Merge's Blog

Employee performance = ability X motivation

employee performanceI often address the issue of problem employees on the blog.  In the past, I’ve talked about the difference between performance, behaviour and attitude issues, the importance of articulating the problem, and the single most important question to ask yourself before you ever raise the issue with your employee. It’s always worth stepping back and taking a big picture perspective.   Let’s focus on what makes up employee performance, both good and bad.

Employee performance consists of two components

Employee performance is a function of two things – ability and motivation.

Performance = ability X motivation

Ability is the physical, intellectual or emotional capability of your employee to get the job done. Is your employee even able to do what is required in the job?

Motivation however has to do with desire and commitment. Does the employee WANT to do the job at the level and competence that is required?

Why should you care?

Why does this matter? Because you need to assess both factors when trying to get at the root cause of a performance problem. Someone who is highly motivated but at a reduced level of ability can often achieve above-average performance. Unfortunately the opposite is not always true. But don’t be fooled into thinking that motivation can overcome ANY lack of ability – the two are still necessary requirements for exceptional (or even adequate) employee performance. In my experience, you can operate tolerably at 50% ability, but anything less than 75% motivation will get you nowhere.

So what do you think? What are the minimum required levels of ability and motivation to have an adequately performing employee?


  • While ability and motivation are essential, they aren’t the only things needed for performance – a highly-skilled, motivated employee might be doing tons of irrelevant, pointless work.

    The two other elements that are needed are role clarity (knowledge of the employee’s job and what actions are needed) and goal clarity (so that the employee’s performance can be aligned with organizational goals).

    Just my two cents… 😉

  • George, I agree completely. In my quest to try and simplify the “problem employee” for those who are living through the agony, I over-simplified. I would suggest that ability and motivation are the two basic building blocks; once you have those, then role and goal clarity also becomes essential. However, the opposite is not necessarily true. If an employee has clarity in his/her job and how s/he aligns with the organization’s goals, BUT does not have ability and motivation, then the outcome will be failure.


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