The Expectancy Theory of motivation ultimately suggests that human beings are driven to accomplish a goal not only because it is perceived as desirable, but also because the goal appears to be achievable. Individuals are constantly forming expectations and making predictions about the trajectories of their futures. If a goal fits into the framework of our expectations, appearing worthwhile and doable, we will be motivated to reach it. Essentially, motivation to complete an action is based on the desirability of the result.
The Expectancy Theory of motivation is also referred to as the “Valance-Instrumentality-Expectancy Theory” or as the “VIE Theory.” The theory was developed by Victor H. Vroom, who studied the motivations behind decision making at the Yale University School of Management.
For the Expectancy Theory of motivation three factors come into play when examining the process of motivation. The goal must have valence, meaning that the value of the goal must be evident. A sense of instrumentality, or the belief that there is a clear set of actions that will lead to the completion of the goal, must be present. Finally, expectancy, or the feeling that the individual is capable of completing the actions, must be discernible.
Valence placed on the outcome of the goal is based on the individual’s own values and preferences. Instrumentality is often affected by the perceived sense of trust, clarity, and security surrounding the goal. The greatest predictors of a positive or negative expectancy include self efficacy, the task’s level of difficulty, and the individual’s perceived sense of control.
According to this theory, if all three of these conditions are not applicable to the goal what would have been motivation will become avoidance. People are motivated to act one way or the other based on what they expect as the result of the action. If the expectancy that one’s effort will lead to a desirable performance of a valued activity is present, the goal will most likely be pursued. When evaluating an individual’s behavioral decisions according to the Expectancy Theory, goals with the strongest motivational force will most likely be selected.
One place in modern research where the components of their theory are being tested is in the workplace in related to the evaluation of an employee’s performance. According to this model, in order to get the best possible results from employees, managers should clearly and closely connect rewards and positive performance. Furthermore, managers must be certain that the rewards they offer are, in fact, deemed desirable by their employees.
Though the theory is widely accepted and practiced, there are a number of critics of the Expectancy Theory of Motivation that suggest the model is too simplistic in design. Three critics – Graen, Lawler, and Porter – each suggested that tweaks and re-considerations to Vroom’s original theory should be made.
For example, Vroom is operating under the assumption that all employees are seeking more power, money or prestige. However, there are some workers who might not see a raise as enough motivation to put in more time and effort. There are also employees who are balancing family life with work, and would actually reject the prospect of a promotion with a responsibility increase simply due to a lack of time to commit.
Despite these few criticisms, the Expectancy Theory of motivation is a convincing and beneficial model to use when attempting to explore individuals’ underlying incentives to engage in setting and achieving goals, especially when applied to the workplace.