CBA CIO tightens demands on staff

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is taking a tougher line on underperforming information technology (IT) staff while investing more heavily in star performers, according to one of the CBA's chief information officers. Tony Clasquin, CIO of the CBA's wealth management division, detailed a raft of initiatives targeting the institution's 400 IT staff at a seminar run by services vendor Alphawest last week.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is taking a tougher line on underperforming information technology (IT) staff while investing more heavily in star performers, according to one of the CBA's chief information officers.

Tony Clasquin, CIO of the CBA's wealth management division, detailed a raft of initiatives targeting the institution's 400 IT staff at a seminar run by services vendor Alphawest last week. The moves stem from a meeting of the heads of technology and the human resources director at CBA in June last year to review and update staff management plans.

Attendees included the IT bosses from divisions such as Colonial First State, Global Asset Management, CommInsure and infrastructure services. The meeting was, according to Clasquin, planned to single out the "uniqueness of IT" due to the area's opportunity to impact heavily on the business.

According to Clasquin, the talkfest and its outcomes -- which were drawn up with a view to the longer term -- were an eye-opener.

"I had a people plan, or I thought I had," he said.

"Now this is not a people plan to get a once a year performance review. This is 'How do you grow this asset to actually build into a bigger asset, a bigger base?'".

"For me it became, wow, a realisation that 50 percent of my success was based upon the individuals in the organisation. And I didn't spend anywhere near that in managing or investing in these assets," he said.

He said the CBA's IT arm had subsequently introduced an accelerated development program whereby a group of strong performers work more closely with management to help them grow and deliver benefit back to the institution.

"We identified individuals with high potential," he said. "[and] we've run an [accelerated development] program for the last six to eight months where we discuss topics of leadership." The program includes regular lunches at which CBA's IT management discussed work matters with the group and provided feedback on performance issues.

Another plank of the strategy was a re-examination of the capabilities of those responsible for performance appraisals to deliver a quality review.

"We've come to realise that feedback is the breakfast of champions," Clasquin said.

"It is an art and not something that's usually a core competency of a lot of people."

The IT group has established a performance appraisal course for all managers with staff responsibility that enables them to better understand feedback.

This would ensure that appraisals were done in a systematic and consistent way, rather than being left up to the individual manager, according to Clasquin.

The CBA had also adopted a stance for its IT people of "making it hard to get in" to the institution and once there, "making it hard to stay in," Clasquin said.

This was exemplified by revised procedures for those who faced a probationary period before being confirmed in their roles.

A key aspect of this was the letter confirming a staff members' probation and detailing their obligations and responsibilities.

"To make it harder for people to come on board, the probationary letter is actually quite powerful," Clasquin said.

"When you come on board, it's signed not only by their manager saying 'you're on probation'...but by their colleagues [and] their staff.

"So when the guy actually gets the letter, he goes 'Wow, all these people have been watching me, and have given me the nod'. That is something special. And that's a very important thing to keep them alive and get a lot more out of them."

Clasquin is keen to keep staff on probation aware of their status as often as possible.

"When you get them in, say 'You're on probation, you've got a few months, we take probation seriously'. Every time, just let them know, they're on probation."

He has little sympathy for workers who drop below the required standard or fail to make the grade.

"You might actually get people not working in this environment," he said. "And all it needs, and I've seen this before, is a kick. A kick under the backside, and people will move".

"One of the things I've learnt as I've gone through life is, if you have people who aren't performing, get rid of them.

"Because it's your duty to not let your other staff carry them around."

This sort of recruitment helped to foster a team culture, and avoid one of Clasquin's pet hates, employees that chose to 'be right', rather than 'do right'.

"How many times have you seen your project managers stand there and say 'well I sent him the e-mail'. Your job isn't to send him the e-mail, it's to get him to do it.

"So a lot of people start saying 'Well I'm right, I've done the right things, and I don't care'.

"And with this project manager standing there saying 'I'm right', and starting to document the time that I e-mailed this person, is he starting to document his case? Is he starting to get into a defendable position to why this failed? And once you start documenting, you're preparing for failure."

The success of the revised people plan would be reviewed again in June, according to Clasquin.