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Book Excerpt: In Action: Designing Training Programs

National Broadcasting Company


In the late 1980s, because of the changing demographics in the United States and their impact on the workplace, the issue of cultural diversity was beginning to emerge as the organizational issue of the 1990s. It was projected that the increased number of women and minorities in the workplace would exceed that of white males by the year 2000. These changes and globalization would require organizations to respond in some way, but the response of most organizations was to do nothing. Most organizations realized that diversity was a complex issue and potentially a volatile one if not handled properly, but few understood that it was a serious business issue. Those organizations that understood that diversity was a business issue learned there was no diversity roadmap to follow in implementing a diversity initiative.

This case examines how one organization, NBC, successfully implemented a Diversity Awareness Training Program for more than 3,500 of its employees. Although it is not a complete roadmap, it does provide a few practical directions that organizations, public or private, large or small, can use in the development and implementation of their own diversity awareness Training Program.

Organizational Profile


NBC was formed in 1926 for network broadcasting as a service of the Radio Corporation of American (RCA). It was an organization of 195 people whose mission was to provide the best programs available for broadcasting. NBC strives today to be recognized immediately as an unparalleled medium for news and information, education, sports, and entertainment.

NBC has become a major global broadcast business. With General Electric as its parent company, NBC operates a television network with more than 200 affiliated stations. NBC owns and operates nine television stations located in New York City; Washington D.C.; Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami; Philadelphia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Columbus, Ohio. It is also a major owner of cable and satellite program services in the United States. Globalization has also seen dramatic growth at NBC. NBC Super Channel in Europe reaches more than 60 million homes in 32 countries. In 1995, NBC launched a business-news channel in Hong Kong. Canal de Noticias is a 24-hour Spanish-language news service produced by NBC's News Channel in Charlotte, North Carolina. Canal de Noticias continues to grow in Latin America and the United States.

NBC continues to be a leader in new media products. Its NBC Desktop Video service provides business-news video directly to a personal computer, live or on demand.

WTVJ, Channel 4 in Miami, became an NBC-owned and operated station in 1987. WTVJ is Florida's first television station. Approximately 200 WTVJ employees serve the dynamic and diverse South Florida market.

Industry Profile

The broadcast television industry is composed of more than 1,000 independently owned and operated television stations employing more than 200,000 people throughout the United States. Approximately 650 of these TV stations are affiliated with one of the big three commercial networks, ABC, CBS, or NBC, or Fox, which has become a fourth television network. Paramount and Warner Brothers are attempting to become the fifth and sixth television networks. The Federal Communications Commission regulates the industry.


Key Players


An essential ingredient for any change initiative is leadership. For a company-wide change to be effective, leadership is necessary at every level in an organization. Leaders articulate the mission, gather the commitment and support, allocate the resources, and monitor the progress. This leadership must flow from the top to the bottom of the organization and across all divisional lines.


The senior executive vice president (VP) of employee relations provided the initial leadership for NBC's diversity efforts. The vice president, employee relations, reporting to the senior VP of employee relations, coordinated and developed the details of NBC's diversity initiative.

NBC used three consulting firms to design and develop its diversity initiatives. The first firm assisted in designing questions for information gathering with NBC employees. A second consulting firm designed and conducted a pilot workshop on diversity awareness. The third consulting firm redesigned and delivered a train-the-trainer workshop for NBC employees chosen to train other employees in diversity awareness.

The NBC president and chief executive officer (CEO) appointed a task force of employees from every NBC division. This task force reviewed the subject of diversity and made recommendations about what NBC should be doing as a business about diversity. The task force was, of course, composed of diverse individuals from various levels of the organization.

In addition, NBC hired a director of diversity and employee counseling to work with the task force in overseeing the training rollout. The director of diversity and employee counseling reports to the senior VP of employee relations.

NBC sought and obtained comments from employees through small focus group discussions. Focus group discussions were held at four NBC locations: Burbank, California; Miami; Charlotte, North Carolina; and New York City.

The remaining key players in NBC's diversity efforts were the employees who participated in the diversity awareness training workshops.

Issues and Events

In May 1992, the senior executive vice president of employee relations wrote a memo to NBC's President's Council, made up of senior NBC executives who report to the NBC president and CEO. The following is a portion of this memo:


There has been much discussion on the subject of managing diversity in the work place. Most large companies, including GE businesses, are attempting to identify diversity issues in their business in order to address them.

After much discussion and meetings with external consulting firms, NBC

has selected Harbridge House to assist us in identifying the diversity issues at NBC.

The first step in the process is to conduct focus group meetings to identify the general diversity issues....

This memo officially established NBC's efforts to incorporate diversity as a business initiative.

The employee focus group discussions took place during the summer of 1992 at NBC locations in New York, North Carolina, Florida, and California. The purpose of the sessions was to gather information about cultural diversity. Each discussion was with a group of six to eight employees of the same race, sex ethnic background, sexual orientation, or other trait (that is, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay and lesbian, white and females). Another NBC employee who did not participate in the discussion itself facilitated the discussions. The following are examples of some of the questions:

  • What do you like best about working for NBC?
  • How do [insert gender or EEO-protected class] succeed at NBC?
  • What obstacles/barriers exist at NBC that would make it difficult to succeed?
  • [For white male focus group only] Do barriers exist in the company that make it difficult for people different from you to work at NBC?
  • What must change to make NBC an excellent place for racial and ethnic minorities to work?
  • Do you think that managing diversity is an important issue for NBC?
  • Why?
  • Do you believe management understands the issues related to a changing workforce?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would each of you rate the success of NBC in addressing diversity issues?

The dialogue among the focus group participants was robust, and the feedback was rich and provocative. It was also confidential. Individual participant responses were anonymous and unidentifiable.
In June 1992, the NBC president and CEO appointed a Diversity Task Force. The Diversity Task Force developed an overall corporate position that directly related diversity to the uniqueness of NBC's business. The Diversity Task Force determined that an education and awareness strategy needed to be undertaken to introduce diversity to the entire organization. It also recommended production of a video to highlight comments and views about diversity from a cross-section of NBC employees. These employees should represent a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds. A member of the task force volunteered to produce the video. The video would emphasize the importance and value of diversity as a business issue for NBC.

About the Author
Donald J. Ford is a training and performance improvement consultant specializing in instructional design and process improvement. He has worked in the field of human resource development for twenty years, including training management positions at Southern California Gas Company, Magnavox, Allied-Signal, and Texas Instruments. His consulting clients include Toyota, Nissan, Rockwell International, Samsung Electronics, Orange County Transportation Authority, Glendale Memorial Hospital, and others. For these and other clients, he has developed custom classroom, self-study and web-based training, conducted performance and needs analyses, facilitated groups, managed improvement projects, taught courses, and evaluated results. He teaches graduate courses in human resource development for Antioch University, Los Angeles, and Cal State University Northridge. He has published 35 articles and three books on topics in training, education, and management, including Bottom-Line Training: How to Design and Implement Training Programs that Boost Profits (Gulf Publishing, 1999), In Action: Designing Training Programs (Editor, ASTD, 1996), and The Twain Shall Meet: The Current Study of English in China (McFarland, 1988). Don holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree in history and a doctorate in education, all from UCLA.
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