Motivation Assessment Just Got a Whole Lot More Important

By Paul Barrett on May 15, 2017

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When seeking to explain performance in the workplace, the accepted model is:

Performance =f (Ability x Motivation).

All that has changed with the recent publication of an article in the Journal of Management (Van Iddekinge et al, 2017) demonstrating that the more accurate model is additive:

Performance =f (Ability + Motivation).

From the abstract to the article:

“We tested the longstanding belief that performance is a function of the interaction between cognitive ability and motivation. Using raw data or values obtained from primary study authors as input (k = 40 to 55; N = 8,507 to 11,283), we used meta-analysis to assess the strength and consistency of the multiplicative effects of ability and motivation on performance. A triangulation of evidence based on several types of analyses revealed that the effects of ability and motivation on performance are additive rather than multiplicative. For example, the additive effects of ability and motivation accounted for about 91% of the explained variance in job performance, whereas the ability-motivation interaction accounted for only about 9% of the explained variance. In addition, when there was an interaction, it did not consistently reflect the predicted form (i.e., a stronger ability-performance relation when motivation is higher).”

However, looking at the effect sizes presented in Table 2 in the article, Performance can be accounted for either by a multiplicative OR an additive model i.e. there is no substantive difference in their respective effect sizes. But, from the ancillary analyses conducted by the authors, the simple additive model does indeed have the edge.

What’s even more important in the employee-selection/development domain are the content of these two sections of text in the article (p. 23):

“… ability and motivation appear to be approximately equally important to job performance, the measures of which tend to assess typical performance over long periods. This discovery was somewhat unexpected given the strong track record of ability as a predictor of performance (e.g., F. L. Schmidt & Hunter, 1998) and suggests that motivation may be just as important to job performance as ability.

The present findings also point to actionable steps organizations can take to improve how they acquire and manage talent. First, our results reveal that ability and motivation are weakly correlated. The fact that ability and motivation largely are independent, and that both variables tend to demonstrate relations with performance, suggests that organizations should measure both variables to predict future performance. In other words, talent management systems that emphasize ability at the expense of motivation, or vice versa, are likely to be suboptimal for influencing or predicting future performance”.

So, this is clearly an important study which packs a real message. Instead of motivation assessment looking like an ‘afterthought’ or ‘nice to have’, it has now suddenly assumed the status of ‘must have’.

Many test publishers offer an indifferent self-report questionnaire assessment of Motivation, usually lumped together with an equally ‘tick-the-values-box’ assessment of some personal values and interests. That ‘design-indifference’ reflects the mind-set of many publishers who have not viewed motivation assessment as particularly critical or profitable. The exception as you might expect has been Hogan Assessments with its MVPI (Motive, Values, Preference Inventory) and Cognadev with its MP (Motivational Profile).

But the Cognadev assessment concentrates specifically on Motivation, assessing explanatory dynamic concepts far more powerful than the usual self-report questionnaire attributes. Although it does report on the values which are inferred to lie behind the assessed motivations, Cognadev uses a specialist Values Orientations (the VO) assessment to more accurately and comprehensively investigate a person’s values.

In short, given the new research evidence that has just been published, Cognadev’s Motivational Profile might now become the new critical-evaluation of motivation used alongside any existing ability or personality assessment.

As the authors of the article conclude:

“The results of the present study have the potential to “change the conversation” regarding theories that predict performance.”



Van Iddekinge, C.H., Aguinis, H., Mackey, J.D., & DeOrtentiis, P.S. (2017). A meta-analysis of the interactive, additive, and relative effects of cognitive ability and motivation on performance. Journal of Management, In Press, 1-31.

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