Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

What Is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

Vroom’s Expectancy theory also called expectancy theory of motivation is founded on the premise that people will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior over others due to feelings of satisfaction they anticipate to obtain from the selected behavior. Essentially, the motivation of the selected behavior is determined by the desirability of the outcome.

Victor H. Vroom Opens in new windowwas the first person to propose an expectancy theory aimed specifically at work motivation. He believes that motivation is the outcome of the values an individual seeks and his estimation of the probability that certain action will lead to those desired values.

In more practical terms, this says that an employee at work will be motivated to exert a high level of effort when he believes that effort will lead to a good performance measurement that ultimately culminates in organizational rewards such as bonus, increments or promotions, which will satisfy his personal goals.

According to Vroom, under conditions of free choice, an individual is motivated towards that activity which he is most capable of understanding and which he believes has the highest probability of leading him to his most desirable goal. His model is based on three key variables: valence, instrumentality and expectancy.

  • Thus, Motivation = Valence x Expectancy x Instrumentality

Concept of the Key Variables: Valence, Instrumentality and Expectancy

Valence is the strength of a person’s feeling about specific outcomes. This is the attractiveness of, or preference for, a particular outcome to the individual. It is an expression for a desire to achieve a goal.

Valence arises from internal self and is conditioned by experiences. Some may find intrinsic value in work itself, especially if they have strong work ethics-deriving satisfaction through a sense of completion, doing tasks in the right way or creating something new. Other goals could be recognition, praise, rise in salary, etc.

Vroom distinguishes valence from value. A person may desire an object but then gain little satisfaction from obtaining it. Alternatively, a person may strive to avoid an object but finds, subsequently, that it provides satisfaction. Valence is the anticipated satisfaction from an outcome. This may differ substantially from value, which is the actual satisfaction provided by an outcome.

The valence of certain outcomes may be derived in their own right, but more usually, they are derived from the other outcomes to which they are expected to lead. An obvious example is money. Some people may see money as having an intrinsic worth and derive satisfaction from the actual accumulation of wealth. Most people however see money in terms of the many satisfying outcomes to which it can lead.

The valence of outcome derives, therefore, from their instrumentality. This leads to a distinction between first-level outcomes and second-level outcomes.

The first-level outcomes are performance-related. They refer to the quantity of output or to the comparative level of performance. Some people may seek to perform well for self-sake and without thought to expected consequences of their actions. Usually, however, performance outcomes acquire valence because of the expectation that they will lead to other outcomes (second-level outcomes) as an anticipated source of satisfaction.

The second-level outcomes are need-related. They are derived through achievement of first-level outcomes that is through achieving high performance. Many need-related outcomes are dependent upon actual performance rather than effort expended. People generally receive rewards for what they have achieved, rather than for effort alone or through trying hard. On the basis of Vroom’s expectancy theory it is possible to depict a general model of behavior. See Figure below.

Basic Model of Vroom's Expectancy Theory
Figure I: Basic Model of Vroom's Expectancy Theory

The strength of the valence of an outcome is dependent upon the extent to which the outcome serves as a means to other outcomes. An outcome with a high valence is likely to be one that is perceived to be instrumental in leading to the achievement of a larger number of need-related outcomes. Instrumentality is the association between first-level outcomes and second-level outcomes, measured on a range between +1.0 – 1.0.

For example, if it is believed that good work performance (a first-level outcome) always results in a pay increase (a second-level outcome) instrumentality will be constant +1.0. If the person believes a pay increase is certain to be obtained without good performance, or impossible even with it, instrumentality will be – 1.0.

When a person chooses between alternative behaviors, which have an uncertain outcome, the choice is affected not only by the preference for a particular outcome, but also by the probability that such an outcome will be achieved. People develop a perception of the degree of probability that the choice of a particular action will actually lead to the desired outcome.

This is expectancy. It is the relationship between a chosen course of action and its predicted outcome. Expectancy relates effort expended to the achievement of first-level outcomes. Its value ranges between 0, indicating zero probability that an action will be followed by the outcome 1, and indicating certainty that an action will result in the outcome.

The combination of valence and expectancy determines the person’s motivation for a given form of behavior. This is the motivational force. The force of an action is unaffected by outcomes, which have no valence, or by outcomes that are regarded as unlikely to result from a course of action.

Expressed as an equation, motivation (M) is the sum of the products of the valences of all outcomes (IV); times the strength of expectancies that action will result in achieving these outcomes (E). Therefore, if either, or both, valence or expectancy is zero, and then motivation is zero. The highest attractiveness score indicates the choice between alternative behaviors.

Vroom's expectancy theory equation
Figure II: Vroom's Expectancy Theory Equation

There are likely to be a number of different outcomes expected for a given action. Therefore, the measurement of E. V is summed across the total number of possible outcomes to arrive at a single figure indicating the attractiveness for the contemplated choice of behavior.