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!

Monday, February 4, 2019


First impressions influence our attitudes as we work with others – sometimes positively but far too often in a negative manner.  Until (and unless) we allow ourselves to view people with an open mind – seeking the value they could bring rather than limiting their contributions by pre-evaluating their abilities based on our initial thoughts and feelings – we will never be able to realize how much of an impact they might be able to make.  We must dig deeper when we work with others – continually seeking to identify the “method to their madness” as we deliberately limit the “madness our own methods” can sometimes create.  While being a good judge of character is a leadership strength, following ONLY the paths that our tunnel vision allows us to easily identify can create much distraction and confusion along our road to success.

Unfounded perceptions can negatively influence our thinking and our actions – potentially undermining another’s ability to contribute and the possibility of enhanced organizational success.  The owner of a small machine shop once stated that he “would like to have a whole shop full of employees like the 76-year old who had retired then come back to work.  He noted his perceived loyalty and leadership ability that was seemingly inspirational to other employees.  Employees revealed that they were always looking for other opportunities – not so much because they did not like the work but rather because they did not want to end up working until they died because they “could not afford to retire” like the 76-year old “role model” that still had to work.  The “individual in question” stated that he was aware of both the owner’s and his fellow worker’s thoughts but that the REAL reason he worked was that it gave him something to do on a regular basis AND that “if I ever met his wife I would know why he still came to work!”  Often our perceptions can taint our thinking – many times creating false perceptions or huge misconceptions.  When working with others we should ALWAYS take time to question, listen and learn before leaping to judgment.
When we act on available information (without first validating our position and/or asking for clarification) we often initiate disaster.  Many years ago, my wife and son were engaged in a heated discussion when I arrived home from work.  It seems that he had been sent to the principal’s office for “hitting a kid with leaves” on his very first day of kindergarten.  She could not understand why “throwing leaves at someone” was an offense worthy of a principal’s attention.  He could not understand why she kept asking him about the situation after he had clearly and concisely answered her question about hitting a fellow student with a bunch of leaves – agreeing that he should not have been punished for such a trivial infraction.  I looked at my tearful son and asked, “How big of a stick were the leaves attached to?”  Upon hearing the “right” question he brightened and made an inch wide circle with his fingers and said, “Oh, about this big – nobody asked me that!”  We often lose sight of where we are going because we are so focused on what we think we know as determined by where we have been, what we have heard and what we have experienced.  Never form an opinion without first thinking about all the things that COULD BE rather than simply focusing upon what we think IS or HAS TRANSPIRED.  Always take the next step to learn “the rest of the story” before committing to a course of action or changing what has always worked (and is still working) to something that has not been tested, tried or thought about.

In order to maximize our own potential (AND encourage others to reach theirs) we must recognize that others truly do matter in life.  We can lift each other up (or weigh each other down) depending on how we view the relationships we might be able to establish.  If we verify our perceptions before we pass judgment we can often avoid making assumptions that could lead us down the wrong path.  If we ask for help and opinions from others before acting on our own – particularly when they may have already “been there and done that” – our journey can become much easier (for we may not have to “reinvent the wheel” before rolling down the road).  If we truly seek what others can contribute and listen to their words when we see their mouths moving (rather than using their “talk time” as an opportunity to catch our breath before continuing to “have our way” or “impose our will” upon others) we may find support and affirmation coming from unexpected sources all around us. 

People tend to act and respond in the manner they are treated.  If we respect others and help them to elevate their ideas to the next level they will contribute in surprising ways.  If we assume that others are but pawns within the chessboard of life – foot soldiers whose only purpose is to “march into battle” as ordered without questioning the “why” of their actions or the “where” of their going – we will never come to appreciate the “hidden good” that others have within them – good that will bubble to the top making their NEXT employer or relationship great.  Look beyond the obvious to make sure you pay enough attention to what others say and do (and sometimes what they may NOT say or do because of fear or intimidation) that you can enjoy the difference their input makes in your life (AND you in theirs).

Monday, January 21, 2019


Every organization must have a mission – a vision – a reason for “being.”  Though a business can (and does) impact society by providing jobs, work is a necessary part of the process of producing results NOT the result of an organization’s efforts to create meaningful activity.  Work without purpose may keep an organization busy (for a time) but may not produce the income needed to sustain its activities unless it is fulfilling a need better than anyone else.  Without a mission, an organization cannot focus its resources towards the accomplishment of an identified purpose, choose the direction it should go or qualify the decisions it must make to be a vital and contributing part of the business community.

