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Introduction to Expectancy Theory

"Expectancy theory originated in the 1930s with the work of Tolman (1932), but did not become related to work motivation until the 1960s when Victor Vroom (1964) brought these ideas into I/O research" (Penn State, 2014). The expectancy theory was introduced by Victor Vroom of Yale School of Management in 1964. His 1964 book, Work and Motivation, is regarded as landmark in the field of psychological behavior analysis in institutions and organizations. The basic idea of expectancy theory is that people will be motivated when they believe their individual efforts will lead to performance and a specific outcome. Emphasis if placed on the importance of thoughts, judgements, and perceptions because they ultimately determine what we will think about a person, how we will feel about a person, and what we will expect from them. These emotions in a work setting helps to determine the level of effort that we ultimately will exhibit and whether valence will be high or low. It is then that that valency influences our expectancy and instrumentality of specific outcomes. Below is a chart from Sousa (n.d.) work entitled "Vroom's Expectancy Theory - Motivation at a Glance: An ISchool Collaborative".  The information summarizes Expectancy theory and first and second outcomes in the following way:  

Expectancy Theory is based on an employee’s beliefs:

  • Valence - refers to emotional orientations that people hold with respect to outcomes (rewards) – the value the person attaches to first and second order outcomes

  • Expectancy – refers to employees’ different expectations and levels of confidence about what they are capable of doing – the belief that effort will lead to first order outcomes

  • Instrumentality – refers to the employees' perception of whether they will actually receive what they desire, even if it has been promised by a manager – the perceived link between first order and second order outcomes

These 3 factors interact together to create a motivational force for an employee to work towards pleasure and avoid pain. The formula for this force :

Valence of outcome x Expectancy act will be result in outcome (Instrumentality) = Motivation Force



"First Order Outcome is the behavior that results directly from the the effort an employee expends on the job.  Second Order Outcome is anything good or bad that results from a first-order outcome" (Sousa, n.d.) 



In other words, in terms of expectancy theory our 1st set of actions result from our motivations. If we are putting in effort to be better or get to meet a specific goal our behaviors will be a reflection of this. For example: Jerry wants a promotion. Lately he has noticed that the employees at work are a little to relaxed and the manager has noticed. Their CEO has stressed this concern through employee meetings, etc. hoping that someone would get the hint and step up. Jerry finally noticed that he is looking for someone to take the initial step to change their attitude. Jerry understanding that he is the only one that has figured this out at the moment starts getting to early, knocking out assignments, and attempting to increase section proficiency. As a result, the CEO takes notice and promotes Jerry to office manager. The first order outcome of him being motivate to get promoted and the altering of his  behavior. The second order outcome was the promotion he received. For a more thorough analysis, you can review our case study below.

Motivational Force

Motivational Force = Expectancy (Goals) x Instrumentality (Challenges) x Valence (Feedback)


 The chart above, along,  is referenced from Dr. Dennis Nelson (2013). Simply put, the challenges we face and the feedback we get when trying to reach the goals that we have made  are the motivational forces that drive us. I'm sure that Vroom would agree, based off his statement, "As the Motivational Force (MF) is the multiplication of the expectancy by the instrumentality it is then by the valence that any of the perception having a value of zero or the individual's feeling that "it's not going to happen", will result in a motivational force of zero" (Vroom, 1964). Basically this states that "motivational force" occurs when expectancy, instrumentality, and valence are all met. Noticed within our individual case study, all employees except 1 expectancy, instrumentality, and valence were met resulting in 84% retention. David ultimately left not because of the hold on advances but because in his eyes he was overall not satisfied with his status after 16 years of service to the company. The valence was 0 which had a direct effect on his expectancy and instrumentality. Please view the case study below.


Case Study

State Farm is one of the leading insurance services company in the country. It is going through financial difficulties and is faced with tough choices. Corporate has announced that there will be no pay raises or bonuses for the next year due to very strict budgeting. All franchise owners/managers have been asked to communicate the change to their employees and determine ways to keep their teams motivated. The goal is to establish a system in which individuals can be rewarded through non-monetary rewards within the new compensation structure while simultaneously increasing motivation. John is a manager at a local branch in Atlanta. He has volunteered to be he first to address the issue. John is a manager of six employees, including four Sales people, one IT person and one Administrative Assistant. John needs to find ways to motivate his team, despite diminished monetary rewards, in order to increase their belief that staying with the company will be good for them in the long-run.

