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Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation: Valence, Instrumentality and Expectancy

Vroom’s expectancy theory of motivation says that individuals are motivated to do something by three things. They are motivated when they value the reward associated with an action, trust that they’ll receive the reward if they do a good job and believe that they have the ability to achieve their objectives by working hard.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory of motivation is a process theory of motivation. It says that an individual’s motivation is affected by their expectations about the future.

Specifically, Vroom says that an individual’s motivation is affected by how much they value any reward associated with an action (Valence), how much they believe that by putting effort into something they will be able to generate good results (Expectancy) and how much they believe that generating good results will result in a reward (Instrumentality).

It’s important to note that rewards could be intrinsic or extrinsic. Extrinsic motivations are external things such as money and promotion. Intrinsic motivations are internal things such as a sense of fulfillment and achievement.

Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation is comprised of Valency, Instrumentality and Expectation
Motivation is a function of valence, instrumentality and expectancy.

What Vroom’s model means for individuals

Vroom says that an individual’s motivation is product of several factors:

Expectancy is a key part of Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation
It’s not just dogs that like treats.
  • Valence: How much they value the potential rewards associated with the specific results or behaviors,
  • Expectancy: How much they believe that their additional effort will help them achieve the target results of behaviors, and
  • Instrumentality: How much they believe the rewards will actually appear should they achieve the desired outcomes or behaviors.

From an individual perspective this means that if any of these factors are lacking, you may lack motivation.

If, as an individual, you find yourself feeling unmotivated in the world of work, it’s worth stepping back and considering these factors. It may be that one or two of them are lacking for you. For example, you may not value the intrinsic or extrinsic rewards associated with the work you are doing. Similarly, you may simply believe that you don’t have the ability to achieve an outcome that would trigger a reward.

If you assess your motivation through the lens of Vroom’s expectancy theory, you may identify root causes for your lack of motivation. In turn, this might help identify actions you could take to restore it. As ever, you may need help from others to restore your motivation. you may benefit from discussing your thoughts with a peer, friend or even your line manager.

What Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation means for leaders and organizations

If you set goals that people can’t reach, they won’t be motivated.

Vroom’s model helps make clear that leaders or organizations need to:

1 – Provide rewards that individuals value

These could be intrinsic aspects designed into rewarding role descriptions, they could be recognition, they could be new opportunities or they could be financial rewards. In fact, they could be a huge range of things. The important point is that you find the right rewards for your people.

2 – Set achievable objectives for individuals

The objectives you set don’t need to be easy. But they do need to be in the power of your team members to achieve. This may mean that the individuals in your teams need to be empowered to achieve things and it may mean that they need to be supported to do so. It also means that the system that you are asking them to operate within isn’t stacked against them.

3 – Provide promised rewards when they are earned

This is all about trust. To be trustworthy in this context you need to provide the implicit and explicit outcomes and rewards that you have agreed to provide. If you don’t do this, trust will be broken. When trust is broken individuals will cease to be motivated by your proposed rewards.

Learning More

We’ve written several articles on various content and process theories of motivation that you might find interesting. These include articles on Adam’s equity theory and Herzberg’s two factor theory of motivation. We’ve also written an introductory post of Adair’s 8 basic rule of motivation and have a guest post on Reversal Theory. You can listen to our podcast on reversal theory below:

The World of Work View

We believe that Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation is a useful way to think about motivation. It clearly follows from the equation that if any of the three VIE factors are very low, then the individual will be unmotivated. From a leadership perspective it means that you need to connect with your people and create potential rewards (intrinsic or extrinsic) that they value, that you need to set stretching but achievable goals for your people and that you need to be honest and trustworthy.

In our experience we’ve seen individuals lose motivation (or fail to be motivated) as a result of reductions in all three of the VIE categories. New reward and recognition schemes sometimes miss the valency mark, targets are sometimes unachievable (or individuals don’t believe they can influence performance enough to achieve them) and trust often breaks down when leaders or organizations promise rewards that never materialize (we’ve all heard the story of the boy who cried wolf).

While this model doesn’t answer every question about motivation, it’s a simple and useful tool for individuals and leaders at work to know about.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

The best place to read more about Victor Vroom’s work on motivation is in his book “Work and Motivation“.

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