Jason Reep joined The Employers’ Association in 2015 as Director of Learning & Inclusion. In that role, Jason lead the Training & Development activities, oversaw the Association’s Affirmative Action services, and provided coaching, mentoring, training and consulting support. Jason was named President by the Board of Directors effective September 1, 2018.
Prior to joining TEA, Jason worked in the healthcare field and at a “sister” employers association in Seattle, WA. Jason’s experience includes over 20 years of Strategic Inclusion & Diversity work accomplished through his activities in Training & Development, Organizational Development, Coaching, and Human Resources Consulting. Jason has worked with employees at all levels within manufacturing, healthcare, non-profit, educational/governmental and service industries providing coaching for executive leaders, development for supervisors and managers and a variety of training experiences for hourly and contract employees.
Jason was graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a BA in Psychology then attained a MEd in Human Resource Development from Xavier University. He has been a Certified Association Executive (CAE), a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHM-SCP), and a Senior Human Resource Professional (SPHR).
In addition to his role at The Employers’ Association, Jason has been an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University (Human Resources) and serves on the Board of Directors for Grow, Health Net of West Michigan, and The Employer Associations of America (EAA). Jason is also a past member of the Experience Grand Rapids Diversity Advisory Council and the WGVU Engage Inclusion committee.
Connect with Jason on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Leadership Skills
- Embedding Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion into organizational strategy
- Development through training AND coaching
- Balancing tactical and strategic work in small organizations
- Human Resources as a strategic business function
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix.
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:20] Lee Kantor are here another episode of Association Leadership Radio and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show we have Jason Reep with the Employers Association. Welcome, Jason.
Jason Reep: [00:00:32] Well, thank you, Lee. Glad to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:35] I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about the employers association. How are you serving folks?
Jason Reep: [00:00:42] Yeah, so so we’re in association with about we serve about 400 members and our members are our businesses. So they may range from very small. We actually have a few of our members who are just a couple of people, and then we have some of our members who are thousands and thousands. Our average, though is probably around 100, 150 employees, and then we provide support to obviously our members. But our responsibility really is to the business community as a whole in the sense that we really want to help employers with those people related aspects of a business. So the human resources component and and then we we have a number of ways that we attempt to achieve that. We do a lot of research. So today we just released the areas we’re in West Michigan. So the area is largest wage and salary survey that we do on an annual basis, and we do a number of other surveys to really provide data so that those businesses can make good strategic decisions in their various decision makings that they’re making for around people, but also lots of strategy decisions. We do we do a lot of development. Leadership development tends to be one of the largest areas.
Jason Reep: [00:02:05] Obviously we develop a lot of human resource professionals, but we also have a number of other soft skills and hard skills trainings that we offer, offer coaching, teambuilding, all sorts of things like that. We do a number of projects with our members and then feed that some of those trends that we tend to see back to our to the community. So we do a lot of, let’s say right now what’s really big employee engagement surveys and a lot of compensation work where organizations are really reevaluating their comp structures, setting them up if they don’t really have a good structure. But with engagement, employee engagement, obviously they’re trying to keep their employees, trying to attract employees. We have a number of other resources, networking opportunities. We do a number of roundtables with about five HR roundtables around the around the area that we serve. We have a diversity equity and inclusion roundtable, safety roundtable, CEO Roundtable, Young Professionals. So we have just a number of ways in which we’re trying to develop those professionals within their organization so they can better serve the organizations, strengthen those organizations so we ultimately can strengthen the business community.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:19] So what is the origin story for this association? What how did this come about?
Jason Reep: [00:03:25] You know it. So there are a few things that. So we are we are there are other employer associations around the country. And we all have very similar stories where there were employers who were working to address challenges and concerns, usually with regard to employment issues that they felt like they could do better, collaborating with one another versus. And even some of that was purchasing and things like that. But to be able to work together to really strengthen those those businesses and the needs that they had and they all said we all have these same kinds of needs, whether it’s labor negotiations or or different challenges. Like I said, purchasing might be some of the pieces. So we had a Grand Rapids area where we are. We had a lot of furniture manufacturers out here who most of them are, who originally kind of banded together to create the initial what became the employers association.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:32] Now, at that time, it sounds that it was very collaborative, that that people were open to sharing. And it wasn’t one of these situations where they were looking at this information as this is our secret sauce and we don’t want anybody else to know it. Are you finding that that this group is still that way with that mindset of sharing?
