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, June 28, 2018

Let The Past Flow Through Your Fingers as You Hold On to the Hope of a Better World…

I once held my thoughts and aspirations as gold within my hands – seemingly more precious than even the air that I breathed…
I watched my accomplishments shine, rivaling the sun with their brilliance…
I displayed my abilities as I hid my weaknesses, masking them behind the strength I projected…

While we all face distractions and disappointments throughout our lives, holding onto what “once was” rather than reaching out for “what could be” is a recipe for disaster.  Things once held as valuable slip from our grasp as we gain experience.  A bright and shining future put on hold because of seemingly uncontrollable circumstances.  A secure job ripped from us due no fault of our own.  A relationship tarnished by an unanticipated action (or an uncontrolled reaction).  Life happens – how we react to it can either advance or standings or stagnate our existence.  When we try to control life by our own actions and capabilities without any help from others or guidance from those potentially more knowledgeable or experienced we often realize “the best we could expect” rather than enjoying the “most we could possibly imagine.”

I reached out blindly, searching desperately for what had passed me by - grasping what once was but could never be again…
My memories become but water running through my fingers - unable to be contained within my hands as they flowed freely from my grasp…
Accomplishments of the past provide but a flickering light within my darkened world – those things that were once so important now incapable of providing the fire that once flamed within my soul…

When we live in the past we become absorbed by “what used to be” rather than seeking out “what is” or “what could yet be.”  Far too many individuals seek comfort in the belief that things will eventually return to what they once were rather than seeking new beginnings within the activities in which they are engaged.  We tend to stagnate ourselves (and the hopes and dreams of all those around us) when we continually reinforce the value of our memories – when we create our identity from “what we were” rather than “who we are” or “what we might yet become.”  Seeking shelter in the past may not be a fatal flaw but relying upon past accomplishments to provide a refuge from our current realities will never allow us to face the present (or seek the future) as we grow.  Finding comfort in what we once did, accomplished or created rather than in what we may be able to do if only we applied the lessons learned in the past to overcome current obstacles will never fully satisfy our hunger for advancement.

Life has but one beginning and one end - forcing us to travel upon an endless circle of circumstance as we seek meaning to the existence we far too often allow to flow through our fingers…
We must reach out to grasp those things not yet offered – leaving behind what has been accomplished as we seek possibilities yet to be realized in a never-ending quest for fulfillment…
We must acknowledge that the security our past once provided erodes as each new beginning flows through our hands…
We must sail with confidence into each unknown horizon, encouraging those willing to follow as they seek a future while helping those not yet willing to let go of their precarious present…
We must open our hands to let go of all that has been – all we have tried to capture and control through our individual efforts – so we have room within our grasp for what has not yet been revealed.

Though some may find a degree of comfort and security within the confines of their individualized existence, few of us will experience life without unexpected or unplanned change.  Change is the only certainty in life.  People survive by anticipating change, setting their course upon the waters flowing through their hands.  People struggle when they seek to find (or create) “sameness” within an ever changing world.  They tend to thrive when riding freely upon life’s rapids, immersing themselves within currents placed before them within the river of life. 

Good leaders recognize that they cannot hope to hold back the waters of change as they flow through their fingers.  Rather than trying to hold back the waters, Great leaders tend to hold onto their hopes for a brighter tomorrow and their dreams for a future made better by their thoughts, abilities, desires and intentional actions.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Far too many people – whether it be in their personal or their work life – believe that TALKING to someone is the same as COMMUNICATING with them.  They believe that conversation (whether it is one or two sided) is enough – that “saying something” and acknowledging a response is sufficient – that sending an e-mail or leaving a voicemail message is equivalent to (if not more efficient than) spending time in two-way discussion.  People often think that if they speak authoritatively they will be able to influence the behavior of others (because individuals do not argue with someone who seems to know what they are doing) – that “give and take” conversations serve only to delay the decision-making process.  These individuals are firm believers in the principle that “he/she who speaks first, last and loudest is right” so they often will talk an issue to death (or send a declaratory note or leave a one-sided voicemail) rather than allowing someone else to have the “final say” (or, sometimes, any “say” at all).  Rather than accepting that individuals have two ears and one mouth (might that not indicate that someone SHOULD listen twice as much as they talk?) they think since the words (and the volume in which they are spoken) are of greater significance and importance than are thoughts and sentences expressed by others (heard rather than expressed – considered rather than imposed).  If we wish to communicate effectively we must listen before expressing ourselves – think before verbalizing our thoughts.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is a sum of several important parts – not simply words spoken or actions deferred.  Communication is the act of thinking about what we wish to say BEFORE uttering words – of organizing the thoughts we wish others to hear and discuss so they will initiate appropriate (and intentional) actions.  Conversation is an exchange of words meant to create a meaningful relationship – communication is the transformation of thoughts and words into meaningful (and intentional) action.  Conversation typically involves what you wish to share with another – communication focuses more on what you wish to accomplish.  In order to communicate effectively we must:

