Expectancy Theory In A Nutshell

Expectancy theory was developed in 1964 by Victor H. Vroom, an organizational behavior expert and current business school professor at the Yale School of Management. Expectancy theory states that an individual is motivated to perform when they expect to derive positive results from their extra performance.

Understanding expectancy theory

If positive results are not anticipated, there is less likelihood the individual will perform at the maximum level.

Thus, it can be said that the individual determines their performance level based on the predicted outcome of their actions.

Based on extensive research into the motivations that influence decision-making, Vroom proposed that behavior was influenced by anticipated consequences or results.

This could then be used to explain why one behavioral option was chosen over another, with individuals more motivated to act if they believed:

  • There was a positive correlation between effort and performance.
  • They were competent at performing the work.
  • The result of a favorable performance was a desirable reward that satisfied an important need, and/or
  • The outcome satisfied the need to the extent that it made the effort worthwhile.

In more succinct terms, individuals choose to act based on estimates of how well the expected result of a specific behavior matches (or leads to) the desired results of that behavior.

The three variables of expectancy theory

Three variables exist within expectancy theory:

Expectancy (effort  performance) 

Expectancy is the belief that if one works harder, one will be able to attain the desired outcome.

In the workplace, expectancy is influenced by the employee’s confidence in their ability, whether they have achieved similar outcomes in the past, and the perceived difficulty level of the task.

Whether outcome attainment is under the employee’s control or influence is also an important factor. 

Instrumentality (performance  outcome) 

Instrumentality is the belief that one will receive a reward such as a promotion or raise when performance expectations are met.

Instrumentality is influenced by the employee’s trust in those responsible for distributing rewards. 

To increase motivation, managers should set clear expectations around the reward and communicate what each employee can expect to receive.

Trust also increases motivation, so managers must also their word and distribute rewards when they say they will.


Valence is simply the value one places on the expected outcome or reward. Value is determined by the employee’s preferences, needs, experiences, background, and level of expertise.

How can expectancy theory be used in the workplace?

For an employee to be motivated in the workplace, expectancy, instrumentality, and valence must all be present.

But to enjoy the benefits of motivated employees, managers need to remember that:

  • Rewards should be valued by the employee in question.
  • Rewards should be deserved and explicitly linked with performance. In other words, those that work the hardest should receive the most attractive compensation.
  • Desirable performance should be recognized during appraisals, and
  • How rewards are chosen, communicated, and distributed must be transparent.

Key takeaways:

  • Expectancy theory states that an individual is motivated to perform when they expect to derive positive results from their extra performance. If positive results are not anticipated, the individual is unlikely to exert the maximum level of effort.
  • The three variables of expectancy theory are expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. Expectancy relates to a positive correlation between effort and reward, while instrumentality refers to the belief that a reward will be received if performance expectations are met. Lastly, valence is the extent to which an employee values the reward and is based on personal characteristics.
  • Employees are most motivated when expectancy, instrumentality, and valence are present in the workplace. Management can satisfy each of these variables to the benefit of both the employee and the organization.

Read Next: OKRSMART Goals.

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Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this leadership type can lead to increased work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness in the team.

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Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

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Adaptive Leadership

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Tactical Management

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High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 to encourage industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way to perform a workplace job.

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