Expectancy Theory

Motivate Your Team by Linking Effort With Outcome

Expectancy Theory

When you work out, you expect to get fitter.

© iStockphoto/Yuri_Arcurs

How much are you motivated by your expectations?

If you expect to be promoted by following company policy "to the letter," how likely are you to interpret policy your own way and apply it differently to each situation? If, on the other hand, your boss is unlikely to notice how closely you stick to company policy, how motivated will you be to stick to it?

If people expect a positive and desirable outcome, they'll usually work hard to perform at the level expected of them.

If we trust this relationship between expectation and outcome, then motivating people should come down to three things:

  1. Effort – encouraging the belief that making more effort will improve performance.
  2. Performance – encouraging the belief that a high level of performance will bring a good reward.
  3. Outcome – making sure that the reward is attractive.

When these variables are high, we expect motivation to be high: The formula is quite simple. The tricky part is creating – and maintaining – a strong link between high effort and high performance. This is what "Expectancy Theory" says. Because it's based on an intuitive, instinctive understanding of motivation, some say that expectancy theory is the most comprehensive explanation of motivation that we have.

Expectancy theory was introduced in 1964 by Victor Vroom, in his book "Work and Motivation." It argues that the strength of your motivation to act in a certain way depends on the strength of your expectation that (a) a given level of activity will cause a given outcome and (b) for a high level of activity, this outcome will be attractive.

So, to motivate people, you need to create two basic links:

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