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Leadership

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory: How to Motivate Staff and Increase Performance

Matthew Channell - Last Update: 30 Sep 2021

Contents

What is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory?

What are Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence?

How to use Vroom’s Expectancy Theory to motivate employees and increase performance

Advantages and disadvantages of using Expectancy Theory

 

Victor Harold Vroom created the Expectancy Theory of Motivation in 1964. His study of psychology has shed light on how people behave in the workplace, particularly when it comes to motivation, leadership and decision-making.

What is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory?

It works on the assumption that people will choose to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. This means that people will behave in a way that results in the best outcome or reward.

The theory is dependent on the idea that the more an employee values the outcome, the more motivated they will be to achieve it. The more effort they put in to succeed, the more certain they are of getting that satisfying reward.

To make the connection between motivation, effort and performance, Expectancy Theory has three variables: Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence.

What are Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence?

These are all links in the chain of motivation - if one of these links is weak, then your employee will not be motivated, so you would need to find the problem and resolve it to achieve the outcome.

Expectancy (E)

If an employee puts in the effort, they expect a certain result. If they do not get that result, they will not be motivated to make the effort again and so will not be satisfied with the outcome.

How can managers help employees get the results they expect?

  • Make sure the employee has the tools and time
  • Assign an employee that already has or will gain useful skills
  • Be available to provide support and encouragement

Instrumentality (I)

Your employee might make the effort and get the expected result but if they do not believe that the result is instrumental in getting the reward, they will not be motivated. And so the outcome is not achieved and your employee is not satisfied.

It is important to note though, that the reward might not always be what the employee expected at first.

For example, if they learn new skills in an effort to earn a promotion but that employee is not rewarded with the position they want, they will still have those skills which might result in them getting promoted in the future or recruited for a more senior role in another company.

How can managers help employees understand that the result is instrumental in getting a satisfactory outcome?

  • Be clear about what the reward is and how to achieve it
  • Give staff an outcome they value so they can trust that their effort is important
  • Be open about how rewards are allocated

Valence (V)

Valence is how much the outcome is valued, if at all. The more an employee values a certain reward, the more satisfied they will be with their efforts.

A reward doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it just has to be meaningful to the employee - whether that’s a bonus, extra time off or simply a bit of recognition.

The Valence can be categorised by:

  • -1 Avoiding the outcome/reward
  • 0 Apathetic about the outcome/reward
  • +1 Desiring the outcome/reward

The Valance can only be motivating if the employee would prefer having the outcome, to not having it.

Say an employee makes the effort, gets the expected result and believes that the result is instrumental in achieving the outcome. But if the value of the reward doesn’t appeal to them - if they aren’t satisfied with the outcome - the employee will not be motivated.

It’s important to make it clear to your employee that their effort will have a satisfying outcome or reward that they value. This establishes trust and paves the way for the rest of the chain of motivation to succeed.

So, the chain (or equation) of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory is as follows:

Motivational Force (MF) = Expectancy (E) x Instrumentality (I) x Valence (V)

If either E, I or V are zero, then the equation fails, and this indicates that motivation is low or non-existent.

For example, it could be that an employee does not believe they have enough time to perform a task well, which means their effort will not result in a satisfactory outcome. After all, who would be motivated to work hard on something that is doomed to fail?

Solving the problem behind the lack of motivation will restore employees’ expectations, prove their instrumentality and/or help managers better understand the value their staff place on the organisation’s rewards.

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How to use Vroom’s Expectancy Theory to increase motivation and performance

Managers can assess whether their employees understand what they need to do to get the desired outcome. Clarifying their role can be a way to make sure staff are aligned and understand what they need to do.

For example, say a manager tasked their employee with producing an advertising campaign, which would get them the bonus they wanted as a reward (Valence).

According to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, the employee must believe the task is achievable, in order for them to put the effort into it. If the task is doable, the employee will be keen to perform well in anticipation of the bonus (Expectancy).

The employee must also believe that the effort they put in will get them the desired outcome (Instrumentality), so the organisation must deliver on the outcomes it promises.

Luckily, our example organisation bestows rewards often, so due to the employee's trust and hard work, the advertising campaign is engaging and performs well, and so the employee earns that satisfying bonus - and rightly so! 

Advantages and disadvantages of using Expectancy Theory 

Advantages:

  • There is a connection between motivation and satisfaction
  • The expectation of a reward increases motivation, even if the outcome differs slightly from the original reward
  • The theory focuses on rewards and achieving goals
  • It promotes the idea that more effort should lead to increased performance, meaning the desired outcomes are met

Disadvantages:

  • It assumes that effort and performance will result in the desired reward
  • The theory does not account for factors like an employee’s learning and workload capacity
  • If either the task is unachievable, the reward is not delivered or the outcome isn’t valuable, that is enough for employees to lose motivation

While Vroom’s Expectancy Theory allows both the business and staff to meet their objectives by focusing on a meaningful reward or outcome, it shouldn’t be the only theory you lean on.

There are other motivation theories that complement Expectancy Theory, which focuses on other aspects - such as the employee’s needs, job satisfaction and equity in the workplace.