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Eye on HR at CBS

May 29, 2000
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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Tuesday, April 4, 2000. 9:10 a.m.

When I arrive on CBS Corp.'s televsion City lot in Los Angeles, I already start to feel the excitement of the entertainment industry. And, shall I admit it? I'm a little wide-eyed and star-stuck that I get to spend a day immersed in the entertainment industry. From the outside, this industry seems so glamorous. But I have a feeling a lot goes on behind the scenes -- with HR as a major player -- and that it only looks that way.

Susan Kayl, director of human resources for CBS in Los Angeles, has given me great directions. However, when I arrive, I still go to the wrong door. The receptionist tells me to go back to the artists' entrance -- the first door I passed -- where I'll find the HR office. I fancy myself a huge TV star as I walk through the double doors and sign in at the security desk. But the feeling quickly fades as I stroll down the hall, where posters of the many CBS television shows, past and present, grace the walls. Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy, Whoopi Goldberg of Hollywood Squares, and Bob Barker of The Price Is Right -- I begin to get the feeling of TV nostalgia blended with a sense of modern show biz.

I take a left, and Henry Nigos at the HR reception desk greets me with a warm smile and lets Kayl know I've arrived. As I wait a few moments, I catch a glimpse of the Martha Stewart Living show on TV in the lounge area. "Of course," I think to myself. "This is one workplace where TV-watching isn't only allowed, it's encouraged."

9:12 a.m.

Susan Kayl greets me with a smile and a handshake. She ushers me into her office and we go over the day's schedule. We have time for only a couple of questions before going to our first meeting of the day.

I find out that the CBS headquarters are in New York City and this Los Angeles office is the other of its two main sites; but its affiliate television and radio stations are located throughout the United States. The company employs approximately 13,000 people.

Kayl is second in command of human resources for CBS on the West Coast, and reports to Lynn Heymont, vice president of HR, West Coast. In total, there are nine in the department providing HR services to approximately 2,600 employees.

"Lynn, who came from Sony Pictures Entertainment [also in Los Angeles] brought me in last year to assist her in reinventing the HR function here," explains Kayl.

The HR West Coast department was not unlike other traditional HR departments -- more transactional in function rather than operating as a strategic business partner to the organization. Kayl, a generalist whose background is in organization development, training, and change management, took this opportunity because she liked the idea of helping to create an HR department for the 21st century.

Kayl manages the recruitment function and is also involved in organizational redesign, employee relations, and compensation with Heymont. Since she's been at CBS, she's been working hard to show the hiring managers that HR can and will help them with their staffing needs. Previously, most hiring managers were "doing their own thing," says Kayl.

Now, to her credit, they're increasingly turning to her for help with staffing. Kayl and her team have streamlined the process down to a science with a total proactive recruitment strategy, utilizing the Internet and community outreach network resources.

9:35 a.m.

We're off to a scheduling meeting upstairs. We walk through some long corridors to an elevator and ride up to the top level (about three floors). Kayl explains to me that since she started with CBS a year ago, she's been going to this meeting every Tuesday -- a move that's helped her build credibility for her department and her own standing within the company as a can-do manager.

This is Charles Cappleman's meeting. Cappleman ("Cappy") is the senior vice president of operations for CBS Television City. After people grab coffee and bagels, the meeting gets started.

Represented at the meeting are execs from programming production, technical operations, client relations, facilities, stage operations, and financial planning. They begin by discussing show schedules and how that affects facilities and operations. For example, The Young and the Restless is making up some scenes for the week, which they missed last week, and The Price Is Right crew is off for the week.

They discuss the set and lighting and shooting schedule for the $64,000 Question show and how they'll have to double-check whether the New York City headquarters has arranged for a different 800-number to be listed for the show in each time zone, since viewers will be able to call in during portions of the broadcast. The MIS manager talks about remodeling one space and wonders if it will affect anyone. David Strouse, the director of financial planning, talks about financials. Last up is Kayl.

"The remodeling [of the office space] in HR is done," she says. "It looks great! It's bright and modern, and there's a much better utilization of space. It's a great place for applicants now to come."

She goes on to talk about the upcoming blood drive and discusses a sexual harassment video that everyone in the company will be viewing. At 11:05 a.m., the operations meeting ends and we head downstairs.

11:10 a.m.

Back at her office, Kayl begins returning phone calls. The first call concerns a candidate search. "I just wanted to let you know that we're on it. We have three excellent candidates to present to you," she says to the person.

After the first call, Kayl returns a call from HR's affirmative-action plan outsource vendor. She explains that they review their plan yearly, and set goals that are in alignment with the organization's diversity initiatives. She places another call about an employee who's been let go from the company, and the final one is to someone about a sexual harassment video that they're planning to show to the entire workforce. Shortly, the calls are finished, and we head to Cappy's office upstairs.

11:30 a.m.

