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A Yogi's Guide to HR

This post originally appeared in March 2011.

Major League Baseball opens the season this week, and I have baseball on my mind. Which makes me think about the great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra. Here are some of the most-memorable "Yogi-isms," and what human resources professionals and personnel managers can take away from these pearls of wisdom.

“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going 'cause you might not get there.” Let’s face it, employment law is complicated. You need to understand the law, and get help from your lawyer when you don’t, to know where it is you want to go (unless you want to go to the courthouse).
We’re lost, but we’re making good time.” Activity is not the same as progress. Once you know where you want to go, make a plan and set specific and measurable goals to get you there.
“It’s déjà vu all over again.” If you keep doing the same things you’ll keep getting the same results. Study best HR practices and take advantage of what others have already figured out. Join a professional organization, go to seminars, and talk to contemporaries at other companies. If you need help deciding how to deal with a dilemma or improve your policies and procedures, confer with an experienced employment lawyer or HR consultant—chances are they’ve seen it and done it all before.
“You can observe a lot by watching.” Effective managers and HR professionals know what’s going on in their workplace. So set aside time to regularly get out of your office or cubicle and study the environment you oversee.
“It was hard to have a conversation with anyone, there were too many people talking.” Regularly interact with your employees. Ask them in an informal setting how they’re doing, what they like (and don’t like) about their job, what HR can do to make their job better, etc. Listen to what they have to say. Follow up and provide feedback. Let them know you’re there for them. You might be surprised how many potential problems you can nip in the bud through outreach.
“I wish I had an answer to that, because I’m tired of answering that question.” Take time to prepare for meetings with employees, particularly when poor performance, discipline, or other “bad news” is involved. Investigate and make sure you have all the facts. Write out your speaking points. Rehearse. Think about the questions they’ll likely ask, and how you’ll answer them.
“I really didn’t say everything I said.” In the HR world it's important to choose your words carefully and, in many instances, document them. During disciplinary meetings, have a witness attend to verify what was said and document the conversation, in case there is a dispute later. Depending on the circumstances it may also be appropriate to have the employee sign a summary of the conversation.
“It ain’t over till it’s over.” If you think the danger is over after you fire a problem employee, you’re wrong. Employees have been known to sue their former employers for defamation and even employment discrimination (yes, the law allows it) for giving bad references to potential future employers. So you should have a written reference policy that follows the Kansas “safe harbor” reference law, and instruct managers that all requests for references must be funneled to HR.
“The future ain’t what it used to be.” Human resources is a dynamic field. The law is ever changing. You need to be vigilant to stay on top of these changes to keep your company in legal compliance and out of hot water.
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” You’re not perfect. You’ll make mistakes. Get over it and learn from them.

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Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
Boyd Byers Image
Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
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Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
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