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Employee development · 

4 minutes

Cormac O'SullivanPiggy

Applying Vroom's Expectancy Theory for Employee Performance

Understanding the factors that drive employee performance is essential. One theory that provides considerable insight into this is Vroom's Expectancy Theory. This psychological theory—rooted in motivation—offers a framework for understanding the cognitive processes behind an individual's decision to put forth effort.

What is Expectancy Theory?

Developed by psychologist Victor Vroom in the 1960s, the Expectancy Theory is a motivation theory that explains how individuals make decisions about various behavioral alternatives. According to Vroom, the strength of an individual's motivation to act in a certain way depends on the strength of their expectation that the action will lead to a certain outcome and on how desirable this outcome is to them.

What are the Elements of Expectancy Theory?

Vroom's Expectancy Theory is based on three crucial elements: Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence. These components interact to create a motivational force, driving the individual to behave in a certain manner.

Expectancy: Will Effort Lead to Desired Performance?

Expectancy is the belief that increased effort will lead to increased performance. In a workplace context, this could mean an employee believing that working extra hours will lead to completing a project successfully. Expectancy is influenced by factors such as the individual's skills, knowledge, resources, and the support they receive.

Instrumentality: Will Performance Lead to Outcomes?

Instrumentality refers to the belief that if you perform well, a valued outcome will be received. For example, an employee might believe that successful completion of a project could lead to a pay increase or a promotion. It's important to note that this is often tied to the perceived fairness of the reward distribution system within the company.

Valence: Is the Outcome Desirable?

Valence is about the value the individual places on the rewards. This could vary greatly among employees; some might value monetary rewards above all else, while others might strive for recognition or flexible working hours. Understanding what each employee values can help in creating a motivational rewards system.

What is the Expectancy Theory of Motivation?

At its core, Vroom's Expectancy Theory is a theory of motivation. It postulates that motivation level is the product of an individual's expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. In simpler terms, individuals will be motivated to exert a high level of effort when they believe there are relationships between the efforts they put in, the performance they achieve, and the outcomes or rewards they receive.

According to Vroom, all three elements must be high for the individual to be highly motivated. For instance, if an employee thinks their hard work won't lead to better performance (low expectancy), or they believe that good performance won't lead to a desirable reward (low instrumentality), or the reward on offer isn't valuable to them (low valence), then their motivation to work hard will be minimal.

Examples of How the Expectancy Theory of Motivation Works

Real-world applications of Vroom's Expectancy Theory can be seen in various workplace scenarios.

For instance, consider an employee who's been tasked with a project that's outside their area of expertise. They might doubt their ability to complete the project successfully, resulting in low expectancy. In this case, providing training or resources could enhance their expectancy, and in turn, their motivation.

Similarly, if an employee doesn't believe that good performance will result in a pay rise or promotion (low instrumentality), transparent communication about the company's reward system can clarify this connection. Finally, if an employee is not interested in the reward being offered (low valence), understanding what they value and tailoring rewards to these preferences can enhance motivation.

How to Apply the Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Implementing Vroom's Expectancy Theory in the workplace can create an environment that motivates employees to perform at their best. Here's how you can apply this theory.

Building Expectancy: Empowerment and Training

Firstly, it's important to build positive expectancy within employees. This could mean providing them with the necessary training and resources to enhance their confidence in their abilities. If employees believe their efforts will lead to good performance, they'll be more likely to put in the work.

For instance, an organization might invest in upskilling employees by offering workshops, seminars, or even funding for further education. It's also beneficial to provide a supportive environment where employees feel they can ask questions, seek help, and learn from mistakes.

Ensuring Instrumentality: Transparency and Fairness

Next, organizations need to ensure a clear link between performance and outcomes. This could mean providing regular feedback to employees, recognizing their achievements, and ensuring a fair system of rewards.

For example, a company might establish performance metrics that are directly tied to rewards such as bonuses or promotions. In this case, it's important that these metrics are transparent and perceived as fair. Employees need to see that high performance consistently leads to desirable outcomes.

Enhancing Valence: Tailored Rewards

Lastly, to enhance valence, rewards should align with what employees value. This requires understanding employees' individual needs and preferences. For some, a pay increase might be a powerful motivator, while others might value work-life balance or opportunities for professional growth.

For instance, a company could offer a range of rewards – from flexible working hours and remote work options to recognition programs and career development opportunities. Offering a choice of rewards can ensure each employee finds value in what's being offered.


Vroom's Expectancy Theory offers valuable insights into how motivation works and how it can be enhanced in a workplace setting. By understanding and addressing expectancy, instrumentality, and valence, managers can create an environment that encourages high performance.

Remember, a motivated workforce is a powerful asset. With the right strategies informed by the Expectancy Theory, you can boost motivation levels, increase performance, and drive your business forward.

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