Ashley Garrison, Regions Bank | Next 2021

Head of human resources operations

Employees at Regions Financial are increasingly comfortable with airing social and political views in the workplace.

Nonetheless, Ashley Garrison worried about a bankwide conversation about race that her human resources team was facilitating last summer in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“This is one that I knew was going to be really hard for my team,” said Garrison, the head of human resources operations at the Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions.

Her biggest worry was the potential disconnect between employees who had strong reactions to what happened and those who might not relate to the deep emotional impact others were experiencing.

“What is this going to do to the team dynamics?” she said, recalling her trepidation. “Is this going to be a conversation that brings us forward and closer or is this going to be a conversation where someone has an opinion that offends, intentionally or not?”

The effort started with a letter from John Turner, Regions’ president and chief executive officer, supplemented by information on the intranet. It was followed by team-level conversations led by the bank’s roughly 3,500 managers, who had been armed with information from an internal diversity, equity and inclusion team, Garrison said.

Employees — who had gotten an “ask” to listen to each other, regardless of any discomfort — came away feeling more connected, she said.

“The conversation was raw, strained, awkward, emotional and fragile and is forever fixed in my mind as a transformative moment,” Garrison said.

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Although she has been making a mark on the culture at Regions, Garrison did not set out on a career in human resources. After college, she started in medical-device sales and then moved to a sales job at a staffing firm. She was calling on Regions when the bank offered her an HR job, she said.

Garrison started there as a generalist in 2008 before moving into a role as a liaison between HR and each of the bank’s business units, rotating, in turn, through wealth management, consumer banking and, finally, corporate banking.

Garrison was promoted to head of human resources operations in October 2019, putting her at the forefront of the bank’s effort to respond to the pandemic not much later.

Her job includes overseeing a contact center for the more than 19,000 employees Regions has across 16 states, and her team logged 150,000 separate incoming messages last year, double the 2019 volume. Questions ranged from “How do I get tested?” to “What time off is available while my child’s day care is closed?”

The team also documented employees’ COVID-19 cases, managed contact tracing and processed a 500% increase in requests for leave compared with the previous year, in part by building an automated system to streamline the leave communication and notification for affected employees and their managers. Through it all, employees reported in Gallup surveys that they felt cared for and heard.

“She was relentless in ensuring all of our associates were safe and treated with care,” said David Keenan, Regions’ chief administrative and human resources officer and Garrison’s boss. “Her work has resulted in the highest levels of associate sentiment in our history.”

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