Shut Up & Talk! 5 Yogi-isms for the Human Resources Profession

Over the years, I’ve learned to value wisdom no matter where it comes from.  Too many times I have encountered people who discredit wisdom because of the source.  While many would choose to ignore wisdom proffered by those least expected, I relish conventional wisdom delivered unconventionally.  On September 22, 2015 we lost arguably the greatest embodiment of this concept.  Yogi Berra, longtime Yankee legend and greatest champion in the history of baseball, passed away at the age of 90. 

Although Yogi will always be remembered as a New York Yankee great with his beloved number “8” retired in Monument Park, he belonged to more than the Yankee faithful.  He was a national treasure for his wisdom often delivered in the form of “Yogi-isms.”  Some of his Yogi-isms have been so ingrained in society that we know them today as common phrases.  Raise your hand if you have never said, “It ain’t over till it’s over” or “It’s déjà vu all over again.”  These Yogi-isms impart concepts such as never giving up or remembrance better than most dissertations on the same topics. What’s more they demonstrate one immutable truth—Yogi’s wisdom was universal meaning it applied everywhere.  This even holds for the HR profession. 

The following are five Yogi-isms every HR professional should never leave home without:

  1. “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  Any HR professional knows observation can play such a vital role in performance appraisal, learning and development, and selection.  Whenever possible, it behooves us as a profession to leverage observation as a learning tool.  We can all recall a time when we learned something from watching others try to do it.
  2. “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  Learn from others and understand when something is more than a fad.  In HR, we are experiencing something that might be a fad, but may be a substantive shift.  Of course, I am talking about the war on performance appraisal in conventional ways.  A good HR professional understands that abandoning performance appraisal is unhealthy but doing it the right way with unconventional wisdom may result in healthy outcomes.
  3.  “If you don’t set goals, you can’t regret reaching them.”  Goals are the measure of any venture worth taking.  As my fellow I-O psychologist and father of goal-setting theory, Gary Latham, indicates, goals have a pervasive influence on employee behavior and performance in organizations.  They are a driving force and setting them is as critical as attaining them.  Set goals and hit them.
  4.  “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Sure, there are no right mistakes.  Well, with one clear exception—mistakes from which you learn something.  Those mistakes are wrong and right but so worthwhile.  My advice?  First, learn from every mistake as if they are but a step in the journey to perfection.  Second, don’t make wrong mistakes.  Those are the worst kind and seem unrecoverable.
  5.  “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Every tough decision is an opportunity.  Even the most difficult decisions provide an opportunity to learn when executed incorrectly (see Yogi-ism #4).  How many of us have come to a difficult decision where an opportunity is available but only with imperfect conditions?  We’ve all had that job offer that was a great opportunity but required a move to Toledo.  Not every decision is difficult but every decision is an opportunity.  Take every opportunity into account and give it the attention it deserves.

Yogi left us with so much wisdom and delivered it in such unusual ways.  Thankfully, we will all be able to apply his wisdom for generations to come.  Like Yogi, the I-O psychology and HR community lost a giant when Paul Muchinsky, noted scholar at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and great lover of the New York Yankees, passed away earlier this year.  This blog is dedicated to his memory as well as Yogi’s.

What is your favorite Yogi-ism?  Are you partial to “It’s never over till it’s over?”  Do you smile when recalling something and think about “It’s déjà vu all over again?” Do you marvel at what lies ahead and say, “The future ain’t what it used to be?” 




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