·         Identify our objectives and organize our thoughts before we express our wishes or desires
·         Listen actively to others
·         Speak ONLY after considering the ramifications of our words
·         Establish and assign ownership to a shared vision or idea while transferring accountability with responsibility to individuals assuming the risk (and receiving the credit)
·         Intentionally follow-through to make sure expectations are met and objectives are accomplished (while avoiding our natural tendency to “rescue” or “save” another from mistakes or failures)
·         Allow mistakes (our own and those of others) to become learning experiences rather than death sentences – discuss alternatives without imposing “capital punishment” on anyone making a mistake
·         Praise openly and honestly – criticize privately and quietly.

To communicate well we must identify what we wish to accomplish – figure out what we want our words to change, alter or enhance – before we begin to talk, write or “tweet.”  Politicians often seem to say whatever they think you want to hear – in a manner convincing enough to make us forget what they may have said yesterday or what they will be saying tomorrow – often abandoning their principles or core values in order to appease the masses.  A conversationalist enters a debate with his or her ears (and mouth) wide open, clearly identifying and discussing the “means” but often failing to bring to fruition an “end.”  An effective communicator plans his or her outcome before speaking, listens (and considers) responses then works towards mutually satisfactory and actionable results.  Ineffective communication is often expressed by “telling” others what to do and how to do it.  Effective communication is a participative process – not an event but a series of ongoing compromises.  A conversationalist can “talk ‘til the cows come home.” A communicator will first ask (or somehow identify) where the cows live, determine what obstacles might prevent them from returning home, then encourage (facilitate and initiate) their safe return to the barn.  Conversing is often socially and politically correct – an everyday part of life lived in co-existence with others.  Effective communication is often more focused (with a purpose in mind), specific (to the point and directed towards a clearly-identified outcome), intentional (less casual, never entered into without thought, consideration and two-way participation) and result-oriented (NEVER done without rhyme, reason or rationale).

One of the most overlooked aspects of effective communication is intentional and measured silence – when listening becomes active and saying nothing helps to formulate direction.  When one is speaking, he or she is not actively (OR inactively) listening.  When planting thoughts, unless they are given the time to germinate and the conditions to thrive it is hard to harvest their full bounty.  When we speak loudly and forcefully to be heard above the noise around us, we often lose sight of the fact that a whisper can be much more effective in a quiet, listening room than can be a shout in a crowded building.  Silence often creates discomfort – but it is not YOUR responsibility to fill every void with the sound of your own voice.  In order to communicate effectively we must allow silence to be deafening at times – echoing within the conversational void as if it were an angry sea pounding upon an unforgiving rocky shore.  Allow your thoughts and ideas to fill the moments of silence that listening (rather than talking) creates – encouraging and allowing others to enhance your ideas and contribute their own – then EXPRESS shared and mutual thoughts into encouraging words that initiate, communicate and motivate change.

Effective Communication is transforming words into actions through carefully directed compromise that produces “win-win” situations (rather than telling others to do something within a “win-lose” mentality).  Converse with others if you wish to share experiences, thoughts, feelings or dreams.  While one needs to converse in order to communicate, not all conversation becomes effective communication.  Communication is conversation on steroids – an exchange of thoughts and ideas that results in an investment of time and resources focused towards the accomplishment of an intended (and intentional) consequence. People who “can” tend to talk (often about what they intend to do or hope to accomplish)…people who “do” communicate (directing their conversation towards tangible accomplishment and deferring the credit for success to those involved) in order to produce results.

