When Zions Bancorp. in Salt Lake City decided to consolidate its seven bank charters into one, executives knew they would have to work hard to retain their most talented employees amid all the disruption.

As chief human resources officer for the $63.2 billion-asset Zions, Dianne James played a key role in moving more than 1,000 employees from affiliates to corporate roles and ensuring minimal turnover in the process — even as the company cut base salaries by $8 million.

That required transparency every step of the way, James said.

Diane James, Chief Human Resources Officer at Zions Bancorp.
Diane James, Chief Human Resources Officer at Zions Bancorp.

Continuity in management was a priority; the turnover ratio among vice presidents was 6%, and it hovered around 2% for senior and executive VPs, she said.

"If you turn a blind eye to turnover, you're not able to retain top performers, and you don't really have a business," James said. "You have to have people who are invested in the company, and you have to invest in them."

Zions announced the charter consolidation in mid-2015, and its first full year of operating under a single charter was 2016. The company met several financial goals it set at the start, such as achieving an efficiency ratio below 66%.

It is being recognized for having one of the Top Teams in Banking, as part of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program. This is a reflection of the strong female leaders there who are contributing to its strategy and bottom line and of its commitment to initiatives to help more women advance into the senior ranks.

More 2017 Top Teams:

James and her team had to examine each business unit, figure out which employees carried the heaviest loads and decide which people to move over to corporate jobs and which ones to lay off. The task involved making calculations on everything from severance pay to retention bonuses.

The meshing of recruitment departments is a prime example. They were all run well, but they operated much differently from each other. Some affiliates had HR representatives act as a part-time recruiters, while others had employees in the role full time. Zions took the strongest recruiters from all of its bank units and built a consolidated team of 29 recruiters and five managers.

Zions always considers women and minorities when filling positions, but it has "no hard and fast rule" for how many to review or select, James said. Still, half of its corporate officers are women, and 40% of the talent pipeline in James' succession planning database are women.

James recalled a recent meeting about succession planning in emphasizing that the commitment starts at the top. Chairman and Chief Executive Harris Simmons "made it very clear that we need to highlight certain women that have been identified and make sure that the board knows who they are," she said.

Headquarters: Salt Lake City

2016 Financial highlights:
Assets: $63.2 billion
ROE: 5.95%
ROA: 0.78%

Female representation among corporate officers: 50%

Female representation on operating committee: 20%

The Team: Diana Andersen, Lori Chillingworth, Trina Eyring, Pat Frobes, Paula Fryland, Cory Gardiner, Melisse Grey, Debra Herman, Olga Hoff, Mary Holman, Dianne James, Carrie Johnson, Jennifer Johnston, Dr. Vivian S. Lee, LeeAnne Linderman, Crystal Low, Marylyn Manis-Hassanein, Jan Mitrovich, Shannon Petersen, Cristie Richards, Rebecca Robinson, Jennifer Smith, Deb Smith, Jennifer Troyan, Betty Uribe, Heather White, Barbara Yastine

Zions Bank also had Top Team wins in 2016 and 2015.