Background of Employees


John: Manager of six personnel - John has been with State Farm his entire professional life. John is happily married with three kids, two girls aged eleven and fourteen as well as a nine year old boy.  John has always been able to successfully lead and motivate great teams.  His employees enjoy working with him and he supports them when he can.  He wants to ensure that his agency remains one of the top performing teams in the company. He understands that the year ahead of him is a tough one due the financial stress on the company. He wants to secure his team’s future by making sure they have a great performing year. John is very aware of most of the team’s mental state towards their job and the company due to his excellent communication with his team. John must discern what rewards are of high value to each employee. In order to do so, John will need to understand the mindset of his employees and identify possible rewards to motivate the team.

Chuck (IT Person):  Chuck has been employed with State Farm for over 15 years. Chuck is in his early 50’s. He was promoted quickly and has been responsible for IT for about 6 years. He is mostly satisfied with his position. Like any IT professional, he wants to keep the team up to date with the latest tools and technology. He is concerned about his ability to perform his job effectively in the face of potential cuts to his IT budget. Chuck is married and his two kids are grown and out of the house. He enjoys traveling with his wife and visiting their children. Chuck is very punctual, organized, and enjoys supporting the State Farm team.


Kelly: Salesperson #1: Kelly is a highly motivated employee who wants to advance within the State Farm company. As a recent college graduate, she was hired with a modest salary. She is focused on maximizing her commissions earnings in order to quickly pay off her student loans.


Lana: Salesperson #2: Lana is a single mom with two young children. She has been with the company for four years. While she enjoys a fairly good income, she finds it difficult to juggle her expenses with two kids to take care of. Her children are three and five years of age and she needs to account for childcare during the day. This expense is particularly burdensome for a single mom. Although Lana has been at the company for four years, she has received nominal raises and State Farm does not offer health benefits. This is a struggle for Lana, especially when her children occasionally become ill.


Susan: Salesperson #3:  Susan has been with State Farm for ten years.  She is married, but does not have children.  She has been happy with her role in the company, but has noticed a lack of salary increases in recent years, and less employee outings.  She is a great mentor on the team and often helps to train new sales reps.  She wants to transition into a finance role with the company, but needs more education and training.  She often reminisces about the heyday of State Farm with other employees and talks about how good they had it before.    


David: Salesperson #4: David is single and has no children. He has been at the company for all the eighteen years it has been around. He helped John open the office and has been instrumental in its growth and success. Over time, while he has enjoyed some financial success, he has come to resent the fact that he has been unable to grow with the company like John has. Although David is very successful he would like to find ways to get to the next level.

Julio: Administrative Assistant:  Julio has been John’s Admin for three years. Overall, he is unhappy with his role lately. He feels very unappreciated. Julio manages the vacation schedule, coordinates John’s meetings, and handles all first line of complaints from John’s employees. Julio was recently engaged to his partner of six years, but does not get to spend much time with him lately, due to longer working hours. He hopes to go into management one day, but understands that he needs to obtain more leadership training and help drive process into the team. Even though he is unhappy, Julio is always on time and performs his role well.

Now that we have a general idea of the personalities and backgrounds of John's team of employees, we can start to address what steps should be taken with each. First things first, we need to know exactly which levels of motivation need to be increased within them in order to improve their overall outlook.


Expectancy Theory Components


  • Valence

  • Expectancy

  • Instrumentality

Expectancy theory posits that individuals will be motivated when they perceive that their efforts will result in a desirable outcome (PSU, 2014). A fundamental underpinning of expectancy theory is that individuals pay heed to the potential outcome of their actions and the attractiveness of that outcome before they actually engage in that action (PSU, 2014).

The three components of expectancy theory are valence, instrumentality, and expectancy.

    • Valence is the positive or negative value that an individual assigns to a potential outcome (PSU, 2014).

    • Expectancy is the degree of belief that an individual has that their effort will lead to an anticipated level of performance (PSU, 2014).

    • Instrumentality is the degree of belief that an individual has that their level of performance will ultimately lead to an anticipated outcome (PSU, 2014).


