Shannon Sutton, First Carolina Bank | Next 2021

Managing director, human resources

At the start of the pandemic, Shannon Sutton jumped into action to help keep employees at First Carolina Bank safe. As the managing director of human resources, she worked with the executive team to create a list of protocols.

But before rolling everything out across all six of the $934 million-asset bank’s branches, Sutton asked her own employees to weigh in on what they needed to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Their answers changed her approach.

“The biggest thing that we can do for people is listen to their concerns and preferences,” Sutton said. “After we came up with this list, we presented it, and the end result was that we scratched off about half of it.”

While the protocols were intended to maximize safety, they also stood in the way of employees who were trying to do their jobs well, Sutton said. For example, putting plexiglass around the teller stations actually prompted employees to walk around when working with customers on paperwork. The barriers were removed and a limit of two customers at a time was imposed instead.

“It’s the little details that we as leadership don’t think about because we’re not doing that day-to-day job,” she said.

Kristen Brabble, First Carolina’s chief operating officer, was a branch manager overseeing Sutton nine years ago. “Shannon started as a teller and is now fully running the human resources department as managing director,” said Brabble, who recognized Sutton’s potential early on and cultivated her talent. Sutton recalled how Brabble encouraged her to pursue stretch assignments that broadened her skills and led to multiple promotions.

Leading the human resources department for any bank is no easy task, especially during a pandemic, Brabble said. Yet Sutton continually goes beyond her daily work — which includes projects such as collaborating with business line leaders to create a new market reporting process — to find creative ways to support employees and keep them engaged, she said.

Sutton is interested in holistic well-being, which helped inform one of her most recent initiatives. A wellness challenge she implemented for 2020 gives employees two goals each quarter, one focused on physical health (such as drinking water or walking) and one focused on emotional health (such as meditating or taking a 15-minute break each day).

“We designed this program specifically for our people. So this isn’t going to work if you take it to the bank down the road and ask them to implement it,” said Sutton, who is pleased that employee participation keeps climbing. “As they see their fellow co-workers having fun with these challenges, we’re seeing the numbers go up every week.”

Sutton also led the charge on creating a culture committee to bring employees together with virtual events amid the stress and isolation of the pandemic. She said employees appreciate these opportunities to socialize.

Her overall goal, as she sees it, is to build “a culture of encouragement.”

“Your company is only going to be as strong as your least-satisfied team member,” Sutton said.

Nominating executive: Kristen Brabble, chief operating officer

What she said: “Shannon has endless potential. She inspires others each and every day.”

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