Talk is cheap.  It fills time and space with words (but does not necessarily require an investment of resources to create an intended intentional result).  While conversation is a necessary part of living within a community, communication is the key to creating change.  When you need to accomplish something – when an action must result in an equal and opposite reaction that alters or modifies a condition or behavior – communicate your thoughts, your intents and your expectations clearly by stating the facts then listening for (and encouraging) buy-in from all involved.  We should all strive to be better conversationalists (as good two-way conversation can improve relationships and help support one another).  When we make a conscious effort to communicate more effectively by gathering our thoughts, listening to those around us and allowing others to contribute to “corporate” success we not only enhance and improve relationships but (possibly more significantly) we can help to change the world.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Why is it that when “all has been said and all has been done,” when there is nothing left to say that will make a difference, many continue to seek what more they might say and what else they can do to achieve the accomplishment they feel should happen?  People often seem unwilling to close the door – to move on once a decision has been made or a situation has been tentatively resolved – continuously second guessing themselves to the point that “all that was said” becomes meaningless noise and “all that was been done” loses its significance as nothing “right” has been accomplished and the proper words were not spoken (or at least not heard).  What may have been a great solution to a tough problem becomes a rest stop rather than a destination to those seeking “perfection” rather than resolution.  Rather than dousing the flames they smolder – ready to reignite as they devour our time like an untended fire spreading out upon the dry leaves in a forest.  Rather than calling something finished so their talents can be channeled towards the resolution of other issues, some cannot “let go” (because of their sense of perfection or their need to have all the details right before being convince to move on) so very little “new” is ever accomplished (though much “tried and true” can be validated, confirmed and completed).   Two vital and critical steps to letting go and moving on would be that when you feel “all has been said,” quit speaking and start acting – when you sense that “all has been done,” turn away from the closed doors so you can begin opening new ones.

It is never wrong to change your mind or shift direction IF the conditions or factors that led to your decision change.  It IS wrong to avoid making a decision or setting a course of action because you fear you may have to change your mind at some point in  time – that we become paralyzed by our analysis of a situation, unable (or unwilling) to accept the validity of our thought processes once an issue has been identified and a resolution formulated.  Unless we accept resolution (even if for a short period of time until situations, circumstances or conditions change) we establish insurmountable artificial roadblocks that prevent us from moving in any direction or accomplishing anything.  We become pawns to the process rather than stewards of the solution.  We become bound by a need for absolute certainty, losing sight of “the possible” that provides with the freedom to consider new opportunities and challenges rather than doing ONLY what has always been done before (to achieve the same outcomes that have always been achieved).  When we focus on finality rather than simply seeking temporary and acceptable closure we stifle our ability to innovate, motivate and shift directions as needed to identify new frontiers and sail upon uncharted waters.  When living under the cloak of “fearing failure” we limit our ability to take calculated risks that may open new doors moving forward (which remain out of our reach if we expend all our energy trying to nail shut the doors behind us).  We must shift our focus from where we have been (and are comfortable) to where we wish to be (regardless of the risk or anxiety change may cause) if we wish to let go of the past so we can move towards a new (and potentially bright) future – allowing ourselves the luxury of turning around to face forward rather than walking backwards towards an unseen cliff.

Everyone wants “change” but few take the time to define what “change” truly looks like.  Is the light at the end of the tunnel one of Hope or is it one of unavoidable Disaster?   Listening to promises of change is never a bad thing in and of itself.  Such promises, however, should always identify what is being left behind along with what the alternative might be.  Seeking change just to alter the present is hollow unless we are willing to accept the differences that are expected when we decide to change (OR embrace the consequences that will necessarily follow should we choose NOT to change).

Whenever we decide to change we must identify where we want to be – intentionally thinking about what must be changed (and what should be left the same) – before seeking the promise an unrealized future may hold (or worse, accepting only the reality of an already fulfilled past).  We must embrace the opportunities that an uncertain future offers, moving deliberately forward in an effort to grow from them rather than worrying about things you cannot control or obsessing over change that is going to happen regardless of what you may (or may not) do.  Individuals either embrace the opportunity of a new tomorrow by consciously (and intentionally) leaving behind what is not working as they seek what might work OR they are swept up in someone else’s vision without thinking about its ramifications.  Do not fear change – fear only those things AND individuals that refuse to change as you seek to expand your present-day reality into a fresh new tomorrow.  Closing one door usually opens another – but it does not eliminate the opportunity to reopen the door should conditions or circumstances change.

In order to thrive we must learn to innovate rather than finding comfort in what has always been (because today will never become tomorrow).  We must learn to think of alternatives (rather than simply “doing what is expected") if we wish to taste success.  We must apply our knowledge to new situations (rather than memorizing answers to questions that have already been asked and answered).  When all is said and all is done, our emphasis must be on recognizing accomplishment rather than rewarding effort – or we will continue to answer questions with proven solutions rather than accomplishing great and not-yet realized things.  In order to initiate change we must recognize that one must move forward if he or she ever hopes to hear what has yet to be said or experience what has not yet been initiated – and that holding on to what we do (know or are comfortable with) MAY keep us from realizing our full potential or accomplishing what was once thought impossible.