“It is important to note here that all three of the components are a person's perceptions of the linkages, not the actual performance, effort or outcome. (PSU, 2014, p.2)”


"It is important to recognize that because this is a cognitive theory of motivation, workers' beliefs about contingencies are more important than the contingencies themselves. Even if there is a strong linkage between performance and outcomes, if the employees do not perceive that linkage, they will not be motivated to perform (PSU, 2014, p.4).”


Policy Changes to increase Motivation

Chuck - Since Chuck’s work is not in John’s immediate purview, he decides to meet with him to identify items that may have an adverse affect on Chuck’s motivation. He uncovers that Chuck is concerned that with budget cuts, he may not have the proper tools needed to succeed in his job and equip the team with the IT support that they need. He also finds that Chuck is an empty nester who values the opportunity to travel with his wife. John explains to Chuck that while his IT budget will be diminished this year, he will still have sufficient funding to support the initiatives that he planned for. He also tells him that he is a key component in the success of the company and his contributions are valued. Further, in an effort to provide an incentive to motivate Chuck, he offers him a bonus week of vacation at the end of the year if he is able to successfully implement all of his planned initiatives. While Chuck had the perspective that his instrumentality would be affected by not having sufficient funding, John was able to reset his perception by explaining that his IT initiatives were still fully funded (PSU, 2014). By taking the time to explain the organizational change and how Chuck’s instrumentality would not be affected, John was able to keep him motivated. Lastly, by providing him with a potential reward that Chuck held high valance for, he was able to increase his motivation (PSU, 2014).

Kelly - John values Kelly’s long-term potential with the company. In an effort to retain this valuable employee and maintain her level of motivation, he sits down with her and let her know that this is only a temporary situation and of all the benefits that she can receive once things are back to normal.  By having this conversation with Kelly, he is meeting her instrumentality for the VIE equation (PSU, 2014).  He also educates her on the mentorship program within the leadership and loan forgiveness department. Currently, the President has a loan forgiveness program in which she can be forgiven for all or majority of her college loans and debt. He also expresses that State Farm is one of the employers who qualify for the benefits of the program and that she should sit down with one of their personal counselors to get the process started. This type of assistance for Kelly ensures her expectancy part of the VIE equation (PSU, 2014). If she uses the companies program for assistance, she will have to agree to remain an employee at least two years thereafter. Kelly, now ecstatic and more motivated agrees that she is happy to know that this is available for her and wants to take advantage of the opportunity. By understanding the state of the company, and now understanding programs for debt relief, she is now agreeing to a two year term of employment which is the valence of her VIE equation (PSU, 2014).  If she can eliminate some of the debt she has, regular pay for a year would be perfectly fine because it will be ample enough for her daily life outside of the college debt.


Lana - While John would like to provide Lana with healthcare benefits or an increased salary, the current financial climate at State Farm does not allow him to. John sits down and has this discussion with Lana.  This demonstrates instrumentality in her VIE equations (PSU, 2014).  This John decides to give Lana more flexibility by allowing her to work from home two days a week. He sets her up as a remote telecommute at a modest expense to handle inbound sales opportunities. This allows Lana to save on childcare expense twice a week without negatively impacting her sales performance. By enabling Lana to work at home, this grants her a great resource and fills her expectancy in the VIE equation (PSU, 2014).  This childcare savings enables Lana to purchase her own health insurance.  With both the understanding of the company, and the new flexibility of working from home, the valence of her equation is the cost savings and ability to afford health insurance (PSU, 2014). John has tried to raise all three aspects of the VIE equation for Lana.


Susan - In order to re-instill a sense of attachment between Susan and the company, John decides to implement a two-pronged approach to Susan. the first thing that he focuses on is to place her into a part-time internship program with the State Farm finance department. In this capacity, she will have an opportunity to immerse herself on special projects with the finance department. The finance department will get the help that it desperately needs and Susan will get both the training experience that she craves. By doing so, John will be able to affect Susan’s expectancy and instrumentality (PSU, 2014). By entering her into the internship program, it will demonstrate to her that her efforts will ultimately lead to an outcome which she holds in high valance, a finance job (PSU, 2014). Further, her instrumentality will be affected positively because she will be better equipped with the experience that she needs. By arming her with this experience, she will have an increased perception that her successful performance will ultimately lead to her desired outcome. She will also get an opportunity to evaluate whether this is truly an endeavor worth taking. The second approach with Susan is to entrust her with coordinating small team building events. The goal here is to allow her to take ownership of the office culture in order to make her feel that she truly has an impact on the business. Susan is enthused by the changes that John has implemented. She has been provided with positive multiplicative to all three facets of the VIE equation, valence, instrumentality and expectancy (PSU, 2014).


