Theories of Motivation: Vroom’s Valence-Expectancy Theory

Attacking Herzberg’s two-factor theory, Vroom offered an expectancy approach to the understanding of motivation. According to him, a person’s motivation towards an action at any time would be determined by an individual’s perception that a certain type of action would lead to a specific outcome and his personal preference for this outcome.

There are three variables of Vroom’s model given in the form of an equation. Since the mode is multiplicative, all the three variables must have high positive values to imply motivated performance choices. If any of the variables approaches zero, the probability of motivated performance approaches zero.

Motivation = Valence*Expectancy*instrumentality

Valence is the strength of an individual’s preference for a reward, expectancy is the probability that particular action will lead to a desired reward and instrumentality denotes an individual’s estimate that performance will result in achieving the reward. Thus, if an individual has a particular goal, some behaviour must be produced in order to achieve that goal. He will weigh the likelihood that various behaviors will achieve the desired goals and if certain behaviour is expected to be more successful than others, that particular behaviour will be preferred by the individual.

(a) Valence (reward preference): it refers to the strength of an individual’s preference for receiving a reward. It is an expression of the value he places on a goal (outcome or reward). The value attached to a goal or reward is subjective as it varies from person to person. For instance, if a young and dynamic employee wants a promotion, has high valence or strength for that employee. Similarly, a retiring employee may have high valence for reemployment.

People have different valence for various outcomes. The relative valence they attach to various outcomes is influenced by conditions such as age, education and type of work. The valence of a person for a goal may be positive or negative depending upon his positive or negative preference for this goal. If a person is indifferent to an outcome, his valence is zero. Thus, the total range of valence is from –1 to +1.

(b) Expectancy (Effort-Reward Probability): it refers to the extent, to which the person believes that his efforts will lead to the first level outcome, i.e., completion of a task. Expectancy is stated as a probability, i.e., as individual’s estimate of the probability of an outcome from an action. Since, it is an association between effort and performance, its value may range from 0 to 1. if the individual feels that chances of achieving an outcome are zero, he will not even try. On the other hand, if expectancy is higher, the individual will put higher efforts to achieve the desired outcome.

(c) Instrumentality (performance-Reward Probability): it refers to the probability to which the performance (first level outcome) will lead to the desired reward (second level outcome). For instance, an individual wants a promotion and feels that superior performance is very important in achieving promotion. Superior performance is the first level outcome and promotion is the second level outcome. The first-level outcome of high performance acquires a positive valency by virtue of its expected relationship to the preferred second level outcome of promotion. In other words, superior performance (first-level outcome) will be instrumental in obtaining promotion (second level outcome). The value of instrumentality also ranges from 0 to 1, as it is the probability of achieving the desired outcome.

Motivation is the product of valance, expectancy and instrumentality. These three factors in the expectancy model may exist in an infinite number of combinations depending upon the range of valence and the degrees of expectancy and instrumentality. The combination that produces the strongest motivation is high positive valence, high expectancy and high instrumentality. If all the three are low, the resulting motivation will be weak. In other cases, motivation will be moderate. Similarly, the strength of avoidance behaviour will be determined by the negative valence and expectancy and instrumental factors.

As said above, the motivational force will be highest when expectancy, instrumentality and valence are all high. The management must recognize factors for behavioural modification, so that these three elements achieve the highest value individually.

A worker may exhibit a poor behaviour due to:

(i) Low effort-performance expectancy: the worker may lack the necessary skills and training to believe that his extra efforts will lead to better performance. The management could provide the relationship between efforts and performance.

(ii) Low performance-reward instrumentality relationship: similar performance may not lead to similar rewards. The reward policy may be inconsistent and may depend upon factor other than performance, which the worker may not be aware of or may not consider fair. The management must re-evaluate the appraisal techniques and formulate policies that strengthen performance-reward relationship as just and equitable.

The important contribution of Vroom’s model is that it explains how the goals of individuals influence their efforts and that the behaviour individuals select depends upon their assessment of the probability that the behaviour will successfully lead to the goal. For instance, all people in an organisation may not place the same value on such job factors as promotion, high pay, job security and working conditions. In other words, they may rank them differently. Broom is of the opinion that what is important is the perception and value the individual places, high value on salary increase and perceives superior performance as instrumental in reaching that goal. According to broom, this individual will strive towards superior performance in order to achieve the salary increase. One the other hand, another individual may highly value promotion and perceive political behaviour as instrumental in achieving it. This individual is not likely to emphasize superior performance to achieve the goal.

In essence, vroom emphasizes the importance of individual perception and assessment to organisational behaviour. What is important here is that what the individual perceives as the consequence of a particular behaviour is far more important than what the manager believes the individual should perceive. Thus, Vroom’s model attempts to explain how individual’s goals influence his efforts and like need-based models reveal that individual’s behaviour is goal-oriented.