Jason Reep: [00:04:52] Yeah, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that everyone’s always been 100% open, right? So there’s opportunities for where people are going to collaborate. And I’m sure that was long ago, you know, that that those folks kind of came together. It was 1939, right? So it was long before my time to kind of do that. But to answer your question about kind of current day, absolutely. I mean, we have these roundtables where folks are going to say, here are some of the things that we would like to do. Are any of you doing this or what Have you seen results, great results from these particular pieces. And in addition, you know, here are some of the challenges we’re having and what are some techniques to to address these those challenges. So in those particular areas, absolutely. People are are willing to share because they know it’s this give and take that I have to come in with the ability to be open and honest about what’s going on and then other people are doing the same. And so then we all can grow and develop and learn. And then when we talk about these surveys that we do, people are very willing to share because it’s all done through a third party, through us. We don’t report out any specific information anybody shares. We don’t report some data if we don’t have there are certain criteria three, four, four some results. Three companies have to have participated or five companies or ten companies have to have answered a particular question. So you can’t try to identify who which companies might have said what or anything like that. So because we take such great care in the data and in how we manage the conversations, people are very, very open organizations and those leaders and those organizations are very open to sharing as long as they feel like that this is benefiting them in their community, they’re very open to sharing that information.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:51] Now, you mentioned earlier something about coaching. Now in 1939, there probably wasn’t a thing called coaching, at least formalized to the way that it is today. Are you seeing coaching as more and more of a kind of a must have perk almost for folks rather than just something that at one point was just for the highest level of people or it was kind of remedial for the person they were trying to fix because they were doing something wrong.
Jason Reep: [00:07:19] Yeah, yeah. It’s a good point that coaching has really changed, right? So coaching back then probably was a little bit more like because I said so or you know what the consequences are. So that might have been a coaching conversation. And so yeah, so there’s we still see both of these developmental opportunities to coach right where we’re going to help somebody maybe move to the next level in their career within the organization or somebody who might have an opportunity to kind of grow and develop a particular skill set so that they can become more valuable in the organization. But we also still see organizations that are like, okay, we have someone who has some challenges and they really need some more one on one time to address their inappropriate behavior or their inability to manage time or whatever might be the case. I would, though, to answer the other part of your question. I would say that we have absolutely seen an increase in and what you might consider to be kind of that professional coaching, that developmental coaching, whether it’s executive. Obviously we do a lot of executive coaching, but we’re doing coaching with even what folks might say is individual contributors.
Jason Reep: [00:08:38] So they may not even have leadership roles, but they have an opportunity to maybe move into other roles, and coaching really offers much more one on one again, whether it’s whether it’s one on one actually, which a lot of our coaching is, but we also do group coaching. But but it provides that opportunity for for employers to provide that skill development and that awareness and that in that knowledge to maybe a group of people in a way that’s much more specific than a training, which may be a great content, great skill development, but not unique to what their needs are. So if you’re in manufacturing, that might look different than if you’re in a nonprofit, which is going to be different than maybe in a tech environment. And so and we serve we serve all of those industries. I mean, we serve many, many industries, health care and on and on. And so each of those when you provide that coaching, you get to get very specific about the skills that are going to need to be successful in those environments.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:48] Now, are you seeing there’s a lot of lip service to. Diversity, equity and inclusion. Are you seeing more and more companies really make some headway in this area and really have that representation throughout their organization, not just in certain kind of corridors?
Jason Reep: [00:10:07] Yeah, you know, it’s it’s very humbling to see the number of employers who really want to make a difference in this particular area in diversity, equity and inclusion. You know, and some of them are savvy enough to be able to say, you know, if we do this well, then there’s also business benefits to it. And then there’s really a large number of them who are like, we just want to make sure that we’re also creating the environment that people want to come to every day. Right. And that they can and that they can really excel and do their best work in every day. And they don’t have to deal with stuff. So I think, you know, that there is a mixture of very strategic. And when I’m describing that, I don’t mean it to be like in some sort of manipulative way. They’re doing it for the right reasons, but they’re saying there’s other there’s other benefits. We could do a better job of marketing to folks that maybe we haven’t marketed to. We might be able to extend our recruitment areas to places that we haven’t necessarily done that before. And so they’re beginning to think about DEI efforts as a more strategic and not just necessarily the right thing to do. But I would say that there are more and more that we are working with that are not just doing the minimal amount because we also help people with compliance so we can remind them what do you need to be doing? Like what’s what are the minimum amounts of equal employment opportunity that you need to be working on? And we write affirmative action plans so we can run demographic data on an employer that that needs that kind of stuff so we can help them at that level. This is usually well beyond just kind of the basics and the the minimal that they need to be doing.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:58] Yeah, it’s amazing to me in this day and age where there is such a, you know, emphasis on acquiring and keeping talent that some companies websites, when they just have the leadership and it looks like it’s all one group, they’re not even like it’s just, you know, it’s just like a bell. They’re ringing to say, hey, this is who we serve and this is who these are the people important to our organization. And they’re not even like a company could just just go in their website and look up leadership and then you’re that’s that’s a that’s a branding opportunity.
