Theories of Motivation: Vroom’s Valence-Expectancy Theory

Vroom’s expectancy theory was originally developed by Victor H. Vroom, a Canadian psychologist, in 1964. 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. Vroom’s expectancy theory consisted of two related models – the valence model and the force model. The valence model attempts to capture the perceived attractiveness, or valence, of an outcome by aggregating the attractiveness of all associated resultant outcomes. The force model of expectancy theory attempts to capture motivational force to act by associating the expectancy of resultant outcomes and their individual valences. These two models gave Vroom the opening to build his expectancy theory to the level that it is today most commonly known.

Vroom’s expectancy theory explains motivation in terms of four main concepts: force, valence, expectancy, and instrumentality. Force refers to the compulsion of an individual to behave in a given way, valence the preference for consequent reward, expectancy the perceived likelihood that the behavior will result in the intended outcome and instrumentality the perception that the intended outcome will lead to the consequent reward. Force is seen as the sum of the products of multiple valences, instrumentalities and expectancies involved in a course of action. It is reasoned that the motivation to behave in a particular way is determined by an individual’s expectation that behavior will lead to a particular outcome, multiplied by the preference or valence that person has for that outcome. This can be shown in the following mathematical equation:

Motivation (M) = Instrumentality (I) x Expectancy (E) x Valence (V)  

It is assumed that the level of motivation an individual demonstrates, results from his or her conscious decision-making process: a rational assessment of the likely result of their behavior. The theory also considers the value that each individual places on the estimated outcome. The basic theory recognizes that individuals differ: that we are all unlikely to value the same outcome equally.

Component 1: Expectancy

Expectancy is built upon the belief that effort exerted will beget recognition of favorable performance. Several factors can interfere with this piece of the motivation equation. These variables include the belief that a worker has the skills and ability to perform their tasks successfully, how difficult the goals are to achieve and where they fall in relation to the worker’s expectations, and whether there is any control over their performance. For example, if a department’s members share the belief that “no matter how hard they work, the likelihood of getting a good performance appraisal is low”, then motivation will be low due to a low level of expectancy.

Component 2: Instrumentality

Instrumentality is defined as the belief that if a person meets or exceeds expectations, then they receive a greater reward than those who do not. Instrumentality will be low if the rewards follow all levels of performance with no distinction between what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is influenced greatly by the trust employees have in their leaders and the likelihood that the promises of reward for good performance is believable. Another factor that determines the level of instrumentality present is demonstrated when the workers do not trust the leaders, yet have the ability to control the rewards system through another means. This control raises instrumentality. Policies also affect instrumentality; the formal documentation of pay and other rewards and benefits contributes to raising levels of instrumentality.

Component 3: Valence

The third component within the expectancy theory of motivation is valence. Valence is the level of value that an individual places on the rewards as a function of their needs, goals, and values. The employee’s preferences will determine the level of valence present for motivation. If the worker desires a certain reward but receives another, the level of valence will be lower. Higher levels of valence are present when the understanding of the individual employee’s goals are understood by their leader and are then considered along with the relationship between their efforts and performance. Good effort equates to good performance when a strong relationship is present.Vroom’s Valence-Expectancy Theory

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 behavior 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 behavioral modification, so that these three elements achieve the highest value individually.

A worker may exhibit a poor behavior due to:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Valence-Expectancy theory is that it explains how the goals of individuals influence their efforts and that the behavior individuals select depends upon their assessment of the probability that the behavior 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. Vroom 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 Vroom, 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 behavior 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 behavior. What is important here is that what the individual perceives as the consequence of a particular behavior 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 behavior is goal-oriented.

Appraisal of Vroom’s Valence-Expectancy Theory

There are three components and relationships in the expectancy theory of motivation. The first component is effect-performance relationship; this is where an employee perceives that by exerting the effort will lead to performance. Second component is performance-reward relationship; were the employee believes by performing at a certain level would lead to a good outcome. Finally the third component is reward-personal goal relationship; here is where the employer rewards the employee for doing a great job.

Some reasons that an employee might be discouraged and not motivated are because their jobs are getting boring. The employee starts to feel like, “why bother, there is nothing in it for me”. There are ways to improve this by using, effect-performance relationship, and by implementing things as job rotation, job enlargement, and job enrichment. Job rotation is great when a job becomes no longer challenging; it allows an employee to be moved to another job usually at the same level of skill requirements. This also allows the employee to see how their work on each of the jobs is linked and the importance of them and how they themselves contributed to the organization. Job enlargement is where the employer increases the number and variety of tasks that an employee might perform. This gives the employee more responsibility and less boredom with the job. Job enrichment gives the employee more freedom in planning, execution, and evaluation of the work they are doing. These give the employee more independence, increases responsibility, a sense of achievement, growth, and causing a much satisfaction with the job, motivating them to perform.

When an employee works hard and believes there will be some kind of attainable outcome and does not receive one, can easily take away the motivation of wanting to perform their duty. Performance-reward relationship is important due that it gives the employee a feel of involvement. There are three things that can be used to help with this area, participative management, representative participation and quality circle. Participative management is where decision-making power can be shared by both employees and their superiors. Representative participation gives employees an opportunity to sit on work councils or board of representatives. This gives the employees a feel of being a part of the organization and not just another body working there. The last one is quality circle, were a group of employees meet regularly to discuss quality problems, recommend solutions and take corrective actions. This gives the employees the feel that again they are not just a body there working, but part of the organization.

Employees need to feel needed and appreciated. The reward-personal goal relationship is a reward system that organizations need to put in motion if they do not already have one. There are many ways to implement these rewards to employees, one being a variable-pay program. A variable-pay program can be piece-rate pay, merit-based pay, bonuses, profit-sharing plans, gainsharing and employee stock ownership plans. These types of programs are measured on performance of an employee. Another program is skilled-based pay; this sets levels on the basis of how many skills employees have and how many jobs they can do. These are great because they encourage employees to learn, expand their skills, and grow. This also helps develop the employees to want to cross-train, and to be more generalists rather than specialists. It is also important because it encourages the employee to work cooperatively with others in the organization. One of my favorites is the employee recognition program; this can be a simple, “thank you” to a widely publicized recognition. These are inexpensive, and they go a long way. Most employees just want to be appreciated, and a little kindness from the employer can make a big difference.

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