100 years ago, not very much effort went into performance management. In many sectors, workers were seen only as disposable tools.

Then, in the 1950s, Normal Maier produced an early version of the performance equation:

Performance = Ability x Motivation

He showed that there was more than one factor contributing to an individual’s performance.

Maier’s equation hasn’t changed too much in modern times. For example, Timothy Gallwey gives us this equation in The Inner Game of Tennis:

Performance = Potential – Interference

Here, potential is like Maier’s ability, and it can be negatively affected by interference. Interference could be something about your environment that affects you, or it could be that voice in your head that says you can’t do something.

I have seen this equation taught a different way by a coach who wanted to explain how interference could be seen in a positive way:

Performance = Potential + Interference

They gave the example of ‘hysterical strength’ to support this interpretation – how else can we explain stories of perfectly average people lifting cars off wounded friends? Humans are often more capable than we know, and positive interference might unlock some of that.

Another version is that used by Owen Eastwood (a performance coach who has analysed elite teams from the New Zealand All Blacks and the England football team):

Performance = Capability + Behaviour

Eastwood stresses the interrelated nature of capability and behaviour: if your behaviour is bad, your capability will be reduced. The combined output is worse performance.

At Fieri, we like this version:

The performance equation:

Action and results = knowledge and skills + ability + attitude and motivation + support

Our Fieri coaches have managed team performance across a huge range of sectors: from professional sport, to business, to the military. Regardless of their context, our coaches agree that these same factors come up again and again: knowledge and skills, attitude and motivation, ability, and support.  

This has been a brief fly through the history of the performance equation, but it shows us that whatever model we choose, the key idea is the same. If someone isn’t performing the way that we want them to, we need to look at the other side of the equation and work out how best to unlock that individual’s potential. That’s good leadership.

That’s why we like our version! We think it provides a good range of simple factors to consider: not too abstract, not too complicated.

What do you think?

Find out more here:

Hannah Stodel


Cerasoli, C. P., 2014, Performance = Ability X Motivation: Exploring Untested Moderators
of a Popular Model

Mace, C. A. (1935). Incentives: some experimental studies. Technical reports from the Industrial Health Residency Board of London.

Maier, N. R. F. (1955). Psychology in industry: A psychological approach to industrial problems

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