Jason Reep: [00:12:38] Yeah, absolutely. And the reality for a lot of these organizations is they’re like, okay, here’s where we are right now, and our leadership doesn’t turn over frequently and we don’t have a lot of opportunity to add new roles into that leadership mix. So you definitely see that that is one of the slower areas to to kind of visually see that there might be more diversity in there. So those organizations often are saying, okay, we will continue to work on becoming more diverse in our workforce and definitely in our leadership when the opportunity arises. But what we can do in the meantime is ensure that we are creating the right environment and inclusive environment that welcomes and values and helps people feel like they belong there. That when they when when the more diverse folks begin to work in the organization, they’re not kind of like, this is a weird place to work because nobody understands me or sees value in what I’m doing. So some of those organizations that are less diverse at their leadership level still are doing a lot of work, but it’s just not going to be seen for some years because they don’t have the opportunity to do that even though they want to make a difference.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:55] Now, isn’t this an area where this is where your organization really could help and make a difference?
Jason Reep: [00:14:02] Yeah, Yeah, definitely. I mean, we we have a lot of resources that we don’t have a magic bullet for anything, right? So if you if you were to think about all of this stuff around diversity, equity and inclusion, we work with folks on that people are struggling with how do we keep how do we find people? How do we keep people? Are we paying people appropriately? All of the things that you say, What are the biggest challenges right now for organizations around that people side those? We’ve got our hands in all parts of it. Does your handbook speak to employees in a particular way that is welcoming and and sets the tone for what kind of culture there is there and what kind of interactions people. We’re going to have all of those types of things are so, so important. And and to pull out just one component of it is is a challenge. And so when we when we look at the way that we work with our members, their members, this is different than a transactional client customer relationship. So we are very much wrap around our members and say, how do we help you, you know, kind of in a multi-pronged approach, get to excellence, right? And what is it that you need? And you can’t do all of it at the same time. And so how do we how do we scale it for your size? And then how do we put together a timeline for what can be done when so that you can make continuous improvement and progress toward the work that you are wanting to achieve? What are the goals that you’re looking for? And so that would cross over any of those dimensions that we had talked about in workplaces.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:49] Now, are you seeing that more and more organizations are looking at HR as a strategic business function rather than like a cost center or kind of a necessary evil that that that they are getting a seat at the table? Because to me, they’re the ones are there at the heart of the culture of the organization. They’re the human component.
Jason Reep: [00:16:10] Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think that we have a good mix of our members who really are saying we’re elevating that role to something that thinks more than just have we filed the right paperwork and kept up on time cards. And so so there are a lot of folks who are really elevating that role and the responsibilities that go along with elevating that. Right. So there are a lot more strategic h.r. Thinking people, people who understand the business, not just the individuals that are in the organization and the and the requirements to stay in compliance. But i would say that there’s challenges, right. There are there are organizations who are like, we’d love to do that, but we don’t have the money to pay somebody to to be a more strategic person. We don’t have that much work for them to do. We’re a very small organization. And so we we tap into those HR folks all the time, but they’re not necessarily the strategic arm of the organization. So I think there is there’s a mix and often the type of business might have something to do with that size absolutely has to do with that. And so so it is a mix. But to to answer kind of the bigger, broader question, even outside of our specific members, we can look in the community and you can absolutely see that there is not only elevation of these HR professionals to do such great work in their organizations and to have huge impact, but recognition of like HR people are beginning to be recognized within their organizations as a key component. And as you said, more than just a cost center or a place that people go when they have problems. So I would say, generally speaking, I mean, there’s certifications that people can get as professionals that really indicate, yeah, I take this serious and this is this is something I want to do and I want to do it in a way that elevates the organization from where it is right now to what the vision is.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:33] Now is leading an organization that serves this group. What are your kind of maybe tricks or not tricks necessarily, but tactics you use to create that engagement and to create the environment that people want to go to these meetings. They want to participate, they want to be a part of it, and they see kind of a bigger why? Because it sounds like this is one of those associations that people look forward to going to the meetings because they’re getting so much out of it, not only education, but also just it feels good that you’re helping, you know, affect so many people.
