Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory Of Motivation

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Criticisms and Limitations

It’s vital to remember that motivation is highly complex and nuanced, with multiple factors vying against one another in many differing environments (Riggio, 2015).

The expectancy theory is a popular approach for understanding and increasing motivation, particularly in workplaces. However, it has its critics and several significant potential limitations, highlighted by the following questions and assumptions (Riggio, 2015):

  • How do we measure expectancy accurately? Which is the best approach?
  • What is the best way to apply the theory – in multiple situations?

Critics also point out:

  • Individuals are not equally rational. They vary in their degree of rationality and often behave irrationally.
  • Even when behaving rationally, we all differ in how we process information.
  • We may not be aware all the time.
  • We are not consciously processing all the information we receive.

As such, while intuitively correct—that increasing effort on a task will result in desired outcomes—the factors driving our behavior may be more complex and varied than they initially appear (Riggio, 2015; Zajda, 2023).

Applying Expectancy Theory in Goal-Setting

Expectancy ModelExpectancy ModelMotivation is vital to goal framing and attainment (Ryan & Deci, 2018).

When attempting to apply the expectancy theory to goal-setting with our clients, it is crucial to understand the motivational underpinnings of their actions.

Consider each of the following goal-setting points in line with the theory’s three core components (Zajda, 2023; Riggio, 2015; Ryan & Deci, 2018):

  • Aligning goals with valence

Work with your clients to pinpoint goals that resonate with their deeply held values and desires. Goals high in valence are more likely to motivate and sustain their actions.

Ensure goals are desirable but also clearly defined: outcomes must be highly anticipated and valued.

  • Instrumentality in goal achievement

Make sure clients fully understand the direct link between their efforts and goal achievement, increasing their belief in the instrumentality of their actions.

Break the goals into manageable-sized chunks to make the connections between the actions and outcomes more evident.

  • Boost expectancy through building skills

Identify skill gaps that might hinder goal achievement, then work on strategies to develop them, boosting the client’s success expectancy.

Focus on positive reinforcement and past successes to boost the client’s self-efficacy in achieving their goals.

A skilled coach or counselor can combine each of the above points with various goal-setting frameworks.

The SMART Goals Worksheet is particularly valuable for defining and documenting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. The practitioner can ensure each aspect of their SMART goals enhances the model’s three components: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy.

While working towards the goals, offer regular feedback and adjust as needed to ensure they remain aligned with the client’s values, capabilities, and changing circumstances (Zajda, 2023; Riggio, 2015; Ryan & Deci, 2018).

How to Use Vroom’s Theory in the Workplace

“Employees’ engagement and participation in developmental activities is a critical issue in the workplace learning literature” (Cheng et al., 2012, p. 885).

As a result, expectancy theory is considered “one of the most complicated yet thorough models of work motivation” for professional development and goal achievement (Riggio, 2015, p. 209).

Research suggests that Vroom’s theory is particularly valuable in the workplace, helping managers and leaders motivate their staff (Riggio, 2015).

While there is no single, agreed-upon strategy for implementing the expectancy theory in a working environment, practical suggestions include (modified from Riggio, 2015, p. 210):

  • Clearly defining staff outcomes and goals, including potential rewards and costs associated with performance,.
  • Making the relationship between performance and rewards uncomplicated and explicit,
  • Ensuring that performance-related goals are within the grasp of employees.

Ultimately, staff must know that rewards will follow when they achieve their goals (Riggio, 2015).

Recent research has also identified expectancy theory as a valuable tool in understanding and potentially alleviating workplace bullying (Julius, Rentsch, & Bernhold, 2024).

Psychologists recognize that abusive behavior in working environments directly impacts employee wellbeing while damaging their ability to perform their roles. Studies exploring how to address the problem have identified that violations of the expectancy theory framework can predict bullying behavior and signal the need for managerial intervention (Julius, Rentsch, & Bernhold, 2024).

Other studies suggest that considering the expectancy theory’s core components (valence, instrumentality, and expectancy) can support continuous learning and professional development. Findings indicate that employees’ perceived managerial and job support significantly boost motivation and learning success (Cheng et al., 2012).

Leveraging Strengths To Increase Motivation

Using strengths to increase motivationUsing strengths to increase motivationIdentifying and knowing our strengths boosts motivation and engagement (Niemiec, 2018).

The Aware-Explore-Apply model offers a powerful approach for combining strengths awareness and use with the expectancy theory to significantly enhance motivation (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019).

The following guidelines are helpful when leveraging strengths with clients to increase motivation (Niemiec, 2018; Niemiec & McGrath, 2019; Riggio, 2015):

  • Awareness of strengths
    Work with your clients to become aware of their personal strengths; use assessments, reflective exercises, and discussions to help uncover them.
  • Exploring strengths
    Reflect on how such strengths can influence their perception of valence (the value of outcomes), instrumentality (the belief that outcomes are achievable), and expectancy (the belief in their ability to perform the actions required).

For example, ask the clients:

Valence: How has using your strengths in the past led to outcomes that felt especially valuable or rewarding?
Instrumentality: Reflect on occasions when your strengths were crucial for navigating difficulties. How might they apply to current or future goals?
Expectancy: How could you use your strengths in unfamiliar situations, and why might it boost confidence in your capabilities?

  • Application of strengths
    Work with clients to set goals that align with their strengths, increasing their valence and instrumentality.

Create detailed action plans that engage with their strengths to ensure goals feel more attainable, boosting expectancy.

Regularly reflecting on how strength awareness and use have helped clients overcome challenges and achieve goals will boost their motivation and increase their likelihood of initiation and sustaining goal-directed behaviors (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019; Riggio, 2015).

By integrating strengths-based coaching and counseling with expectancy theory, it is possible to identify, explore, and apply strengths to increase motivation while fostering a more profound sense of self-efficacy and personal growth (Niemiec & McGrath, 2019; Riggio, 2015; Ryan & Deci, 2018).

Check out How to Perform Strengths-Based Therapy and Counseling to dig deeper into the potential of strengths-based therapy to promote positive change in clients.

In his insightful TEDx talk, Dr. Shane Lopez offers further insights into the importance and value of knowing and using your strengths.

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