Expectancy Model

The Expectancy Model goes by several other names such as instrumentality theory, path-goal theory and valence-instrumentality-expectancy(VIE) theory. The expectancy theory has its roots in the cognitive concepts of pioneer psychologists Kurt Lewin and Edward Tolman, and in the choice behavior and utility concepts from the classical economics theories. However, the first to formulate an expectancy theory, directly aimed at work motivation, was Victor H.Vroom.

Expectancy theory is based on the idea that work effort is directed towards behaviors that people believe will lead to desired outcomes. Through experience, we develop expectations about whether we can achieve various levels of job performance. We also develop expectations about whether performance will lead to desired outcomes. Finally, we direct our efforts towards outcomes that help us fulfill our needs. A basic premise of the expectancy theory is that employees are rational and not impulsive. They think about what they have to do to be rewarded and how much the rewards mean to them before they perform their jobs.

Four important variables need to be explained to understand the expectancy model better. They are: First level and second level outcomes, expectancy, valance, and instrumentality.

First Level and Second Level Outcomes: Performance achieved as a result of efforts in the first level outcomes. Performance may be reflected through productivity, absenteeism, quality of work and the like. Second level outcomes are the rewards(positive or negative) that the first level outcomes are likely to produce. They include a pay raise, promotion, peer acceptance, and job security.

Expectancy:  The belief that a particular level of effort will be followed by a particular level of performance is called expectancy. Expectancy is simple probability and therefore ranges from 0, indicating no chance that a first-level outcome will occur after behavior, to+1, indicating certainty that a particular first level outcome will follow a behavior.

Expectancy can be restated as follows:

effort-to–performance ( E → P)

Instrumentality: This is the perception by an individual that first level outcomes are associated with second level outcomes. In other words, instrumentality is the relationship between the first level outcomes and the second level outcomes. It can have values ranging from -1 to +1. A - 1 indicates that the attainment of a second-level outcomes has been attained. If there is no relationship between the first level outcome and the second level outcome, instrumentality Is said to be 0.

performance-to-outcome or (P → O)

Valance: The fourth element in the expectancy model is valence. Valence is an individual’s performance for a second level outcome. Valence can have values from negative to positive. Outcomes having a positive valence include being respected by friends performance meaningful work, having job security and earning enough money to support self and his/her family. Outcomes having a negative valence are things that one want to avoid, such as being laid off, being passed over for promotion or being discharged for drunken behavior at work place. An outcome is positive when it is preferred and negative when it is preferred or to be avoided. An outcome has a valance of 0 when an individual is indifferent about receiving it.

In summary, according to the expectancy theory motivation is:

Expectancy X Instrumentality x Valence

If any one of these variables is low, motivation is likely to be low. No matter how tightly desired outcomes are linked to performance, if an employee thinks that is practically impossible for him or her to perform, then motivation to perform tends to be low. Similarly, if the person does not think that outcomes are linked to performance or if the person does not desire the outcomes, then motivation tends to be low.

Managers of successful firms strive to ensure that employees’ levels of expectancy, instrumentality and valence are high so that will be highly motivated.


Evaluation of Expectancy Theory: The expectancy model has been both appreciated as well as criticized.

One of the appealing characteristics of the expectancy model is that is provides clear guidelines for increasing employee motivation by altering the person’s expectancies (E → P), instrumentalities (P → O) and outcome valences.

Secondly, expectancy model is a cognitive theory. Individuals are viewed as thinking, reasoning beings who have beliefs and anticipations concerning future events in their lives. They do not simply act impulsively. It is model which values human dignity.

Third, the expectancy theory helps managers see beyond what Maslow and Herzberg showed that motivation to work can only occur when work can satisfy unsatisfied needs. Vroom’s theory implies that managers must make it possible for an employee to see that effort can result in appropriate need satisfying rewards. This may require special efforts, for example, affirmative action to correct the damage caused by any discriminative action in the past. In any case, it is necessary to build and maintain  acclimate of expectancies that will support requisite levels of motivation to work.

Despite its general appeal, the expectancy model has dome problems. Like any newer model, it needs to be tested to learn how will research evidence support it.. For example, the numerous relationships among the three variables is still open to question. It is also important to discover what kinds of behavior the model explains and to which situations it does not very well apply.

Second, contrary to the assumption f the expectancy theory that individuals make decisions consciously, there are numerous instances where decisions are made with no conscious thought. This is particularly true for routine jobs. It is proved often make decisions and later try to rationalize them, rather than use the process indicated in the expectancy theory to make the decision in the first place.

Third, although Vroom’s model emerge as  an important theory motivation, it has not been fully tested empirically. It is complex and thus its validity is difficult to test in its entirety. Most studies that have attempted to test its validity have been only marginally successful. Some critics even argue that the theory has only limited use because it tends to be valid only in situations where the effort-performance and the performance-reward linkages are clearly perceived by the employees. Since many individuals in organizations are rewarded on the basis of seniority, education, job requirements and position rather than on their actual performance the theory tends to be idealistic.

Fourth, the model raised some fundamentals questions. Is it complex that managers will tend to use only its highlights and not explore its details and implications? Many mangers in operating situations do not have the time or resources to use a complex motivational system on the job. However, as they begin to learn about it, perhaps they can use parts of it.

Limitations apart, the expectancy model Is useful in as much as it serves as heuristic decision tool to guide managers in dealing with the complexity of motivation in organizations. Motivation principles such as encourage employee performance (Valence and Expectancy) and matching rewards to performance (Instrumentality) can be drawn from the theory. These principles can be used to guide managers in designing organizational rewards work systems, management by objective, and goal-setting.