In order to be effective, an organization’s mission statement must clearly (and concisely) define why a business exists, what it does, and (sometimes) who it serves in a way that can be easily remembered and communicated.  Nike has established the phrase, "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world" as its mission statement – implying what it does by who it serves (they have also become well established by the tag line “Do It” over the years).  "Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time" is the stated purpose of Starbucks Company as it references the inspirational experience it hopes to provide consumers.  Coca Cola’s mission, “To refresh the world - in mind, body and spirit; To inspire moments of optimism - through our brands and actions; To create value and make a difference everywhere we engage” states what the company does (again focusing upon the inspirational) without ever saying what it produces.  Kohl’s mission, “To be the leading family-focused, value-oriented, specialty department store offering quality exclusive and national brand merchandise to the customer in an environment that is convenient, friendly and exciting” says what it is without limiting itself to any particular product or brand – but, even with such a broad statement of purpose it is finding that the battle against on-line competition is great.  While no two mission statements are the same, each successful enterprise must be able to state why it exists by communicating what is being provided in a way that people understand – whether it be the primary product, an emotional or inspirational reaction to the product or the change / difference that results from their being in existence.

We often accept that business needs a mission – a purpose and reason to exist – but fail to transfer that essential reality to our own lives.  In order to establish value in ourselves, everyone needs to establish a PERSONAL mission statement to guide their individual actions, efforts, activities and the way their values are expressed.  A personal mission statement is a bit different from a company mission statement, but the fundamental principles are the same – it should provide clarity and a sense of purpose (whether people see what is being done or not – as a Mission Statement should be internally self-guiding rather than externally validating).  It should define who you are and how you live – not necessarily what you may do (or not do) when others are watching. 

When we drift without purpose towards an unidentified objective we often take a long time to accomplish very little.  Though we cannot miss a target unless it has been clearly identified and posted, cannot fail unless we establish goals and objectives and will never be disappointed if we do not seek to be something more than we have already become, life without purpose (objectives and challenges) becomes meaningless.  A sailboat needs a sail (to capture the wind) and a rudder (to set a course) if it is to move forward.  It needs a keel to stabilize its journey and an anchor to hold it in place during times of rest.  Though there are many parts and pieces that work together to make a sailboat move ahead, unless a destination has been identified and deliberate action is taken to move towards it, the best wind, the most favorable seas and the mildest conditions will be wasted unless a “reason to sail” has been established.  A boat does not need sails, rudder or keel if it is content to float upon the sea – to simply bob upon the water – but it will never be more than a useless hull without a defined purpose and a planned destination.  Unless we (personally) know what we wish to accomplish through the actions we take and the decisions we make, we will never learn what we need to know (do or understand) in order to add value (to ourselves, our friends or our society) – becoming more of a burden to those around us rather than truly making a difference in this life.  We must dedicate our actions, our efforts and our thoughts towards the accomplishment of SOMETHING if we hope to accomplish ANYTHING – and must identify what that “something” might be if we hope to focus our efforts, abilities and aspirations upon its realization.  Drifting through life without purpose is like building a boat without balance, power or a way to steer its course – you can become a functional “barge” able to carry the load of another but cannot choose where to go, how to get there or how the burden you carry can be removed without the active assistance of others.

Writing a personal mission statement offers the opportunity to establish what is important to us, often allowing us to make a decision that will focus our thoughts and establish a course of action rather than wasting energy and resources without knowing where we might want to go or how we might want to make a difference.  As we establish a personal mission statement, we should seek to ask the right questions rather than trying to provide the correct answers – to expand our horizons to regions we have not yet explored rather than limiting them to our “known and comfortable” universe.  An individual mission may be as simple as “I will make a difference in all I say or do,” or “I will live everyday with Integrity and vow to make a positive difference in the lives of others by exercising my abilities for the good of all people.” It may a “short term” objective like, “I will complete my education so that I can pursue a new career.”  It may be as complex (and convoluted) as, “I will apply wisdom to advance myself (and others around me) while seeking and establishing new opportunities that add value to my community.  I will never give up (though I may occasionally give in) while seeking to bring to fruition all that I might hope or imagine myself to be.”
Make your dreams become reality by “memorializing” them in writing – by telling another about them so they can hold you accountable for their fulfillment – to establish a Personal Mission Statement.  While establishing your mission statement, make sure it connects your own unique purpose with the profound satisfaction that comes from that purpose being fulfilled (or you may lose interest in “moving on” when the going gets tough or “following through” when popular opinion is against you).  As for me, I would seek to contribute more than I take from life, to help more than I need assistance and to leave this world a better place (having seen and experienced its fullness) by leveraging the gifts I have been given to accomplish all that I have the ability to influence (and accept what I cannot).  Do not live another day (or take another breath) without establishing a purpose for your existence so that you can not only enjoy what you have accomplished but that you might also become all that you might be.