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What Is the Expectancy Theory?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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Expectancy theory is a behavioral and motivational theory that explains how people choose their actions in order to achieve a result that they expected. A person is especially motivated to act or not act a certain way if the outcome of doing so is very desirable. This theory is usually applied in a workplace setting, where employees perform in a certain way according to the reward or incentives that the employers can give in return.

The theory was first proposed in 1964 by the Yale School of Management’s Professor Victor Vroom. In its contextual period, the Expectancy Theory may have been a revolutionary idea, as it focuses on desired outcomes instead of needs that are emphasized by Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and Herzberg’s “Two-Factor Theory,” both of which preceded Vroom’s proposal. The theory also acknowledges that the individuality and the uniqueness of each person contributes to what his desired outcomes are, unlike Maslow, who assumed his proposed human “needs” are universal and inherent in all people.

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There are three elements involved in the expectancy theory: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy, all of which play different parts in motivating a person to behave a certain way. Valence refers to the degree of how the individual puts “value (v)” in the reward (r),” giving it a formula of V(R). This, in part, will help the individual decide how he performs to achieve that reward. For example, a person who puts a lot of value in getting a promotion will be more motivated in being involved in many projects and working longer hours than usual.

Instrumentality is the element that pertains to the individual’s certainty that he will be given his reward if he does the behavior or performance that is expected of him. In the expectancy theory, Vroom gives this element the formula of “Performance → Outcome.” Simply put, there is more probability that a person will perform expected tasks and responsibilities if there is more certainty that he will get his reward in the end. To motivate their employees to perform well, employers can talk to them privately and tell them directly that a promotion is for the taking if they do specific tasks. More importantly, the employer has to keep his word; that way, an employee has a clear perspective of what he has to do in order to receive his reward.

In the expectancy theory, expectancy is the factor that refers to the individual’s belief that his effort will produce the performance or task that he is expected to do, giving it a formula of “E → P.” If a person believes he has the capability and skill to do a task, then he is more motivated to do that task in order to get to his goal; for example, if a person is tasked to sell five products in order to get a bonus. If he is confident in his skills as a communicator and salesperson, then he is more likely to see those five products, therefore getting his bonus as a reward.

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