Jason Reep: [00:19:11] Yeah. Yeah. I think that the the our history has and continues to be very strong in relationships. Right. And so we we we start with phone calls. If we need to reach somebody, we’ll start with a phone call before just just hitting someone with an email or. Right. So it’s very much about we know you, we like you, we value you and what you contribute to our community. And so we have honest relationships and honest, deep levels of respect for for our members. And again, in a way that is a member relationship. And so I think people recognize that and appreciate that. And so you’re right in the sense that the folks are excited to engage with us and to do things with us and trust us, right? I mean, you don’t get to a level of trust without people knowing you, people interacting with you, watching your for your integrity and those types of things. So our ability to really have those very deep relationships with the businesses in our area, I think adds to people’s excitement, enjoyment, appreciation of the work that we do.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:38] So what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Jason Reep: [00:20:41] Yeah. You know, I mean, because we’re a member based organization, we members are what help us do what we do. So I mean, the rates that we I’ll just mention this, the race that we might do a project for for someone at our kind of below market rates and people sometimes will be like, well, you can’t be doing a great job if you’re doing that. And we’re like, We do. But because we have members who help us make that possible. So we’re not we’re not making our money simply by charging a fee for somebody to come to a training or something like that. So members and we serve you know, we serve primarily the West mission. There’s like 15 counties in West Michigan that are where about 94% of our members are. But because we can do work with people, we can write somebody’s affirmative action plan, you know, from outside the state or something like that. So we can do work with people who are not necessarily in the state. So we have members who are out of state and we still provide them the same opportunities. They can still come through training, they can still have access to the data points that we give. So so we we have that as as a a desire to continue to strengthen and engage with the community here.
Jason Reep: [00:21:58] We’re also part it’s just probably worth noting, we’re part of a larger association of employer associations and those that that Employer Association of America represents many, many states throughout the United States. And so if somebody’s listening and they’re not in West Michigan and they’re like, Oh, I think we might have an employer association near us, you know, they probably do. We’d be happy, of course, to work with them and help them. But because we understand culture so well in the communities that we serve, somebody might say that might be valuable for us to have an organization, another employer association, who understands the the culture of the community that we’re in. And so they may choose to go to a more local association near them. But we always value an organization who says, Yeah, we want to be a part of the employers association and whether whether they’re here locally or not. So if you say, how can you help get the word out? I mean, for a long time, probably like many associations, you know, you say things, you hear things like, oh, you know, you’re the best kept secret that I have. And I’m like, But we don’t want to be a secret, right? We’d like the people to know about us. So yeah.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:11] So if somebody wants to learn more, where should they go?
Jason Reep: [00:23:14] Jason Yeah, our website is W-w-what. Tgr So the employers association Grand Rapids, so t ag are dot org and on that on the site, there’s a number of places that you can learn a little bit more. I would say just start in the about us tab. The about us tab gives you information about what we can do or what we do do, but what we can do for any, any organization, whether they’re a member or not, because we serve non members, because of the dues that we have from our members, that helps us subsidize some of those costs and whatnot. But then you also see, you can see on that page what are the benefits of membership, right? So for example, the roundtables I told you about, that’s only open to members. So if you want to engage with us on some things, we can do that whether you’re a member or not. Other things you look at what are the member benefits and you’ll find things that are unique to to joining the association. And then there’s a obviously a joint now button down in there that can tell you how to calculate your dues and then you can get signed up. We’d be happy to help anybody who’s interested in that.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:25] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Jason Reep: [00:24:30] Yeah, I’m just I’m very grateful for the opportunity to to to be here to lead this fantastic organization that’s been around for so long and really just always excited to see the opportunities that we have to serve the businesses in this in this area. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it. I love talking about our members.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:52] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Association Leadership Radio.