Cappy has consented to give us a tour of the facility. We meet in his office, which overlooks the very busy Beverly Boulevard. He begins by telling us about the new high-definition television. Many CBS shows are now being filmed and broadcast with this new technology. He also shows us a video that chronicles the history of the CBS studios, and the many shows and stars that have been filmed there over the years and at the present time. Next, he takes us on a tour, for a rare glimpse of the backstage production facilities. We visit several studios. At one studio, sure enough, the red light is on outside. Cappy turns to us, making the shhhhh gesture with his hand, and we enter the studio on tiptoe. They're filming a scene for an upcoming The Young and the Restless. Kayl later explains that her office doesn't staff talent for the TV shows or productions. They fill only staff positions.

I ask Cappy how long he's been with CBS. "Forty-seven years," he says proudly. "And this wasn't even my first job." Kayl says there are many CBS workers who've been here for many years. It's a great mix of new faces and long-term employees. Thre is a group called "FROGS," an active organization of retired CBSers who sometimes hold luncheons on-site at CBS.

Our last stop on the tour is to see one of the stages built when the facility was first erected. Cappy tells a story about how one of his first jobs as stage manager for CBS in 1952 was to ensure that Judy Garland was on stage on time for a live performance. It was nerve-racking for him, because she took her cue just before the curtain opened and the show went live. It was a great work story. I get all starry-eyed again.

Lunchtime

I come back to reality as Kayl and I hop in her car and drive to Rosti, a nearby Tuscan restaurant. At lunch, we have a lot to talk about. She has a 28-mile commute by car (one way). She usually gets up at 4:45 a.m. with her husband, and works out before coming to work, usually arriving by 8:15 a.m. After hearing about her background, I ask Kayl what her biggest challenges in HR are right now.
"We've had a big push on recruitment since last November," she says.

When I ask why, she responds that CBS is committed to having a workforce that reflects the racial and ethnic mix of the diverse Los Angeles community. So they're pushing information about job openings and career opportunities at CBS out to community outreach organizations and local colleges and universities, in addition to attending local job fairs.

She also talks about the merger of CBS and Viacom. Viacom acquired CBS on May 4 -- a turnaround of sorts because CBS owned Viacom and now the shoe is on the other foot, you might say. "We are excited about the merger and the opportunities it will bring in the future," says Kayl. The acquisition is the largest media merger to date.

"Once the actual sale happens, the real work is going to be the transition piece of it," says Kayl. Before joining CBS, Kayl was with Blue Shield of California and had been the head of HR when the firm went through a merger. That experience will help her during the upcoming transition of CBS and Viacom.

2:30 p.m.

After lunch, Kayl heads into the HR conference room for an update meeting with five HR staff members who are involved in recruitment. "The goal is to have our HR team have a wide range of generalist skills," says Kayl. The CBS HR department was composed of human resource specialists -- and there was little crossover of skill sets. Next, Norah Eshelman, HR assistant, discusses checking references for some candidates for such positions as guest relations and technical operations. Each person updates the group on interviewees and job-placement status.

At one point, Lyn Sereno, an HR administrator, gives thanks to another HR administrator, a pat on the back and a little cheer for a new hire that just took place. The group discusses the job fairs they'll be attending through the month of May and the summer internship program. Kayl suggests that the director of placement, Carol Wallock, and she get together to talk about the summer internship program and the job fairs that the recruitment team will attend through the end of the year.

3:22 p.m.

Kayl returns to her office in order to make more phone calls.

3:40 p.m.

Kayl meets with Wallock in Kayl's office.
"The job fairs are a major push," says Kayl. "We see it as a vehicle, not only for diversity initiatives, but really where the talent is." She explains that there used to be a time when people were fighting to get into CBS. They came in droves and were turned away.

"It's a very different world now," she says. "We've got competition with the other networks and the other studios that have networks. We also have to compete with the dot-coms giving out huge stock options."

Kayl explains that years ago, CBS had rolled out two stock option programs, Fund the Future and Share the Vision. They've had to become flexible and creative with job offers for some categories that are difficult to fill, such as IT and finance. Kayl and Wallock further discuss their recruitment strategy.

4:20 p.m.

Kayl spends the rest of the day making phone calls, and doing e-mail and paperwork. She heads out the door at 5:56 p.m.

Just the Facts

Organization: CBS Television Studios

Responsibility: Recruitment, employee relations, compensation, and organizational redesign for the West Coast site

Headquarters: New York City, with a site in Los Angeles (Television City), as well as affiliates all over the United States

Employees: Approximately 13,000 total, with 2,600 on the West Coast site

HR Staff: There are nine people on the HR staff at Television City

HR Challenges:

  • Increasing the HR department's involvement in staffing support for hiring managers.
  • Pushing recruitment of an ethnically diverse staff that reflects the population of the Los Angeles community. Diversity has been a very controvertial issue for television studios; they've been accused by several organizations for being an all-white industry-both on and off screen.
  • Merging with media conglomerate Viacom. While CBS had owned Viacom a while back, Viacom's acquisition of CBS took place on May 4th of this year.
  • Competing with Internet companies for talent.
  • And, of course, changing from a transaction-based function to a strategic business partner.

You should know: No celebrities have to pass a screen test with HR. Human resources is not the casting office, and it fills the studio's staff positions. Many CBS staffmembers have had a long history with the studio, and hold luncheons onsite at the studio.

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