The merits of Vroom theory are:

(i) Basic framework: the Vroom’s model provides a basic framework for interpreting work motivation as Keith Davis put it. According to Fred Luthans, “the expectancy model is like marginal analysis in economics. Business people do not actually calculate the point where marginal ost equals marginal revenue, but it is still a useful concept for the theory of the firm. The expectancy model attempts to mirror the complex motivational process. From the theoretical standpoint it seems to be a step in the right direction. It is of value in understanding organisational behaviour.

(ii) Appreciation of individual differences: it serves as a pathfinder because for the first time in a systematic way it draws attention to individual differences in motivation. As Koontz, O. Donnell and Weihrich pointed out: “one of the great attractions of the Vroom model is that it recognizes the importance of various individual needs and motivations. It does seem more realistic”.

(iii) Clue to harmonization of individual and organisation goals: it clarifies the relationship between individual goals and organisational objectives and thus points to the way how the two can be harmonized. It is thus a step further from management by objectives. Instead of assuming that satisfaction of a specific need is likely to influence organisational objectives in a certain way we can find out how important to the employee are: the various first-level outcomes (organisational objectives) for their attainment, and the expectancies that are held with respect to the employees ability to influence the first-level outcome. For instance, suppose the organisation sets a certain standard for production (first-level outcome of organisational goal) for the purpose of incentive pay, promotion, etc. (second-level outcome). If the workers do not put forth adequate efforts to achieve the organisational goal, it may be assumed that either (a) they do not place much value on the second-level outcomes (incentive, promotion); (b) they feel that their efforts will not lead to the production standard; and (c) they may not believe that if they achieve the standard, it will be instrumental in getting them higher remuneration or promotion.

(iv) Contingency approach: indirectly, Broom draws attention to an all-important fact that there is no one set formula for the motivation of individuals. He looked at effective motivation not in terms of either a fixed set of human needs or as a uniform configuration of external motivations. His is the contingency approach, so to speak. In other words, if any method of motivation is found to be productive, managers should continue it, on the other hand, if it does not produce the desired results, it should be given up for something better. By measuring and analyzing the workers’ output managers can get clues to their motivation, identify some of the important variables and formulate their reward plans accordingly.

(v) Practical utility: according to R.J. House and M.A. Wahba, the Broom model has been used to predict a wide variety of work-related variables in a number of studies. These include job effort and performance, organisational practices, managerial motivation, occupational choice, importance of pay and pay effectiveness, leadership behaviour and leadership effectiveness.

In the opinion of Leon Reinharth and M.A. Wahba, “the expectancy theory has served as the basis for research in such diverse areas such as decision-making, learning theory, verbal conditioning, attitudes and organisational behaviour. All these impart a certain amount of generality and practical utility to the model.

(vi) Popular support: it is said that since the model had been proposed, at least one issue of every journal in organisational behaviour reported some result on its application in practice. Alan C. Filley, Robert J. House and Steven Kerr analyzed the numerous studies, more than 32, from 1962 to 1974 and came to the general conclusion that there was empirical support to the expectancy theory. Similarly, some of its propositions were confirmed by studies made by T.R. Mitchell and A. Biglan, who reviewed six cases in the area of industrial psychology; H. G. Heinemann, III and D. P. Schwab who investigated nine field enquiries in managerial settings and further M. Wahba and R. House who apprised fourteen investigations also confirmed the propositions. However, most researchers suggested the need for further study to test some of the principal variables, on which the model is based.

The demerits of Vroom’s theory:

(i) Lack of concreteness: the generality of the model constitutes its principal weakness. As Luthans pointed out, “it does not attempt to describe what the content (of motivation) is or what the individual differences are. Ti indicates only the conceptual determinants of motivation and how they are related.”

Further, it does not provide specific suggestions on what motivates organisation members as the Maslow, Harzberg and Alderfer models do.

(ii) Neglect of values: even as a general theory it has been condemned in some quarters as ‘nothing more than a theory of cognitive hedonism which propose that the individual cognitively chooses the course of action that leads to the greatest degree of pleasure or the smallest degree of pain’. “Hedonistic cognitions are insufficient to determine a person’s value system.”

(iii) Little impact on management: apart from the fact that it is a highly complex model and difficult to understand, its practicability is also open to question. As Lyman Porter, Edward E. Lawler, III and J. Richard Heckman pointed out; the expectancy model is just a model and no more. People rarely actually sit down and list their expected outcomes for a contemplated behaviour, estimate expectancies and valences, multiply and add up the total, unless of course they are asked to do so by a researcher. That is why its impact on job-settings has been negligible and influence on managerial action, not much. It has been rightly remarked by Hamner and organ “the predictive potential of this theory is still largely untested.” A fully developed test incorporating force, expectancy and instrumentality measures as well as ability assessment has not yet been offered.

(iv) Weak empirical support: the empirical support for the Vroom model is insignificant and lacks consistency.