That’s entertainment: Inside HR at NBCUniversal

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Gluing together all of NBCUniversal’s disparate bits and pieces, linking its many layers and layers, is an HR department tasked with ensuring the conglomerate has the same standards of excellence across its many businesses.

Leading the change
The woman charged with leading this monumental task is executive vice president human resources Pat Langer. After serving at NBC over the late 1980s and 1990s as an employment lawyer, Langer first entered the world of HR when a past NBC executive encouraged her to move to woman’s network, Lifetime. Here she led the network’s human relations, until Comcast’s 2011 takeover of NBCUniversal brought her back into the NBC fold.
“Comcast was looking for someone who could transform HR in NBCUniversal,” Langer says. “They needed someone who could effectively change HR, but who also understood a little about the kind of culture at the company. I was a combination of old, but new. I had been gone from NBC for a very long time so I came in with a fresh perspective, but I also had a lot of history.”    

Langer says that right from the Comcast takeover, the NBCUniversal HR approach has been for its businesses to create synergies with each other. Being so different to one other, the company acknowledges that it would be impossible for there to be one shared identity across the group, but the businesses need to be aligned when it comes to issues such as compensation, benefits and HR systems.

For Langer, synergy means there is no one size fits all approach to HR. The nature of each NBCUniversal business determines the individual HR response, but each business is encouraged to support its NBC sister organisations. She compares it to a symphony. There is a centralised conductor, but each instrument plays a different, yet complementary part. The music works, not because every player is the same, but because they work together in accompaniment.

“As we’ve had organisational announcements and reworks, changes in personnel, a centralised HR team has had to very quickly step in and ensure that the businesses continued to run and that employees were able to do what they need to do,” Langer says.

HR partnerships
To be this stabilising force in a transitionary period, Langer says it has been vital for HR to collaborate with the company’s business leaders. Leadership is where she sees HR making the biggest impact.
“One of the things I always encourage my team to do is understand the business they work in, understand the particular challenges the industry faces, and partner with the leaders. HR has to see how it can help.”

A concrete way HR can make a difference, Langer adds, is by recruiting the right people with the right skill set to meet the multiple challenges of a changing company in a changing industry. The demands of the media and entertainment world mean NBCUniversal is a 24/7 company. All employees have to create and distribute content quickly and efficiently, so there is little room to make hiring mistakes.
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