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Application of Victor Vroom's Expectancy Theory to Drive Employee Performance

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 8/29/2010

In the expectancy theory of motivation, Victor Vroom holds that behavior results from conscious choices among alternatives, to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The key factors influencing choices are expectancy, instrumentality, and valence, with each factor representing a belief.

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    Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory model bases itself on the premise that employees perform to the level that they believe maximize their overall best interests. The theory holds a positive correlation between efforts and performance if favorable performance results in a desirable reward, the reward satisfies an important need, and the desire to satisfy the need remains strong enough to drive performance.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/kla4067

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    Expectancy

    Expectancy or subjective probability refers to the expectations and confidence of employees regarding their ability to perform a task, or the strength of an employee’s belief on the accomplishment of a task.

    Expectancy ranges from a probability of 0.0 to 1.0, with 0.0 implying the employee remaining convinced that the job cannot be done, and 1.0 indicating full confidence in accomplishment of the task.

    The factors that drive expectancy include:

    • basic skills required for the task
    • support expected from superiors and subordinates
    • availability of required tools and equipments
    • availability of pertinent information
    • history of success or failure in attempting the task

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    Instrumentality

    Instrumentality is belief linked to outcome, or the perception of whether one will actually get the desired results on accomplishment of the task. Employees, for instance, link their high level of performance to the reward, and remain motivated to perform to achieve the reward. The higher the probability of securing the desired reward, the higher the effort put in by the employee.

    Factors that affect instrumentality include:

    • rules of performance and reward
    • transparency in the process governing performance appraisals and rewards
    • trust in the people who promise reward for performance
    • ability of people who reward to deliver the promised rewards

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    Valence

    Valence refers to the emotional orientations of people regarding the outcomes or rewards, or the level of satisfaction people expect to get from the outcome, as opposed to the actual satisfaction they get after attaining the reward. The primary motivator to undertake a task is not any reward, but the reward that the person holds high or wants.

    An outcome shows positive valence if the employee prefers having the specified reward to not having it. Two such positive rewards are extrinsic rewards such as pay, recognition, and the like, and intrinsic rewards such as satisfaction, time off and the like. Such rewards motivate employees the most.

    The outcome shows negative valence if the employee prefers to avoid such outcomes. Such outcomes act as a deterrent rather than a motivator. Examples of such outcomes include fatigue, stress, lay-offs and the like.

    Outcomes to which the employees remain indifferent are zero valence and fail to motivate the employee.

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    Synthesis

    In the expectancy theory of motivation, Victor Vroom suggests that organizations looking to motivate employees need to ensure that all three factors: Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence remain positive or high. Even achieving two out of these three factors do not motivate the employee.

    For instance, many organizations have responded to political changes to human resource management by instituting performance related pay to motivate employees. This usually does not achieve the desired results as this takes care of only the instrumentality. A person who values time-off, for instance may not remain motivated to undertake a task for more money, and a person who feels he does not have the support or cooperation of colleagues to perform the tasks will remain not motivated despite the monetary attraction on the offer.

    Vroom's expectancy theory further holds that even if the employer provides everything necessary to motivate the employee, the employee still may not be motivated unless he or she perceives that the employer has provided what is needed.

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    Application

    Victor Vroom's expectancy theory model finds application to drive employee productivity through motivation. The management of the enterprise can link positive valence of the employee to high performance, and ensure that the connection is communicated to employees.

    The management, through various measures such as psychological testing or counseling, can understand whether the employee prefers intrinsic rewards or extrinsic rewards, and tailor the remuneration likewise. To secure expectation, management can identify the resources, training, or supervision required. Finally, management needs to not just ensure that promises of rewards are fulfilled but also to make sure employees remain aware of this. This requires a change in the corporate culture to better communications and transparency.