Solving the Employee Motivation Puzzle

Whenever you find yourself addressing an employee motivation issue, don’t automatically assume that offering a positive reward or providing negative reinforcement will solve the puzzle.  First, ask yourself three questions.

  1. Do employees believe that their efforts will lead to successful performance?
  2. Do employees believe that their successful performance will be rewarded?
  3. Are the rewards (intrinsic or extrinsic) for successful performance of value to employees?

If the answer to any of these three questions is no, then employee motivation usually suffers.  On the flip side, aligning effort with performance will make a positive contribution to sustained employee motivation.

Celebrating Fifty Years of Expectancy Theory

I’ve just returned from being a co-presenter with Ron Warren (the creator of the LMAP 360 leadership assessment tool) at Yale School of Management’s CEO College in New York. It was an amazing experience, highlighted by the opportunity to meet Victor Vroom, an academic hero of mine and one of the most influential scholars in management and leadership.  Victor’s landmark book Work and Motivation was published 50 years ago and continues to be widely cited by scholars.

Victor’s book offered a revolutionary explanation for tackling employee motivation issues – ‘Expectancy Theory’.  This theory was a major shift from the behaviourist and mechanistic theories that dominated management thinking at that time.  It is a simple concept, easy to apply as a manager or leader and still as relevant today.

Introducing The Key Principles of Expectancy Theory

Expectancy Theory explains employee motivation using three linked ideas: Expectancy (an employee’s assessment of the likelihood that their efforts will lead to the performance expected of them); Instrumentality (an employee’s belief that their performance will lead to reward); and Valence (how much an employee wants a reward).  Below is an infographic of the concept.


For those who want more information, here’s a good six minute video explaining Expectancy Theory. Expectancy Theory is closely linked to my primary area of interest, the concept of self-efficacy – an employee’s confidence in their competence to undertake a challenging task – but that is a discussion for a future blog.

A blog post by Dr Richard Carter, Associate of Be Learning