Victor Vroom at the Yale School of Management was the first to put forward the Expectancy Theory (1964) defined as behavior motivated by consequences or anticipated results. He postulated that you make a decision to behave in a specific way based on what you think will result from the executed behavior. An example of this is a person who chooses to work harder because they think the effort expended will, subsequently, be rewarded.
Thus, people will make choices considering how they think the expected results of a certain behavior will align with or meet the desired results. This belief begins early in their life; it will hold throughout their entire life. There are three components in expectancy theory, namely 1) expectancy, 2) instrumentality, and 3) valence.
Expectancy is defined as the belief that your effort will result in the intended performance goals. The person’s belief is that “I can do this,” and, typically, is based on a person’s past experience, self-confidence level, and the perceived difficulty of the task. How the person perceives the expectancy reflects their competence level, their level of control, and the difficulty of the goal.
Two students in my management degree courses exemplified this. They were experienced managers who exhibited high-level management skills. They wanted to learn about new theories from a course they signed up for and thought that they would not only complete the course but also do well with the material. They exhibited a high degree of expectancy. Expectancy can be enhanced by having the necessary skills for the job, the proper resources if needed, and ample support to perform the job properly.
There are several key elements in which the institution/organization can impact expectancy. These include:
- What is the superior’s attitude (this can affect self-esteem)?
- How is the work organized (e.g., gradual learning, skills development, etc.)?
- How is the power delegated?
- How is the person trained?
- What is the internal mobility concerning employees gaining experience, obtaining new skills, etc.?
- What coaching is available beyond supervising to include helping people fully develop their interests, skills, and talents?
See also: Theory X And Theory Y, Douglas McGregor
Instrumentality is defined as believing that someone will obtain the desired outcome if the performance expectation is met. It is the belief that, “If I accomplish this, I will get that” or “What is in it for me?” Common outcomes include a pay raise or promotion, recognition for the achievement, and a sense of personal accomplishment or fulfillment. Typically, clear policies are in place as in a contract that states that if the agreed-upon performance is completed, then the reward will be given. If the outcome is not clearly defined or does not change for various levels of performance, then instrumentality is low.
For example, in the case of the two students discussed earlier, they believed that if they put forth the energy, effort, and time that they would achieve their goals. And that’s exactly what they did to do their best in class. While doing so, they explored significant theories and ideas. Their level of instrumentality was high. Having a clear understanding of how performance and outcome relate, having respect and trust for those who make decisions concerning the outcome, and being able to see transparency throughout the process of determining outcomes are all key factors that impact instrumentality. In the field of education, the component of instrumentality is typically illustrated with school administrators and performance evaluations.
There are several key elements that can influence instrumentality. These include:
- Superiors’ attitudes
- Various policies (e.g., promotion, payroll)
- An appreciation system
- Meritocracy elements
- Information on the elements above
- Knowledge of veracity
Valence is concerned with a particular outcome and, specifically, the unique value that a person places on it. It is illustrated by the fact that “I find this particular outcome desirable because I’m me” or “how do I feel about the outcomes in question?” A person’s needs, goals, what they prefer, their values, types of motivation, and the individual’s preference and passion for a particular outcome are key factors of an individual’s valence.
For example, an employee might think that a pay raise or bonus is motivating and desirable, yet another employee may prefer something else like more flexible work hours or a greater level of recognition as their motivation. In other words, a monetary bonus most likely won’t motivate someone who prefers recognition.
In the example of the students mentioned earlier, they valued outcomes and learned to apply them. They performed well in the course receiving excellent grades, shared a passion for learning, and applied what they learned to real-life situations. In time, they earned graduate degrees in organizational management. Two years later, they reached out to me and told me that their organizations recognized their progress, how they had improved performance-wise, and their academic achievements, leading to promotions at their organizations. This example of the students showed that they valued the same end outcome, did well in the course and program, and achieved their goals that were aligned with valence. In the field of education, valence is associated with recognition and compensation.
There are several key elements that can influence valence. What the organization/institution capitalizes on and the rewards offered are two of them. Different valences can be helpful.
- Intrinsic valences (personal satisfaction, etc.)
- Extrinsic valences (time-off, benefits, promotions, pay policies, etc.)
- Negative valences (penalties, redundancies, sanctions, etc.)
When adhered to, Expectancy Theory can help managers better see how individuals are motivated by behavioral alternatives. Managers should use systems that link rewards to performance to strengthen the connection between the outcome and performance.
If the Expectancy Theory is interpreted too simplistically by managers, it may not work. Victor Vroom’s theory goes beyond the assumption that people work harder if they believe their efforts will be rewarded. Two key points need to be factored in: 1) the reward must be meaningful, and 2) valence needs to be considered. Valence has both a personal dimension and a significant culture as shown in this case.