Expectancy theory of motivation, developed by Victor Vroom of the Yale School of Management, describes the relationship between efforts, performance and outcomes. This motivational theory explains that an employee's motivation is driven by how likely they think their effort will lead to the expected performance, their belief that this performance will lead to an outcome or reward, and that the outcome is something they want and value.
Let's start with the basics - explaining expectancy theory. Then we'll talk about how to apply expectancy theory of motivation by looking at ways to identify employee's unique motivators, with examples for different talent profiles.
Expectancy theory explains the process of why someone chooses one behavior over another. In making this conscious choice, there are three elements considered: expectancy, instrumentality and valence.
Crucially, expectancy theory works on perception. Individuals will make a conscious choice among alternatives of behavior, and the motivation for choosing that behavior is not simply the satisfaction of receiving a reward.
Employees need to perceive that their effort will lead to an outcome that they want and deserve, and feel that the reward for the outcome matches their value system.
So expectancy theory proposes that, whatever the individual's goals, employees can be motivated to achieve these goals if they believe it's likely that:
An individual's Motivational Force (MF) is a product of the three elements of expectancy theory. Expectancy and instrumentality are attitudes (the way we think), and valence is based on values (what's important to us).
Expectancy is the belief that your effort will lead to better performance - your perception that "I can do this". This is driven by things like:
Expectancy is high when you're confident you have the tools you need to achieve your goal.
Instrumentality is the belief that if you perform well, an outcome that you value will be achieved. In other words, "If I do this, I will get something that's important to me". This is influenced by things like:
Instrumentality is high when the outcomes are clear and defined, and personalized to each individual.
Valence is the unique value you place on the outcome you expect. It's the sense that, "I find this outcome important because I'm me". Valence is affected by:
Valence is the expected value someone places on the outcomes, and not the actual satisfaction they feel after achieving the goal. Valence is positive when the employee prefers achieving the outcome to not achieving it.
Good leaders know that there isn't a one-size-fits-all path to employee motivation. The same employees doing the same role will have different approaches to how they work, different backgrounds and beliefs, and value different rewards that are meaningful to them. Understanding expectancy theory can help to create motivational programs that are more effective and practical for the individual, and build a positive correlation between efforts, results and rewards for all employees.
Rewards in the workplace can include a pay increase, bonus, or more time off. But it's also important to see that individuals can value things like recognition, advancement, a sense of accomplishment, and more flexible working hours just as highly.
Leaders need to identify employees' motivators and customize rewards based on these. Remember - the efficacy of motivation depends on the perception of the value of the reward, not just the reward itself. Talent & HR should also recognize the points at which those motivators and values may change for an individual throughout their career, and provide coaching to people leaders to recognize individual employee profiles and motivators.
Short answer - talk to your team! Getting to the bottom of their motivational force can begin as early as the interview stage. Talk to your interviewee about what drives their best work, and ask them to describe situations where they felt really valued for what they achieved.
The onboarding cycle is where new hires are getting to know their team, their manager and the company values. Managers should make sure to schedule regular check-ins to identify what aspects of the job the new hire is finding most satisfying, find out more about their background and values, and build a picture of what type of performance rewards they will respond to.
And don't forget about employees in established roles. Make sure they have development plans and career paths in place that give them a clear sense of their future in the company, and provide coaching for them to understand their own motivators.
One exercise that's really useful at any stage of the employee lifecycle is Motivation Mapping. Developed by James Sale as a tool for management coaching, motivation mapping identifies nine styles of employees that help to understand an individual's values and motivators.
Expectancy theory isn't a catch-all motivator, but understanding the principles and trying to apply these to each individual employee will see a boost in both performance and job satisfaction. If you want to learn more, check out our Guide to Employee Engagement for more motivation tools and strategies.
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Learn how expectancy theory of motivation can be used to bring out the best in performance. Understanding expectation theory leads to a more tailored employee experience, and a more effective link between performance and outcomes for your team.