Bank pays the price of silence

IT staff at Bank of Ireland need no longer feel disgruntled.

IT staff at Bank of Ireland need no longer feel disgruntled.

Following a period of industrial unrest, they can feel satisfied with a radical package that offers significant job security assurances and pension guarantees for the 500 staff transferring to Hewlett-Packard as part of an imminent outsourcing deal.

But the concessions made by senior management should stand as a lesson for other IT chiefs planning to outsource parts of their IT or bring in major IT implementations.

Bank of Ireland was forced to offer its IT employees such generous terms in order to placate a workforce whose feelings of uncertainty drove them to take strike action.

Change of ownership has been the hallmark of the bank's IT function in recent years. An outsourcing venture launched in 1998 was reversed last year. When rumours of a new round of outsourcing began to circulate, staff inevitably felt unsettled.

Bank of Ireland's inability to settle on an outsourcing model and partner should stand as a warning to others contemplating this route.

Successful outsourcing depends on striking the right balance of risk and reward between customer and supplier - part of that requires the buy-in of staff.

The danger of poor communication with staff was seen starkly earlier this year with the highly damaging unofficial strike at British Airways.

BA revealed last month that the dispute with employees over an electronic clocking-on system, which left thousands of passengers stranded at Heathrow, had cost the company between £30m and £40m.

Amid accusations of increased working hours and lower pay, was a fear of the new technology which manifested itself in check-in staff checking out.

Any major technology implementation or strategic decision has to go hand-in-hand with a change management strategy. This must entail frank and open conversations with staff and union representatives at an early stage to throw light on the implications of new developments.

Most staff will react well to being treated as intelligent people who are trusted with the harsh facts and the bigger picture. It is only human to believe the worst if no details are forthcoming.

Good communication is a key skill for anyone in management, but when major change is on the horizon, it becomes critical.

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