Child pages
  • Fall 2016: Expectancy Theory
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata


Expectancy Theory is one of many theories that help explain motivation. It is classified as a process theory of motivation because it emphasizes individual perceptions of the environment and subsequent interactions arising as a consequence of personal expectations. This theory states that people are motivated when they believe their efforts will lead to performance and the rewards they want (PSU WC, 2016).

Expectancy - An individual’s perception on how much they are willing to perform based on the outcome.  Similarly self-confidence can play a significant role into one’s belief that one has the skills and competencies to perform and achieve well which will result with the desired outcome (PSU WC, 2016).  There are variables however, that can affect an individual’s expectancy perception 


Self-Efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief about his or her ability to perform a particular behavior successfully. Does the individual believe that he or she has the skills and abilities necessary to perform well and the reach the goals (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.)?

Confidence.  Does the individual believe they have the required skills and competencies required to perform well? (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).

Goal Difficulty. Setting unrealistic goals or goals that are too high in performance expectation. When goals are set beyond their ability, individuals can perceive that the goal cannot be achieved or result in low motivation because of low expectancy perception (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).

Control.  Individuals must have the belief that they have that at least some control over their expected outcome. If an individual perceives that the outcome is beyond their abilities, their expectancy and motivation is low (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).


InstrumentalityInstrumentality beliefs are rewards based.  For example, monetary awards have high instrumentality because if you do you job well you have a chance of being rewarded.  In contrast, if rewards are not monetary , instrumentality for performance would be lower because awards are insignificant to individuals who perform well consistently (PSU WC, 2016)


 Trust. Individuals who develop trust their leaders, are more likely to believe that good performance will be rewarded (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).

 Control. Individuals want to control how, when, and why they get rewarded.  If individuals lose trust in their leaders they may attempt to gain  control the reward system. When individuals believe they have some kind of control over the how, when, and why  of the rewards system instrumentality will increase (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).

Policies.  Organizational policies on pay and reward systems impact an individual's’ Instrumentality perceptions. More formalized policies and procedures on rewards and performance tend to increase Instrumentality (Motivation: Expectancy Theory, n.d.).

Valence - Valence meaning "value",  refers to beliefs about outcome. Outcomes can have varying levels of value and satisfaction to each individual. Some individuals may place a higher value on time off,  praise, whereas another may prefer more rewards and recognition (PSU WC, 2016).


  • Values

  • Desired Outcomes

  • Goals

  • Motivation



  • Higher Pay

  • Promotion

  • Compensatory Time/Vacation Time

  • Change in Assignments/Increased Responsibilities

  • Praise/Recognition

Case Study:

A steakhouse in Texas attempted to apply the principles of expectancy theory in order to motivate their employees to work more efficiently.  Servers at the steakhouse were assigned their serving sections based on a ranking system.  The top ranked server got the “top section”.  They had more tables and were sat first, so that they had the opportunity to turn more tables.  This allowed the server to make more money.  Every six months, management reevaluated the servers’ performance in accordance to the values and expectations put forth by the company during training.  The servers were told that their performance would be based on the effort they put forth alone, and not by seniority, or any other aspects unrelated to the content of their work.  Management ranked them accordingly, in order to give the servers an opportunity to serve in sections that historically produced more money.  The reevaluations were done twice a year in order to motivate the servers to continue to try their hardest since their rank was not permanent.  If they moved down in one ranking, they still had the opportunity to move up in the next ranking.

It was understood that if “Server A” put forth the effort to follow the objectives and exhibit the desired behavior learned in training, their job performance would improve, and management would notice this. Sequentially, they would have been acknowledged by management, and upon reevaluation, be assigned to a higher ranked section, accompanied with higher earning opportunities.

Six months passed, and “Server A” never received a fair reevaluation. Instead of being merit-based, the reassignments reflected favoritism and seniority.  It became a noticeable trend that tenured employees, and those with personal relationships with the general manager, stayed in the top ranks. Regardless of lack of effort by some or the improvements of others, server rankings did not reflect performance, including that of “Server A.” In one specific occurrence, service management ranked “Server A” as #3, but later that day, the General Manager made the decision to move them down to #7, which was below a server who had a history of unexcused absenteeism.  He had more seniority than “Server A” and had a close, personal relationship with the General Manager.


Their attempt to implement the theory showed promise.  If a server was able to make it through training that proved that they should have high expectancy.  Graduating training was a way to build self-efficacy.  As long as a server used the principles they learned in training they should be able to perform well.  This step in the system showed the server the relationship between the effort they put forth and how it would affect their overall performance (PSU WC L.4, 2016).  The level of performance that was expected in order to move up in rank was clearly stated by management, and promised that it would be noticed.  The outcome was clear to everyone there; they would make more money if they were in the top ranks.  This incentive was sought out by all servers since it was the main reason they were working there: to make money. 

