Erastus Akingbola’s workplace climate and infinite influence

In the era where everyone wants to be entrepreneurs, especially the baby boomers, generation X and Z and the millennials, the need to have a culture that attracts and retains workplace talent cannot be over-emphasised. People’s desire to be engaged in regular employment and yet have a sense of belonging can no longer be ignored.

Workers’ yearning for remuneration that aligns with their contributions has existed since the creation of employers’ and employees’ relationships. The world has witnessed many strikes and labour unrests in agitations for better rewards.

However, some companies have seen less turmoil and attrition of employees due to the culture they have in place and how the employees perceive the rewards and engagement vis-à-vis their contributions to the success of their organisations. One thing is to have a good culture; a culture that reduces collective uncertainties and increases collective commitment. Another is to have workplace climates that embolden the intended culture.

Almost all the ex-staff have something good to say about the culture of the bank and about the approach of Erastus to staff welfare and contributions to the bank

The lessons from Erastus Akingbola’s workplace climates in the erstwhile Intercontinental Bank plc are relevant for any organisation that wants to retain employees and keep them relatively satisfied. Though Intercontinental Bank is no more, and Akingbola had been in a long age battle against EFCC and CBN to clear his name and get justice, his past way of keeping dedicated employees motivated cannot be ignored. After all, we must learn from the past to progress into the future.

This article is about my research on employee engagement and workplace culture as a pre-requisite to my book on leadership. Before you think further, I am not eulogising Akingbola. He started Intercontinental Bank in 1989 and grew it into one of Nigeria’s foremost financial institutions until he was sacked with some other banks’ chiefs in 2009 by the Central Bank of Nigeria‘s governor in a controversial motive.

In every circle where you have an ex-intercontinental bank’s staff, the influence of Erastus Akingbola is not dangling. Almost all the ex-staff have something good to say about the culture of the bank and about the approach of Erastus to staff welfare and contributions to the bank. In his word, Erastus believes leadership is about building organisations where the welfare and well-being of the human capital is the foremost priority.

It is not unusual to have ex-senior members of organisations who have directly benefited from the owners stay committed to the key persons that have made them. However, after decades of the scene, loyalty to Erastus is mostly among staff who are not at grades near him. He led his organisation in line with his words. He spread the benefits of leadership and productivity to all the staff, especially to the majority who are outside his inner circle.

A high attribution rate undoubtedly affects organisations’ stability and trajectory to committed objectives. In the then Intercontinental Bank under Erastus Akingbola, the staff attrition rate is near non-existence. In 2002, my friend Lawrence was at the bank’s headquarters to receive his offer letter. An HR staff that attended to him told him that he would stay long in the bank as they rarely receive letters of resignation. This is contrary to some organisations, especially in this age where attrition is like the influx and outflux of customers for transactions.

Climate measures the current organisation’s temperature. It is the team’s reaction to current events, and a tool for leaders to drive alignment with culture in the long run—a good and well-crafted culture without supporting climates makes a mess of the intended outcome. My team at Mentoras Limited decided not to pursue a contract to implement a culture and attitudinal change project for an organisation because we lack beliefs in the leadership to create supporting climates to drive employee engagement and productivity.

In Erastus’s Intercontinental bank, there are various climates he created to align staff aspirations with the organisation’s corporate objectives. Akingbola, in the first place, made an environment of unassuming personality where everyone, irrespective of grade or age, is seen and treated as essential to achieving the agreed objectives.

He was a CEO that used the same elevator with everyone. Though this is not unique to him, he took it further. He ate in the same canteen with the team (the same meal provided by the bank) and was always part of the same fellowship. He led without an aura of superiority around him and with no persistent cases of verbal abuse of staff. Thus, the character of the leader is the dominant character of the organisation; directly or indirectly.

Under Erastus, the bank had a unique climate at the branches and head office units with JETA. JETA is the acronym for Joint Effort Target Achievement. A branch will be given a profit target. When surpassed, an allocated percentage is shared once the targets are met to all the department or unit’s staff, including the cleaners and drivers. No one is left out as unimportant or idle, though the sharing is always proportional to contributions.

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JETA, aside from creating a result-oriented team, is also developing an atmosphere for career entrepreneurship where everyone is striving to contribute to the profit and service level of the branch. The culture of Clan, Market and Adhocracy are being created simultaneously without losing sight of the Hierarchy culture required in the industry.

A series of secret climates were part of the Erastus culture at Intercontinental Bank of those days. Akingbola, the Vice-chairman/CEO will set a profit target for the bank. Once those targets are met, Erastus can share anything with his staff.

The wonder of the sharing is the secrecy with which it is always executed. At that time, say in 2001 to 2003, an assistant Manager (AM) level person will, with no prior notifications, find N600,000 in his account as PS. PS is the short form of profit sharing. For those in the market-facing role, an AM can get more aside from the monthly JETA.

One more secret climate is the unexpected payment of cost-of-living adjustment to staff to cushion the effects of the rise in prices, especially when there is any hike in PMS prices. Not all organisations can maintain positive secrecy. I have seen organisations where leaders inform their team members of action not yet announced in solidarity against the management for consistent selfish decisions the leaders cannot openly criticise.

These financial rewards and the modes of implementation created career entrepreneurs for the bank who are stable and committed to achieving the set targets. Erastus made climates and cultures where employees think and act as the owners with lower attrition rates.

The climate meets the aspirations of the staff to be entrepreneurs who see rewards directly linked to their efforts outside the monthly salary, create better staff engagement and act as an incentive for productivity. All these take nothing away from the owner of the bank.

He was not being pushed to acquire more wealth at the expense of the goose that lays the golden eggs for the organisation or at the race of being in the yearly Forbes list of the wealthiest people.

Unfortunately, Erastus Akingbola’s time was off due to what he had been challenging as unfair and, in a climate where justice is not easily obtained or never to be obtained. Otherwise, we would have seen a more beautiful outcome of using positive and selfless climates in building organisations where people feel rewarded and appreciated.

The critical lessons are for people who have witnessed Erastus’s climates and can replicate the same to create an atmosphere for shared prosperity in line with the law of the picture: people do what they see their leaders do.

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