Many years ago when I used to work in the banking industry, a key motivation for my colleagues and I in the corporate banking space was the annual bonus. The bonus was performance-based and was derived from a mysterious “pot” that would be set by a regional head office sitting in another jurisdiction.
The “pot” would be country specific, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) would then have the unpleasant task to divvy it up amongst the various functions within the bank. The treasury, retail and corporate teams were the most belligerent, as they were the primary revenue earners and demanded a seat at the table where “pot” divisions were occurring.
The operations team often chimed in, after all they were the “heart” of the bank, since it was through their effort that the client facing, revenue generating teams got transactions executed. Without operations, there would be no revenues to speak of as transactions wouldn’t occur.
Piping in from the corner were the teams that were in charge of controls: the credit teams and the compliance teams without whom loans would not be approved, and the natural peaceful and compliant world order could not be maintained. You can only imagine the cacophony of voices in the CEO’s head when bonus time rolled round every year.
However all those voices could be silenced with a few words: “The pot has been reduced.” Now, being a subsidiary of a larger bank with multiple subsidiaries in various countries, the Kenya pot was arrived at after a broader decision of how to allocate various pots across the different African countries of operation.
So while we, at the bottom of the revenue generating food chain, were fighting for the spoils, the CEO was at the middle of the food chain fighting for his allocation of the very spoils that he’d have to later feed the hard working masses at the bottom. At the top of the food chain were the deciders. The ones who looked at the “big picture” and decided which country was deserving, depending on how they performed and added to the revenue cake. It’s worth noting that this cake was derived from net revenue, after deducting costs and provisions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the rain would occasionally start to beat us.
If the country in question had performed superbly, beaten or even bust all targets, the sales teams would have what they would later discover were unreasonable expectations emerging from the fact that a few, or in many cases, one loan – a very large loan – had gone off kilter and provisions had to be made for it, scaling down the bank’s profits significantly. This, I can tell you for free, would knock the wind out of the sails of even the greatest optimist.
The pot would be reduced to reflect the performance of the bank overall, rather than the performance of the great revenue earners.
So why do I give this little soliloquy? My Kenyan colleague, used to driving performance in order to get a deserving bonus at the end of a successful financial year, was transferred to a neighbouring country to head a revenue generating team. Accustomed to seeing people work late hours in order to fulfill customer demands, he found a clock watching team that would bust out of Dodge by 5 pm as their employment contract stated. He called a meeting whose main agenda was to get to the bottom of this less than stellar behaviour as revenue numbers were not up to scratch and were not forecast to grow unless more elbow grease was applied on delivering new clients and transactions.
He exhorted the benefits of working hard to deliver and even exceed the budgeted revenue numbers. After waxing lyrical about how the bonus would be good for everyone if this was achieved, one employee simply shrugged his shoulders and softly said, “Hata hiyo bonus sitegemei.” (I don’t depend on the bonus)
Well, I don’t have to tell you how far my colleague was thrown for a loop by this statement! This was not the natural order of things. Bankers worked for their bonuses, scratch that, bankers lived for their bonuses! That’s what paid off mortgages, paid off menacing shylocks or bought properties and other sound investments for their life in early retirement. How in heaven’s name could someone ever not depend on an annual bonus? Suffice it to say that this was a humbling lesson not only for my colleague, but for many team leaders in the corporate world. Not every team member is singing from the same performance script as you. Unravelling the secret to an individual’s motivation is the single largest challenge for any corporate team leader today. Good luck with that.