David - Being with the State Farm company for 18 years, David is looking for room to progress. David will be motivated if John would help him to excel to a new level in the State Farm business. David has nowhere to move up in John’s business, so he did some research to find what the next step would be. David found that there is an exam to take in order to become your own State Farm agent. He mentions his position to John and how the next step for him would be to open his own agency. While John is sad to lose David, he understands and thinks it would be in David’s best interest, especially with his wealth of experience. John is going to assist David in progressing with his career goal. This affects David’s instrumentality of the VIE theory because he learned that his successful performance can influence the outcome (PSU, 2014). John believes that by providing David this opportunity, he will excel in a new position that he can lead. By John helping David take the exam, he increases David’s expectancy and if David passes the exam, he fulfills the valence of the VIE equation (PSU, 2014). 


Julio - John appreciates the effort that Julio makes as well as the fact that he is so reliable. John is aware that he needs Julio to continue to work extra hours in order to assist during this time of difficulty but he realizes that he has not explained to Julio why he is asking so much of him. John needs to have this conversation with Julio to address his instrumentality within his role (PSU, 2014).  His hope is that by taking the time to explain the situation, Julio may feel more motivation to continue performing. Additionally, John decides to make Julio an official lead for the office. While Julio has been the de facto lead, this implicit role was never formally acknowledged. This change with effect Julio’s valence within his new responsibilities (PSU, 2014). With this new role, Julio will be taking the leadership training that he has been wanting to do. This addresses the expectancy part of Julio’s VIE equation (PSU, 2014). John believes that by doing so, he will provide Julio with a bit more encouragement.  Julio responds very well to all the changes that John implements and has a much more successful year.


Motivational Force

MF  =  Expectancy  x  Instrumentality  x  Valence

"As the Motivational Force (MF) is the multiplication of the expectancy by the instrumentality it is then by the valence that any of the perception having a value of zero or the individual's feeling that "it's not going to happen", will result in a motivational force of zero" (Vroom, 1964). Basically this states that "motivational force" occurs when expectancy, instrumentality, and valence are all met. Noticed within our individual case study, all employees except 1 expectancy, instrumentality, and valence were met resulting in 84% retention. David ultimately left not because of the hold on advances but because in his eyes he was overall not satisfied with his status after 16 years of service to the company. The valence was 0 which had a direct effect on his expectancy and instrumentality.

Things that can go wrong at the expectancy level seem most related to beliefs about situational factors such as poor training, low skill, poor staff/communication systems, and poor equipment.


Things that can go wrong at the instrumentality level seem most related to reward expectations directly. Depending on the individual’s cognitive perception of reward ideals, these may vary between persons; however, motivational challenges in this area, in general, seem to include expectations/beliefs that: pay is not proportional to performance (pay caps at a certain level, pay is based on favoritism and not related to performance, pay based on time spent with company alone, etc.), there is little recognition from management of certain departments, personnel, positions, etc., and/or that the power/autonomy given to employees is not related to performance. (depending on whether one seeks a reward of pay, recognition, power, autonomy, etc.).


Things that can go wrong at the valence level seem to be most related to whether the type of reward that seems available appears to be one that the employee values. If most employees believe that those who perform best get moved to a distant office, put on “desk-work,” or given the “privilege of working directly with clients,” perhaps only few/certain personnel are interested in receiving those rewards while many others are interested in avoiding them, depending of course on personalities, goals, and interests.



Expectancy Theory (n.d.). Expectancy Theory Retrieved June 8, 2014, from

Expectancy Theory of Motivation. (n.d.). Expectancy Theory of Motivation. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from

Fall 2013 Expectancy Theory - PSYCH 484: Work Attitudes and Job Motivation - Confluence

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2014). PSYCH 484 Lesson 4: Expectancy Theory: Is there a link between my effort and what I really want?. Retrieved from:

Redmond, B.F. (2014). Lecture on expectancy  theory (Lesson 4). Personal Collection of B.F. Redmond, Penn State University,   University Park, PA. 

Vroom, V. (n.d.). Expectancy Theory of Motivation - Victor Vroom. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from


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