The two main reasons that the steakhouse’s system failed was concentrated in the instrumentality aspect of expectancy theory.  When employees receive awards that were given regardless of their performance, it causes the link between the desired performance and outcome to be low (PSU WC L.4, 2016).  Other servers, aside from “server A” shared similar feelings.  They believed that management was not basing their decisions solely on work performance and effort.  This ended up in low moral and low performance from many of the servers, which created inefficient and ineffective workers.  Another reason the system failed was because the evaluations were not done every six months.  Sometimes they were not put out for over a year.  The longer management took to do the evaluations, the weaker the link between performance and outcome became in the eyes of the employees (PSU WC L.4, 2016). 

If the steakhouse made improvements to the instrumentality aspect of their system, it could be possible to fix the issues and how it has become ineffective.  The organization could use the current system, just base the rankings purely off of effort and performance as well as increase the frequency they are done.  The organization should base the rankings purely off of server’s effort and performance on a weekly basis.  This will help to increase expectancy among the servers.  A standardized rubric could be used to ensure a fair and unbiased evaluation.  This rubric could list each of the values and examples of desired behaviors that the organization wants its employees to exhibit in order to move up in rank.  A number system such as 0-4 could be used to describe the frequency of the behaviors, with 4 being all of the time and 0 being not at all.  The scores for each section would then be added together and the employee with the highest number should be ranked at the top, then the next highest score be the second ranked, and so forth.  Each manager should fill these out separately and then compare their scores to each others.  This way if a manager has a favorite, it will be obvious if they rank that person significantly higher (or even lower is they dislike someone for personal reasons) than the other managers.  This could also allow them to talk about the reasons why they ranked that employee the way they did.  Through basing their rankings purely on performance, management could strengthen the link that their employees perceive to be between their performance and what they will gain from it's outcome (PSU WC L.4, 2016).  This link can also be strengthened when management reinforces the behaviors in a timely and immediate manner (PSU WC L.4, 2016).  If servers don't believe that they will be evaluated when management says they will, there is little motivation to act in the desired way, since they fail to believe in the connection to the time frame.




 Expectancy is a prospective idea that contemplates the link between effort and job performance (PSU WC L.4, 2016). In the case study, the servers at the steakhouse believed that if they put forth an increased effort at work, their job performance would subsequently increase.


 Instrumentality reflects the rewards system within an organization. It is the idea that achievement will lead to desirable opportunities (PSU WC L.4, 2016). In the case study, the servers expected that an increase in their job performances would allow them to be noticed by management, and acknowledgement of their merit would lead them up the ranks and into high paid serving sections of the restaurant.


 Valence refers to the level of satisfaction a person expects from the outcome (PSU WC, 2016). In the case study, the servers saw assignment to the higher volume sections as satisfying as it was a reward for their effort and performance. They also believed these sections to be of great value as they could make more money when assigned to these sections.  

Overall Motivation

Valence * Instrumentality * Expectancy = Motivational Force

In this case study, servers were motivated by the possibility of serving in sections of the restaurant that yielded higher earnings. Their increased effort to uphold the standards that were learned in training lead to better performance as a server. However, since their actual performance was not considered, and other non-performance aspects were used to rate their performance, this resulted in low instrumentality.  The low instrumentality is a product of management failing to strengthen the connection between the server's performance and the rewards they received. The valence is high in this situation because all of the employees highly value earning a higher income. Even though expectancy and valence are high, since instrumentality is low the overall motivation is low.  Due to the multiplicative nature of the formula, if any aspect is low it will cause the result of low overall motivation (PSU WC L.4, 2016).  It is important to note that low motivation is the result of management not meeting the three conditions of expectancy theory in order to motivate their employees (PSU WC, 2016).


Penk, Chistiane, Stefan Schipolowski.  (2015).  Is it all about value? Bringing back the expectancy component of the assessment of test-taking motivation.  Learning and Individual Differences.  Vol. 42. pg 27-35.  Retrieved from:

PSU World Campus (2016). PSYCH 484, Lesson 4: Expectancy Theories: Is there a link between my effort and what I really want.

Wood, Andy, Cyril M. Logar, Wililam B. Riley Jr.  (2015).  Initiating Exporting: The Role of Managerial Motivation in Small and Medium Enterprises.  Journal of Business Research. Vol. 68. Iss 11. pg 2358-2365. Retrieved from:



  • No labels