarters being constructed upon “stilts” leaving the lower level open until it is needed for more housing, a business or enclosed storage.  People do not seem to “miss” what they do not have as they find joy in those around them and satisfaction in what they DO have.  Far too often we are unhappy with our lives and our accomplishments as we seek the things others have (only to find they do not satisfy us should we be able to claim another’s results as our own).  We can be far too quick to blame (and too slow to seek responsibility) should we choose to play the “hurry up and wait game,” often too busy assigning “fault” and transferring blame to seek a workable solution and ensure its timely implementation.

Though we cannot alter the seasons or slow life’s progress, we can stop chasing blindly the hands of time as they race relentlessly around the clock. The sands of time will not bury us if we become the master of our own universe by taking the time to appreciate not only where we are going but also how, when and IF we chose to arrive.  To accomplish great things we must recognize and reward progress – both our own and that of those around us – rather than simply focusing upon what did (or did not) happen.  When we value our time – and consider the time spent by others to be just as valuable – we are able to focus our efforts on not only the “ends” but also the “means” as we realize our dreams and make them our realities.