icon [Guide] What Is Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation? Skip to content
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
[Guide] What Is Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

[Guide] What Is Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

Victor H. Vroom gives us the well-known Expectancy Theory of Motivation. He offers a clear explanation of how people decide what they'll do at work. He wrote a book called "Work and Motivation," which talks about how thinking about results and making value judgments can change how much someone wants to do something.

The most important goal of this theory is to untangle the complex mix of what makes workers want to work and how that can strongly impact leadership and management tasks.

In this guide, we'll go into detail about those parts of Vroom's theory. We'll talk about what workers expect, what they think will happen, and how important they believe it is. That makes us understand better what motivates workers. We'll also discuss how beneficial the theory is in real life and where it might not work as well, while giving managers and leaders the info they need to get their teams excited about work.

Let's get started!

Recommended Assessment
Team Effectiveness Profile
  • Improves group output
  • Increase work satisfaction
  • Identify and fix group issues
Learn more

Who is Vroom, and What is His Background?

Born in Montreal, Canada, Victor H. Vroom made a name for himself as one of the most influential figures in organizational psychology. With an impressive academic background, including degrees from McGill University and the University of Michigan, he brought forth groundbreaking ideas about human motivation.

Vroom's theories are not just products of classroom discussions but are deeply rooted in his extensive research experiences at institutions like Yale School of Management, where he served with John G. Searle Professor Emeritus.

In 1964, Vroom published "Work and Motivation," giving birth to the Expectancy Theory, which continues to guide managers across various industries today. This theory emphasizes how people choose certain behaviors based on their expectations or beliefs about future outcomes.

Victor H. Vroom

Vroom's work isn't limited to Expectancy Theory alone. He also collaborated with Edward Lawler III and Lyman Porter on developing the VIE (Valence-Instrumentality-Expectation) Model. This model further dissects motivation into three components: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy, providing a more nuanced understanding of what drives employee behavior.

Apart from theoretical contributions, Vroom has held several leadership positions. He served as President of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, offering a practical perspective to academic research.

Victor Vroom's work inspires scholars and practitioners alike, making him a stalwart in motivational psychology. Victor Vroom's theories not only provide an understanding of our behaviors but also offer guidance on how to motivate ourselves and those around us.

How Does Expectancy Theory Work?

Vroom's Expectancy Theory is like a psychological equation for motivation. Picture it as motivation = expectation x instrumentality x valence.

In simple terms, "expectation" is the belief that your effort will lead to success. Consider a marathon; if you trust your preparation will support you in completing the race, it's more probable that you'll don those trainers each day.

"Instrumentality" then steps in as the belief that performance equals rewards. Let's stick with our marathon analogy – imagine if crossing the finish line guaranteed an all-expenses-paid vacation. That'd undoubtedly kick your motivation into high gear.

Taking Steps Towards a Goal

Last but not least, "valence" refers to how much value or importance we place on these rewards or outcomes. To keep things consistent – if you love traveling (high valence), this free trip will motivate you even more than someone who prefers staycations (low valence).

When it comes to motivating yourself or others using Vroom's theory – consider expectation levels, ensure there are clear links between performance and desired outcomes, and ensure these outcomes are genuinely valued by everyone involved.

Let's dig more into each of these three elements.

Element 1: Expectancy

The heart of Vroom's Expectancy Theory starts with expectancy itself, which is all about the belief that effort will lead to performance.

This principle can be likened to a workout regimen. When you start hitting the gym and lifting weights (effort), you expect your muscles to grow stronger (performance). The same goes for employees in an organization; when they put in extra hours or take on more tasks, they anticipate improved results at work.

To understand how this plays out, it's crucial to consider two key aspects – ability and resources. Just as a novice lifter needs proper guidance and weightlifting equipment, employees need appropriate skills training and workplace tools to perform their roles effectively.

A Team Being Trained

If these elements are missing or inadequate, even the highest levels of effort may not translate into expected performances. Therefore, managers must ensure team members have what they need before asking them for increased output.

A second vital aspect is trust between management and staff regarding promises made related to rewards for high-performance outcomes.

An employee who trusts his manager's word about promotions or bonuses tied directly to his efforts will likely show higher motivation levels than someone skeptical about receiving promised rewards.

Element 2: Instrumentality

Let's now focus on the second component of Vroom's Expectancy Theory - Instrumentality. Believing that successful performance will be rewarded, instrumentality can thus be described as the connection between effort and reward, just like when you nail a presentation at work and expect praise or even a promotion as an outcome.

In other words, instrumentality is all about the link between performance and rewards. It answers, "What will I get if I do this task exceptionally well?" The stronger this connection in your mind, the higher your motivation.

To make things clearer, let's use an analogy. Consider instrumentality as a bridge connecting effort (Expectancy) with outcomes (Valence). You put in hard work expecting high performance; then you cross this "bridge" hoping for desired results on the other side.

Suppose employees don't think their hard work will reach the required performance level. In that case, they'll basically put the expectancy-value at zero.

A Successful Employee

You may ask how understanding instrumentality can help us practically. Well, consider any workplace scenario where managers need to motivate employees effectively. By clearly linking high performance with tangible rewards such as bonuses or promotions, managers can leverage instrumentality.

  • If Sarah knows consistently hitting her sales targets could lead to bonus payouts, she'll be more motivated to push harder.
  • Jake could see taking up extra responsibilities resulting in potential growth opportunities, thereby enhancing his drive towards them.

