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, May 24, 2018


One of the most important things that a Leader does is to make decisions.  As much as we try to research and analyze the paths we travel, a good leader typically makes many decisions based on “what feels right” rather than some recipe of right and wrong choices, decisions or alternatives.  A high percentage of the “judgment calls” that people considered to be great leaders make turn out to be successful decisions while poor leaders tend to make poor decisions (often shifting the blame for failure to those that work for them).  How do good leaders “win more often than they lose” and how can their judgment be transferred to others?  THIS is the essence of leadership – not only knowing what to do and when to do it but also how to transfer actions (and accountability) to others - when to hold on AS WELL AS when to let go and get out of the way!

Good judgment is experience-based.  Leaders typically have a variety of experiences to draw upon when making decisions.  Rarely will a great leader step into a position of authority without having first experienced many different roles, responsibilities, successes and failures.  Visualizing how one situation applies to another – dealing with the practical application of situations and how they interact rather than only the theoretical facts that can be seen by anyone – is a transition many find difficult.  Great leaders not only apply their knowledge, they continually expose others within their organization to new and different situations (and appropriate levels of responsibility) – often allowing them to grow by failing (as long as it does not negatively and irreparably impact “innocents” or the organization) – so that they, too, can develop a variety of experiences from which future decisions will be based.

Good judgment is more often the result of many small decisions coming together to pave the road upon which major decisions must travel rather than the infamous “ah-ha” moment that trainers would lead you to expect.  Great inventions were rarely planned – often they are the culmination of many lesser ideas, failures, false-starts and misdirected accomplishments.  While great decisions are almost never made without careful analysis, thorough investigation, utilization of “cause/effect” processes (and a conscious, willful implementation of an action plan to move forward cautiously), they are often the result of our reacting to what has occurred because of the experience we have gained rather than us brilliantly anticipating a solution before experimenting our way through multiple levels of success.  While working to harness electricity, Edison once stated that he had never failed but rather discovered a thousand solutions that did not work on his way to discovering the one that would.  Leaders do not have all the answers (nor should they pretend to know all the right questions) but when moving forward it should be with confidence (having alternatives and options in mind) so that others will follow with faith rather than hold back due to warranted trepidation.

Decision-making is a process, not an event.  As situations change, so should one’s direction.  Good leaders make decisions then move on to other challenges.  Great leaders make decisions and monitor how they play out while moving on to other opportunities.  Great leaders NEVER lose sight of their objective nor abandon the process (EVEN IF others feel that a situation has been resolved) as they recognize that today’s destination is but a launching point for tomorrow’s opportunities.  They are willing to change their mind as factors and conditions change – recognizing that such mid-decision shifts are (when properly explained and  communicated) an indication of strength, intelligence and good judgment rather than a show of weakness, indecision or lack of knowledge.  While good decision-making begins with the realization that a need for change exists (NO change is usually good if made ONLY for the sake of change rather than to accomplish something different) it requires the application of good judgment to initiate positive action, it cannot produce results until a problem has been identified and a reasonable solution considered, tested, implemented, monitored, measured, validated and allowed to produce results prior to it being changed.

Great leaders make decisions by combining their practical experience with a well-developed knowledge of the situation, organization, problem, issue (OR people involved) while considering the context within which a decision must be made (urgency, importance, etc.).  He or she understands that all three factors influence any decision made – people, environment and urgency.  A great leader will engage the people needed to implement a decision in the decision-making process, allowing them to understand not only the “what” of actions but also the “why” as they add to their experience along the way.  Sharing thought processes to develop both “wins” and “losses” on the road to success will help others make better judgment calls in the future.  Great leaders think, consider, decide then intentionally act (while providing those around them with an opportunity to grow by allowing them to expand their own experiences) so that the organization, relationship or situation will continue to thrive and grow as it benefits from the application of good judgment in the future.  While many decisions must be made quickly, no decision should be made without thought, the development of alternative courses of action and the application of good judgment.  Even if the best decision is to intentionally decide NOT to act (which CAN be a good decision), never consider a lack of intentional action or the failure to implement because of time restraints, disinterest or inexperience a positive as it often is but an accident waiting to happen – a crisis waiting to be fully revealed.. 

Be a better leader in whatever situation you find yourself by helping others to grow.  Engage their minds (hopes and dreams) as fully as you engage your own, allowing them to act (as you monitor results and get out of the way of their progress).  Unless (and until) you prepare others to do what you typically are expected to do you will never achieve more than you have accomplished nor realize anything that has not already been experienced by someone else.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


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 wasn't my fault!"), our employees do it ("I could have had it finished if only I'd 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 stay low (to keep out of the crossfire).  While blame can be deferred, 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 that caused the mishap it will most likely continue to happen – each time becoming more acceptable than the last because someone will always do something to “work around” the problem and a change of direction may never be needed.   

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 all with the opportunity to learn and succeed (EVEN IF an individual may need to learn differently than we think or their idea of success is not the same as ours). 

Our schools have taken the major step towards "inclusiveness" when educating children.  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) level, classrooms are "blended to better reflect the environment that will be experienced in real life."  We make sure that kids are SOCIALLY adjusted so they can get along with others - but at what cost?  Why be the "good kid" when those creating havoc are the ones receiving all the attention in an attempt to bolster their self-esteem or show them that someone cares?  Why do we reward improvement, progress and attempts rather than achievement, conclusion or results?  Are we rewarding bad behavior when we lavish praise on the disrupters trying to get them to change or are we encouraging good behavior when we do not pay attention to those achieving on their own (since they do not need the help)?  Who gets most of your time and attention – the one doing all that is expected or the one needing constant attention and continuous reminders as to what needs doing next?  Our continuous excusing 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 because we are unwilling to identify and address inadequacies along the way (sometimes out of fear of discrimination, unequal treatment or just plain aversion to confrontation).  I once knew of an employee who had excellent technical skills but could not supervise people (he continued to be the doer rather than the leader after he was promoted to supervision).  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 – leaving behind a sigh of relief but inflicting an undocumented problem upon the next individual expected to lead the person.  Though we may not intentionally reward someone for acting poorly, accepting the results of negative behavior without consequences is no different than rewarding the negative behavior – in some cases “omission” is the same as “commission.”  Supervisors often look the other way when employees make mistakes because it is far easier to accept and “cover” for another than it is to correct and establish firm expectations.  Employees (or people) do not, however, initiate behavioral change without first feeling a little pain of reproach – a conundrum created by silent acceptance of inadequate behavior rather than specific correction of unacceptable actions.

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 of the policy and any behavioral change expected to embrace a change of culture.  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 (AND that the correct course of action will become the norm of the future).  Do not excuse bad behavior - embrace the learning that comes from making mistakes.  We must acknowledge that nobody can stand up without first falling down and nobody can run without first walking.  When actions are overly regulated, we penalize individuals making a mistake by removing their opportunity to change – to learn from failure.  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.  We must not, however, allow an inappropriate action or unacceptable result to continue once corrected.

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 the shortcomings of others – and allow others to do the same.  We tend to receive no more than we expect of others nor ultimately achieve any 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 behavior to make sure a mistake becomes “the exception” rather than the “rule.”  People can learn from their mistakes and move forward IF confronted when the behavior occurs.  They can contribute mightily to their personal growth and success when given acceptable alternatives and their actions are monitored to make sure change happens.