How Expectations Drive Behavior and Performance Reply

By Chris Simmons

First developed by Yale Professor Victor Vroom, Expectancy Theory holds that a person will act (or not act) based on the certainty of a reward or punishment. Additionally, the more convinced an individual is of a specific outcome, the more motivated he/she becomes to pursue the reward or avoid the punishment.

Thus, Vroom’s formula is Motivation = Reward/Punishment x Personal Expectations x Certainty of Outcome. For example, a budget-conscious individual will generally not drive his/her car over the speed limit if the odds of receiving an expensive traffic ticket are high.

One weakness of Vroom’s theory, however, is the requirement for excellent insights into the mind of the target audience. First and foremost, the individual(s) must perceive the outcome as a valuable reward or unacceptable punishment. Offering someone a promotion, for example, may not be seen as a reward if their work hours increase significantly. Secondly, the audience’s perceived certainty of a reward or punishment may not be accurate. This would lead them to overestimate or underestimate the likelihood of an outcome favorable to them.

On a related note, use caution when employing Vroom’s theory in the workplace or in the sporting world, as the “Expectancy” component can have significantly broader connotations. In these environments, individuals have not just different expectations, but distinct confidence levels regarding what is personally achievable. This can have a significant impact on the use of Vroom as a motivational tool.

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