Evan Goodman

How to Motivate Staff – Insights in to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Developed in 1964, Vroom realized that performance in the workplace was based on factors impacting the individuals. These included knowledge, abilities, experience, and personality. However, regardless of these factors if the three crucial variables were fulfilled each employee would be motivated to perform at a higher level to make things better for themselves.

The first variable ‘expectancy’ refers to the employee’s idea that by working harder their individual performance will improve. The perceptive relationship of the employee between effort and performance must be as strong as possible for success to be achieved here.

If expectancy is achieved, you can move to ‘instrumentality.’ This concept is based on an employee’s perception that if they do perform at a higher level, they will be rewarded with an outcome. According to Vroom, employees must understand the structure in place and essentially what they must do to achieve the reward or how their work will cause their desired outcome.  It’s worth pointing out that the outcome does not necessarily need to be a reward in the typical sense. It simply needs to be an outcome that they want which brings us to ‘valence.

The final variable is whether or not the outcome on the table must be desired or held in high regard by the employee. If it is held in high regard, motivation is achieved.

Vroom further expanded on this idea by introducing and exploring the concept of probability relating to each of the key variables. Employees need to perceive high probability that increased effort would lead to higher performance. They also need to believe that there is a high chance of the outcome being achieved.

There are several clear points that employers must understand to use Vroom’s expectancy theory successfully. First, each of the variables must be fulfilled to achieve motivation. Second, these variables are all tied to each other and must work in unison. Third, the theory is entirely based the perception of the employees. If an employee perceives even one of the three variables to not be fulfilled or to not be probable, motivation will not be achieved.

Vroom’s theory does not revolve around shared desires. Instead, it postulates that each employee has a different individual outcome they want to achieve. As an employer, you need to understand what outcome they want and ensure they feel as though they can achieve it through increased performance. Let’s look at how this works in practice by ensuring each of the three variables is fulfilled.

You can fulfill the first variable by ensuring employees feel increased effort will boost their performance. To do this, you need to give them resources including technology and training. This will guarantee that their performance does improve because they will have the support and tools required to complete their job more effectively. For instance, providing employees with better software can boost their efficiency levels, allowing them to improve at a higher level. The resources you introduce here could be anything that supports your employees including more time for certain tasks.

The second variable is about making sure that they feel increased performance will lead to better outcomes. You could relate this back to one of Herzberg’s motivational factors – building a culture of trust in your business. Employees need to know that the people in leadership positions will give them access to the better outcome. This could be as simple as advertising a rise in pay (the outcome) for reaching a certain goal (getting the right number of sales) and following through with this promise. Remember, for it to be effective employees must understand the rules. Transparency is essential here. You need to show employees exactly what they must do and what outcome is on the table. That’s possible by introducing weekly, monthly or annual targets for each individual employee.

The final variable is making sure the outcome is what that employee wants. There are lots of outcomes you can introduce from better pay to more time off, to more responsibility. It can even be just a matter of letting their voice be heard. The key factor is making sure each outcome is available to an individual employee that wants it.

It’s important to find out what outcomes are valued by individual employees. Do they want overtime, extra pay, the chance to further their career or different benefits? This is a simple matter of asking employees what they require from you and encouraging them to be honest.

Now we can look at two examples of how the three variables fit together to achieve motivation in real examples for individual employees based on their desired outcomes.

One employee in your business is given support and training which helps them feel they can achieve more in their position – expectancy. You can then show them that by increasing their performance, they will gain more responsibility, perhaps by introducing a promotion – instrumentality. The employee further expects that by doing this they will get their voice heard more in the business which was their original targeted outcome – valence.

Of course, the outcome could also be financial. Another employee might be more interested in a rise in pay. Again, they are provided training to help them take on greater responsibility in your business – expectancy. The concept of a pay rise is introduced, and this ensures they see the rise in pay as probable – instrumentality. The pay rise in question is at a point that the employees wants – valence.

In this example balance is crucial. The pay increase must be linked to an increase in performance, and the employee must understand this. Furthermore, the pay rise has to reach a point that motivates the employee to work harder to achieve it. Be aware also this will only prove to be effective if a pay rise is the outcome that the particular employee wants. They could be like the employee in the first example who desires their voice to be heard more instead.

You now have the tools to put these theories into practice in real business environments and reap the benefits of doing so. Over the years many business leaders have found success using the theories of Vroom and Herzberg to increase motivation and thus productivity in their company. With these strategies, you can do the same.