Smart personnel management at Hamburg Commercial Bank

June 2021 – First and foremost, the transformation from an institution under public law to a modern and flexible organizational unit requires new personnel tools and a comprehensive change of culture. Hamburg Commercial Bank proves how such a change can succeed and what is required to make this happen.


New times require new forms of leadership and a complete change in employee motivation. A cornerstone of this is the development of future-proof skills, which personally advance employees and so further the competitiveness of Hamburg Commercial Bank as a whole. “The previous system of performance management steered us safely through the previous eventful years. But we have also recognized that a new direction is now required to sustainably guide the bank’s transformation process into the future,” says Kaja Wilkniß, Head of HR Strategy at Hamburg Commercial Bank. A year ago, HCOB therefore completely revised its principles for the assessment and rewarding of good work – gaining very good experience in the process. “In addition to subject-related performance, we also focus on interdisciplinary, newly defined skills. In so doing, we are specifically aligning the qualifications required of our employees with the challenges faced by the bank and are well set up for the future,” says Wilkniß.

One focus here is strengthening the dialog between management and employees, contributing toward the bank’s new understanding of leadership: In addition to their management roles, managers are being brought closer to operational issues. Among other things, the annual appraisal, perceived as being too complex and too excessive, has been reduced to key performance contributions and the personal and professional development of employees. With elements of task and performance management during the year as well as the promotion of interdisciplinary development, the bank is aiming to provide its employees with targeted and individual support in their performance.

A key point in the launch of the new performance management was the switch from a classic target agreement system at almost all employee levels to a contribution system which is no longer directly linked with variable remuneration. “It was evident that the link with variable remuneration only provided employees with limited incentives,” says Wilkniß.

Kaja Wilkniß

A contribution is a general or specific key task arising from the relevant position’s range of duties. Contributions are agreed and documented by employees and management. This motivates employees far beyond the original task. Contributions are also flexible and can be changed without bureaucracy, for example when the focus of a position shifts during the course of a year and the significance of new tasks appears to be more important.

The new performance management process addresses the bank’s changing performance and dialog requirements for its management and employees in three main components. The annual process now provides for a personnel meeting and at least two structured feedback sessions between employees and management.

Now that a good year has passed since the launch of the new system, Kaja Wilkniß has come to the conclusion that a lot of it is working very well and employees and management are entering into dialog, as was the aim. But there are still one or two areas for improvement. For example, a mutual understanding of the meaning of “potential” needs to be honed, and what it means if someone does not have any further potential. HR expert Wilkniß: “Employees without potential for further significant career development are very important for the organization because they are the right employees in the right position. These are what we need most of.”