It's not just about promising rewards but also ensuring they're worth striving for. Understanding instrumentality is crucial because it helps us link our efforts with meaningful outcomes, thereby fueling motivation.

Element 3: Valence

Let's explore valence, the third pillar of Vroom's Expectancy Theory. In a nutshell, valence is all about how much an individual values or desires a potential outcome.

The stronger the desire for an expected reward, the higher its valence. But remember that it can swing both ways; a negative result can have negative valence if someone wants to avoid it.

This element ties directly into personal motivation and job satisfaction because people are more likely to put in effort when they value the outcome highly. Think of it as your own "incentive for action." The tastier you find carrots (or maybe cake?), the harder you'll work to get them.

No two individuals will view outcomes with equal importance; this is where managers need to understand their team members' unique preferences and motivations.

A Hard-Working Employee

A bonus might motivate one employee, while another might crave recognition over monetary rewards. It's crucial then for leaders not just to offer rewards but also make sure those rewards match what their employees genuinely want – thus ensuring high positive valences all around.

To enhance motivational levels at your workplace using expectancy theory, consider these strategies:

  • Frequent Feedback: Regular check-ins let your team know where they stand performance-wise and highlight areas needing improvement – positively impacting their perceived link between efforts and desirable results.
  • Celebrate Successes: Acknowledge achievements no matter how small – even non-monetary recognitions like "Employee of the Month" or shout-outs in company newsletters help raise morale by increasing positive valences associated with good performance.
  • Personalized Rewards: Customizing rewards to match individual preferences can significantly increase their perceived value, thereby raising the valence.

The trick is not just offering a reward but making it something your employees genuinely want. So start understanding what makes them tick!

Pros and Cons of Expectancy Theory

Vroom's Expectancy Theory, like any other, isn't without its pros and cons.

This theory shines a light on the power of motivation in the workplace. It suggests that when employees believe their efforts will result in good performance and desirable rewards, they're likely to work harder. That makes it easier for managers to inspire teams towards achieving company goals.

A key strength is its focus on individual perceptions – what matters most is not what a manager thinks should motivate an employee but how the employee perceives the situation.

A Motivated Team Working Efficiently

But there are drawbacks, too. One major limitation lies in its complexity; it assumes that individuals make rational decisions based on expectations about future events, which may not always be accurate or feasible.

Furthermore, this theory largely ignores emotional factors such as job satisfaction or personal relationships at work – aspects crucial to many people's motivational mix.

While applying these concepts might sound challenging due to their intricate nature, don't worry. The next section will give you practical strategies to leverage expectancy theory effectively within your team.

Managerial Strategies Using Expectancy Theory

To use Vroom's Expectancy Theory effectively, managers must focus on three key elements: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. But how can they do that practically? Let's explore some strategies.

The first step is ensuring your team believes their efforts will lead to good performance. Managers can help by setting clear expectations and giving feedback regularly. For instance, if you're leading a sales team, tell them what specific actions or behaviors will likely result in successful sales.

Instrumentality revolves around the belief that performing well leads to rewards. To boost this belief among employees, managers should create a transparent reward system where good performances are recognized and rewarded promptly and visibly.

A Manager Using the Expectancy Theory

Last but not least is valence – the value employees place on rewards. It isn't enough just to give out rewards; those rewards must be something your staff values. Get feedback from your team about what incentives motivate them most - it might surprise you.

Different people may have diverse reactions depending on their backgrounds and outlooks.

With these strategies, managers can better use the Expectancy Theory to inspire and motivate their teams toward achieving organizational goals. It's all about ensuring employees believe that hard work leads to good results, which leads to valued rewards.


Vroom's Expectancy Theory, at its core, is a fundamental tool to understand and boost motivation in the workplace. It centers around three crucial elements: Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence.

The first component is expectancy – the belief that one's effort will lead to desired performance. This perception often hinges on factors such as possessing relevant skills or getting the right support from superiors.

Instrumentality follows next – this represents an individual's belief that their achieved performance will result in certain outcomes. Here lies the role of clear communication about rewards linked with performances; ambiguity can undermine instrumentality and subsequently demotivate employees.

The final piece of Vroom's motivational puzzle is valence – which refers to how much value an employee places on potential rewards. The more desirable these are for individuals based on their needs or goals, the stronger their motivation tends to be.

A Motivated Team

Expectancy theory has its limitations, though. It assumes rationality among employees when making choices regarding efforts vs outcomes, which might not always hold good. Employees are complex beings driven by myriad psychological aspects and cannot be put into neat compartments every time. Studies have highlighted situations where perceived effort and reward didn't correlate with motivation, as the theory suggests.

But despite these, it's undeniable that Expectancy Theory offers valuable insights for managers. It underlines the importance of understanding individual employee perspectives when setting up motivational strategies – a key aspect often overlooked in favor of blanket policies.

The road to an optimally motivated team is complex, just like Vroom's theory, but undoubtedly, this guide will make sure you're headed in the right direction!

Do you have any questions about Vroom's Expectancy Theory of Motivation? If so, please feel free to leave us a comment down below, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible! We'd be more than happy to answer any of your questions as best we can!

Recommended Assessment
Team Effectiveness Profile
  • Improves group output
  • Increase work satisfaction
  • Identify and fix group issues
Learn more
Previous article The Key Principles of the GROW Model Coaching Process
Next article 10 Common Examples of Workplace Conflicts (And Solutions)

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields

About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.