MARS Model of Individual Behavior and Results - Principles of Management

Management buzzwords come and go, but employee engagement will likely be around for a while. Why? Because the definition of employee engagement spells out the four factors that directly influence an employee’s voluntary behavior and resulting performance— motivation, ability, role perceptions, and situational factors. These four key ingredients of behavior and performance are diagrammed in the MARS model , shown in Figure below.

Notice that “MARS” is an acronym representing the four factors in the model’s name.


Motivation represents the forces within a person that affect his or her direction, intensity, and persistence of voluntary behavior. Direction refers to the path along which people engage their effort. This sense of direction of effort reflects the fact that people have choices about where they put their effort. In other words, motivation is goal-directed, not random. People are motivated to arrive at work on time, finish a project a few hours early, or aim for many other targets.

The second element of motivation, called intensity , is the amount of effort allocated to the goal. For example, two employees might be motivated to finish their project a few hours early (direction), but only one of them puts forth enough effort (intensity) to achieve this goal. In other words, intensity is how much you push yourself to complete the task.

Mars Model of Individual Behavior and Performance

MARS Model of Individual Behavior and Results

MARS Model of Individual Behavior and Results

Finally, motivation involves varying levels of persistence— that is, continuing the effort for a certain amount of time. Employees sustain their efforts until they reach their goals or give up beforehand. To help remember these three elements of motivation, consider the metaphor of driving a car in which the thrust of the engine is your effort. Direction refers to where you steer the car, intensity is how hard you put your foot down on the gas pedal, and persistence is how long you drive toward that destination.


Ability consists of both the natural aptitudes and learned capabilities required to successfully complete a task. Ability is an important consideration when hiring job applicants because performing required tasks demands the right knowledge and skills. Ability is also an important factor in employee development. By identifying skill deficiencies, managers can determine which training is required to improve employee performance.

In addition to hiring qualified applicants and training employees so they learn the required abilities, managers can improve performance by redesigning the job so employees are given only tasks within their capabilities. AT&T’s customer service operations in Dallas took this approach when they realized that many employees were overwhelmed by the increasing variety of products ( cable, Internet, HDTV, home theater, and so on).

“Our employees just said ‘Help! This is way too complex—we’re trained on three things and we need help!’” recalls an AT&T executive. The company’s solution was to redesign jobs so employees could begin with one area of product knowledge, such as video cable, and then progress to a second knowledge area when the first product is mastered.


Employees who feel engaged in their jobs not only have the necessary motivation and competencies to perform their work but also understand the specific tasks assigned to them, the relative importance of those tasks, and the preferred behaviors to accomplish those tasks.

In other words, they have clear role perceptions . The most basic way to improve these role perceptions is for staff to receive a job description and ongoing coaching. Employees also clarify their role perceptions as they work together over time and receive frequent and meaningful performance feedback.


With high levels of motivation and ability, along with clear role perceptions, people will perform well only if the situation also supports their task goals. Situational factors include conditions beyond the employee’s immediate control that constrain or facilitate his or her behavior and performance.

Some situational characteristics—such as consumer preferences and economic conditions—originate from the external environment and consequently are beyond the employee’s and organization’s control. However, some situational factors—such as time, people, budget, and physical work facilities— are controlled by others in the organization.

Corporate leaders need to carefully arrange these conditions so employees can achieve their performance potential.


The MARS model is a useful diagnostic tool that should be the starting point for most problems where employee behavior and performance may be a factor. Consider the series of train derailments (eight of them over 20 months) that have recently plagued the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) in Washington, D.C. One problem identified in the investigations was that the tracks around the tight curves were not lubricated, so the wheels climbed up the rail and popped off the track.

The track department was ordered to lubricate tracks around these bends a few times each year. Yet another derailment occurred less than a year later because key managers in the track department retired or were transferred soon after the initial order, and no one else remembered that it was now part of their job. In this situation employees in the track department seem to be skilled and reasonably motivated, and they possessed the tools and time to perform the work. However, they experienced poor role perceptions: They didn’t know that lubricating the track was part of their job.

A second problem related to Metro’s three dozen “track walkers”—employees who check the entire track system for unsafe conditions twice each week. Internal audits revealed that many of these people failed to report unsafe tracks because they lacked sufficient training or were covering too much track (eight miles every day) to adequately investigate potential problem spots.

Also, one audit suggested that many track walkers were “apathetic”—perhaps not surprising given their routine of walking the same track every week and the fact that their work often goes unnoticed. This information shows that many track walkers score poorly on three of the four elements in the MARS model (and consequently would have low engagement scores). They lack motivation and sufficient resources (too much track to inspect each day), and many of them lack the ability to detect track problems. At least they know what job they are supposed to perform (high role perceptions).

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