In the last blog we looked at a person’s needs as defined by Abraham Maslow and most particularly at two of the layers of his pyramid that a leader can influence, known as the “Social Needs and “Esteem Needs”.  This week we will further develop the thinking behind what motivates a person, particularly in the aspect of the amount of effort they are willing to put in and why.

Maslow reminded us that a person needs to feel wanted and part of the organisation and that they also have a need for self-respect, and therefore, even for the bad leader, they will try to achieve what they are asked, but that is not the same as a willing person who fully puts themselves into the task.

For that to happen a person needs to “want” to do it and that can involve a set of complex emotions. First, they have to believe in and trust the leader (more of that to come over the next few issues) but also, they need to feel that completion of the task will lead to an outcome they appreciate.

Victor Vroom addressed this in what has become known as his “Expectancy theory” which builds on the work of Abraham Maslow and is probably more important for a leader to learn from as there are clear implications if you don’t.

In its simplest form as the diagram illustrates, a person puts in a level of effort, that effort delivers a level of performance for which the person expects a suitable outcome. They then evaluate the outcome (valence) and decide how satisfied they are with this outcome, and based on their satisfaction, or not, will determine the level of effort they make the next time.

Expectancy Theorem
Diagram of Victor Vroom’s expectancy theorem

The deciding factor is known as “Valence” which is a term used in psychology, and is very linked to our emotions. It  means the intrinsic attractiveness (which would be a positive valence) or aversiveness (negative valence) of an event, object, or situation.  An example in the work place would be offering a person the afternoon off as a thank you for all their hard work.  If you are salaried you would probably have a positive valence, but if you are hourly paid and therefore wouldn’t get paid for the afternoon then that offer may result in a negative emotional response.

In the case of a volunteer this is even more important as they are not being paid for their efforts, so they start with no automatic outcome like their wages, and hence if we fail to thank them for their efforts or give them some form of appreciation then they may see the task in a very negative light and may not be willing to do more in the future.  It is amazing what two words can do for motivation and they are “thank you”.

But the reason why this theory is known as the “Expectancy theory” is because they expect that if they put in a good effort, it will produce a good performance and as a result they will get a valued outcome.  But this can be affected by such things as:

  1. Having the right resources available (e.g. raw materials, time, helpers)
  2. Having the right skills to do the task
  3. Having the necessary support to get the task done (e.g. leaders support, or correct information on the job)

For those of you running a business with staff then you must also realise that there must be a belief by the employee that if they perform well that a valued outcome will be received i.e. if they do a good job, there is something in it for them. This is affected by such things as:

  1. Clear understanding of the relationship between performance and outcomes – e.g. the rules of the reward ‘game’
  2. Trust in the people who will take the decisions on who gets what outcome
  3. Transparency of the process that decides who gets what outcome

An understanding and application of this theorem will impact, positively or negatively, the present and future performance of anyone you are asking you to things for you.

Previous part click here

Opening part of the series click here