Faces of HR: Susan LaMonica on Balancing People and Business Strategies

Chase Manhattan Bank Citizens Bank DEI employees Faces of HR hiring HR JPMorgan Chase leadership development Recruiting

It’s HR Leadership Week here at HR Daily Advisor, and we couldn’t be more excited! All week long, we’ve run a gamut of events that not only celebrate you, the HR professional who continues to help shape the future of work, but also will help you grow and develop in your role. Our guest for today’s Faces column is no stranger to growth and development and isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and ensure everyone around her is able—and has the opportunity—to do the same.

Susan LaMonica

“The world is changing so rapidly, and it is an exciting time for HR professionals,” Susan LaMonica shared with HR Daily Advisor. “We are playing such a meaningful role in the lives of employees and in the performance of our business.”

Before segueing into HR, LaMonica began her career with Chase Manhattan Bank, holding several leadership roles in retail banking, operations, and risk. She would go on to spend an impressive 23-year tenure at JP Morgan Chase, serving in myriad senior leadership roles, including head of HR for the consumer and commercial banking business, head of HR for the investment banking and markets business globally, and global head of development for JP Morgan. During this time, she was also instrumental in a number of bank mergers.

LaMonica has spent the past 12 years as the Chief Human Resources Officer at Citizens Bank. In her role, she leads a team responsible for leadership and talent development; talent acquisition; organizational development and culture; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and more.

Since she joined the U.S. super-regional bank in 2011, LaMonica has played a key role in the bank’s transformation, such as helping to adopt agile operating models and successfully rolling out initiatives and programs to help prepare the bank’s workforce for the future. She was also instrumental in the largest IPO in U.S. history—Citizens successful separation from the Royal Bank of Scotland—and has since helped facilitate several acquisitions as part of Citizens’ growth strategy. Additionally, she is a member of Citizen’s executive committee, Women’s Impact Network; a founding member and executive sponsor of Citizens Business Resource Group (BRG); and the executive sponsor for the Caring for Citizens BRG.

 In our latest Faces, meet Susan LaMonica.

How did you get your start in the field?

I spent most of my career at JPMorgan Chase—23 years, to be exact. I started in a management development program in operations and technology and spent the first 7 years of my career in a variety of operations and risk roles, which required me to travel extensively to Europe and Asia. I then was asked to run a branch in midtown Manhattan. At the time, being a branch manager did not feel like the best fit for me, but when I reflect on my career, it turned out to be one of the best learning experiences I have had. It solidified my deep appreciation for what it takes to work on the front line with our customers, flexing across so many dimensions on a given day. But I remained open to other opportunities that would leverage my passion for leading teams and give me a platform to make a broader impact, and it was at that time I was offered an opportunity in human resources.

Candidly, while I welcomed the opportunity to gain experience doing something new, I had no real “pull” toward the human resources function and was uncertain about making the move. And the rest, as they say, is history—it turned out to be an amazing step for me. So, it was not by design. I fell into it, and I realized quickly that this was a great opportunity for me to do what I like the most, which is to lead, to manage, and to be able to impact company culture in a meaningful way.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

John Farrell, the CHRO at JPMorgan Chase at the time, had a profound impact on my career and the leader that I became. He was a tireless advocate for all employees—in the HR function and across the company at large. He was comfortable taking unpopular stances with the senior-level team when he felt colleagues were not at the center of decisions. Quite simply, he was, first and foremost, a champion for employees. That employee-first affinity shaped how he showed up as a leader of the HR function, as you might imagine. He trusted and empowered the people on his team and provided them with great latitude and the necessary air cover to drive innovative and meaningful change. He created huge followership and was sought out by people at all levels in the company. His ability to navigate the organization and various stakeholders was exceptional, and he garnered the respect of his peers, other executives, and the board. 

What is your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

I appreciate this question but admittedly struggle with the reference to “mistake” because I do not view life that way. In life, there are choices we are presented with, and we make what we think are the right choices for us at the time. Even if it may not have been the best choice, we learn from all of them in different ways. I mean, I could say that moving into the branch manager role was a mistake, but it was far from that. It helped me to really understand what it was like for our colleagues who were customer-facing and how often they were islands unto themselves. I developed a deep appreciation for those roles and became highly attuned to the need to support our customer-facing colleagues with high-quality solutions and a real sense of urgency. So, while I thought it was a “mistake” at the time, it turned out to be one of the most critical learning experiences in my career.

What is your favorite part about working in the industry? What is your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

I believe that at the end of the day, no successful organization operates without three things: a strong culture, strong talent, and strong leadership. I often say that leadership is the uber-lever. In HR, we have the unique opportunity to have a material impact on those three levers in a meaningful way. I love what I have seen emerging in the industry: a deeper acknowledgment and recognition that nothing happens without the people. People must come first in order to unlock the business outcomes we are trying to achieve. The pandemic certainly highlighted the need to focus on the employee more acutely, and in HR, we are in the middle of it all, which I really enjoy.

