A motivational matrix: How to keep employees both satisfied and productive

The motivational matrix created by Salama pinpoints the three E’s of development, namely education, exposure and experience

“Human Resources (HR) departments usually strive to make employees satisfied, but this is not enough because satisfaction does not equate to productivity,” says Asser Salama, founder and chairman of EasyGroup for Health and Beauty Care.

“[Employees] need to be motivated in order to actually perform and be more productive,” he adds.

Looking to create a better work environment, Salama surveyed his 500 employees in 2007 and then validated the results by conducting the same survey in four other companies. This brought to life what he calls the Egyptian Motivational Matrix, a scheme that visualizes what dissatisfies, satisfies and motivates Egyptian employees.

“Applying this matrix contributed to turning our firm from a company worth LE200 million into a LE1 billion company,” Salama claims.

For decades, the carrot-and-stick approach primitively used to motivate employees with large sums of money has been ripped apart. Yale psychologist Paul Marciano even wrote a book entitled “Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work.”

Consequently, companies worldwide have been consciously trying to find alternative ways to motivate employees.

When looking at Egypt and the motivational schemes used within local companies, a dissertation submitted to Walden University in 2016 unveils a gloomy secret. The study, prepared by Nada El-Zayaty and entitled “An Exploration of Leadership Styles and Motivation in Egyptian Business Organizations,” asks to employees about the management systems and styles they have been exposed to from their superiors.

Despite the global shaming of the carrot-and-stick approach, 82 percent of respondents to the study stated that monetary incentives were used as primary motivators within their organizations.

It is not just about a good boss or good pay or good treatment – it is about a fair boss, fair pay and fair treatment

For Salama, the fact that this continues to be the dominant approach is worrying.

“Because I am a medical doctor, I always think of problems in the form of diseases. I have a clinical picture, I have a diagnosis and then I have to manage the disease before treating it. I applied that way of thinking as a medical doctor to our business model,” he explains.

The founder graduated from Alexandria and decided to become an entrepreneur in the early 1990s. He went on to pursue postgraduate studies in management at Harvard Business School.

“What I learned about management is that it is built on practices that were turned into theories, not the other way around. This is the brilliance of management,” he says.

In theory and practice
The Egyptian Motivational Matrix and its preceding survey were created based on management theories Salama had studied during his time at Harvard.

One is Theory X and Theory Y by social psychologist Douglas McGrego, which is underscored by the assumption that there is good and bad in everyone.

Theory X is labelled as the authoritarian style of management, while Theory Y is known as the participative style. If managers believe that their team members dislike their work and are unmotivated, they will likely apply an authoritarian style of management, which includes micromanagement in order to make sure that the work is done properly.

If managers think that their employees take pride in their work and are motivated, they will most probably take on a participative style as they see their team members taking ownership of processes and work effectively and efficiently.

Each mode of management affects the organization and work environment differently, as Theory Y is more likely to motivate employees. Hence, McGregor suggests that the way managers perceive what motivates their employees directly affects their management style. Theory X reduces workers to “cogs in a machine,” according to McGregor, which is why it is important to understand what motivates employees.

The main question is what is the difference between motivated, satisfied and unsatisfied employees? The main element that makes an employee unsatisfied is unfairness, according to the Egyptian Motivational Matrix this spans from an unfair boss to unfair pay, and also includes an unfair work environment, unfair treatment and unfair management system.

“It is not just about a good boss or good pay or good treatment – it is about a fair boss, fair pay and fair treatment,” he says, “Shockingly, more than 80 percent of the survey respondents mentioned that a fair boss is their main retainer, and an unfair boss is the main reason they leave.”

Another theory Salama swears by is the BCG Growth-Share Matrix. The BCG Growth-Share Matrix classifies a company’s business units into four categories: Stars, Question Marks, Cash Cows and Dogs.

Stars are known as products or business units that use up a lot of cash, but generate a lot of cash as well because of their wide market share. Question Marks use up a lot of cash and grow rapidly, but do not generate as much because their market share is still low. Cash Cows generate more cash than they consume because they are leaders in the market, so they should minimally be invested in. Dogs have a low market share and low growth rate, so they do not generate or consume large amounts of cash.

“The BCG Growth-Share Matrix is concerned with investment decisions, but you can apply the same model on your employees. Stars need to be invested in, investment in question marks needs to be more cautious and so on,” Salama explains.

The three E’s
But how can we turn satisfied Egyptian employees into motivated ones? The chairman’s answer to this question is: the three E’s of development, namely education, exposure and experience.

Education gives employees the sense that they are always learning and that their learning process is supported by the organization. Exposure stipulates pushing employees out of their bubble and into the business environment to meet new people and different cultures. Experience is concerned with giving employees room for trial and error in the workplace and enriching their jobs.

“Employees do not necessarily have to be trained, but rather developed. This is a frequent mistake HR departments make,” he adds.

Exposure was the most important element that motivated employees as it makes up over 40 percent of the person’s development process, followed by experience and tailed by education.

While the Egyptian Motivational Matrix is the result of local research, Salama’s experience shows it has potential to be applied in companies around the world.

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