That said, in certain segments of the industry, there is a wide variability in terms of where HR is on the continuum—from being side by side with business leaders and leading a very strategic agenda to being thought of as more transactional in nature. Thankfully, the role of HR in the banking industry is evolving to more of the former—we are playing a highly strategic role to enable the business agenda.

It sounds like, through your experience, you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

I learned early on how important it was to acknowledge, appreciate, and support colleagues not just professionally but also personally. Some of that came from my own personal experience as the caregiver for loved ones—both my parents and my husband, all of whom passed away from terminal illnesses. From the support and care I received from coworkers to resources and benefits to supportive leaders, they all helped me to navigate those difficult times, and that is something that I will never forget. The importance of seeing and caring for the whole employee is critical, and the pandemic brought this to life in a big way. Employers must play a role in helping people manage all the different dimensions of their lives, enabling them to bring their whole selves to work, which encompasses everything from how we lead and connect to the empathy and flexibility we provide to the benefits and tools we invest in and so on. What is important to me is striking that balance—being able to look at the talent equation from an organizational point of view but never losing sight of the importance of supporting employees professionally and personally.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

It starts with context. The most successful HR teams and professionals are people who understand the context—knowing what is going on in the market today, as well as the emerging trends, grasping the dynamics of the business, and understanding the internal factors impacting the business. This is becoming increasingly important as we see economic uncertainty and challenging labor market dynamics add complexity while disruption and innovation continue at a rapid pace. My advice is to continue to remain curious, seek out information and context, and stay connected to all the changes that may impact the business. That way, you can best position yourself to manage the implications to culture, talent, and leadership.

The best HR people are not reactive—they are not just thinking about what is in front of them. They are thinking about 3 to 5 years from now and how best to position the business for the future based on what they are seeing.

Where do you see the industry heading in 5 years? Or, are you seeing any current trends?

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly on everyone’s mind right now. It is a game-changer, and I don’t think we have seen anything like this since the Internet was introduced. The implications on talent and the capabilities that will be required are massive for all employees, not just technical talent. The way that jobs and organizations are structured is going to change quite significantly. There will be certain functions that will change dramatically, and there will be new functions that will emerge. The potential for rethinking the cost base for organizations as a result will be significant. It won’t be long before we will all have a digital copilot that will enhance how we work. The HR team needs to play a leadership role in helping to think through the myriad implications and ensure that there are robust plans to rethink roles and structures, as well as the acquisition and upskilling of talent.

There has also been in recent years a shifting expectation of talent and more of a focus on social issues. We must continue to further our efforts to drive a culture of belonging, where people can do their best work regardless of their background and feel valued, respected, and heard. The companies that will consistently succeed will be those that have embedded innovation into their DNA. Core to this is ensuring we harness the diverse perspectives and capabilities that exist in our company to drive more creativity and new thinking.

What are you most proud of?

I took 5 years off in between my time at JPMorgan Chase and joining Citizens. My very healthy mother suffered a debilitating stroke, which was devastating and a wake-up call for me personally as a mother of three children. This was a life-changing event for our family. It brought into focus the fragility of life and the need to be really deliberate in how we spend our time and to live more fully in the present. My mother never had a chance to do all the things she had planned for her retirement. I did not want that to happen to me—I wanted to find time to take a pause in my career and not wait until I was in my sixties to retire and then have my health suddenly give out. So, I found the right time to step back, and I took it, which was very risky. I knew it would not be long term, but I also knew it was something I needed to do to be present for my mother and my family. I am proud that I had the courage and the support to make that choice. It was one of the best decisions that I made for myself and for my family, and the time away widened my perspective when I did eventually return to work.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

This advice applies broadly to most people entering the workforce and is not necessarily industry-specific. Now more than ever, it is so important to stay intellectually curious and remain current on what is emerging in the external landscape. This will ensure you have your finger on the pulse of the future and will position you to provide thoughtful insights to leaders as they reimagine the future and effectively navigate their businesses.

Investing in building cross-functional relationships with people in all areas and types of roles at your company, as well as externally, is also extremely valuable. Not only does this build your network of trusted partners who can help you deliver results, but it also provides you the benefit of diverse perspectives while helping you better understand different parts of the business/industry.

I would also encourage people to be open to learning and growing their careers in all different kinds of ways and not be limited by the belief that growth comes only by the next big job or promotion. Be open to new experiences and interactions that will build new skills and capabilities.

The post Faces of HR: Susan LaMonica on Balancing People and Business Strategies appeared first on HR Daily Advisor.