Expectancy theory in the public and private sector helps leaders predict behavior, better manage people, and serve customers.
By Mark D, Harris
Managers, coaches, politicians, teachers, and other leaders have tried to discover why people do what they do. Motivating followers, and oneself, to accomplish personal and organizational goals is challenging in the best of times and impossible in the worst. Cafferky (2017) reviewed management and leadership theories in light of Christian scriptures, discussing motivational theories, sources of power, and influence tactics. He felt that the Theory of Behaviorism, that motivation depends on rewards and punishments, explained Saul’s intentions when he honored David for fighting Goliath (1 Samuel 19). Cafferky suggested that an excellent biblical example of the Need Hierarchy Theory, that lower order needs must be met before higher order ones, occurred in Job.
Expectancy Theory (ET) argues that effort leads to performance which then leads to a reward. ET begins with expectancy, which is the amount of work that an individual expects to invest towards achieving an outcome. ET then considers valence, the degree of value that an individual attaches to the outcome. Finally, ET mentions instrumentality, the belief that an individual can attain his goal (Zboja et al., 2020). Mathematically, the Motivational Force = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence (Kiatkawsin & Han, 2017).
Other factors play into ET. Rewards may be extrinsic, such as remuneration, or intrinsic, such as pride in accomplishing a task. An individual must 1) believe that he has the ability to attain the goal, 2) have a clear role to ensure that his efforts are directed rightly to achieve the goal, and 3) receive feedback from superiors, peers, and subordinates to correct course when necessary.
The Human Dignity Centered Framework (HDCF) is not a motivational theory but rather an ethical lens through which individuals can view situations in business and life. According to Mea & Sims (2018), human dignity is “the idea that every human being has transcendent value that resides within his or her essence. It is an indispensable aspect of what makes a human a person. Humans are ends in themselves, and as individuals, they have a right to treatment that reflects a deep respect for rights that dwell in them as said humans.” The HDCF is rooted in natural law, the truths rooted in creation and human nature, as understood by Catholic Social Doctrine and Teaching (CSDT).
Expectancy Motivational Theory
ET itself is observational, as are other social and scientific theories on human behavior. ET observes that people are motivated to pursue outcomes that they value, that they think they can attain, and that they think will naturally result from their efforts. Other theories view human behavior from a Value-Belief-Norm (VBN) perspective or from a Social Identity (SI) perspective. Each theory explains and predicts some aspects of behavior better than others. ET, for example, does not overtly include the social dimension, though social interactions have a large impact on human behavior.
Corporate failings in the 21st century have demonstrated an acute need for improved ethics in business. These failings have shown that it is not only recognized bad actors who violate norms, but moral, articulate, and well-intentioned people who, under the weight of severe internal and external pressures, have unexpected lapses. Osafo et al. (2021) examine Expectancy Theory (ET) as a guide to ethical leadership. Negative behaviors to consider include counterproductive work behaviors (CWB) and unethical pro-organizational behaviors (UPB). Positive behaviors include ethical leadership behaviors (ELB) and organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB). Conduct is influenced by social learning, which posits that people adopt the thoughts, words, and actions, whether ethical or unethical, of those around them. Also, organizational behavior, whether good or bad, trickles down from higher levels to influence workers.
The expectancy model provides a valuable motivational approach to ethical leadership and ethical activities in an organization. First, managers must build a strong ethical foundation individually and as a group. They must show that strenuous effort will result in a good ethical climate (expectancy). Second, leaders must demonstrate that such a foundation is tied to positive personal and organizational outcomes (instrumentality). Third, managers must exemplify the attitude that improved ethics is an outcome worth fighting for (valence). Osafo et al. (2021) hope that the result will be that ethical behavior at all levels arises from personal convictions rather than simply following rules.
Individual and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is another area in which expectancy theory can improve outcomes. Kiatkawsin & Han (2017) examine the behavior of individuals with regard to environmental protection while on vacation in light of the Value-Belief-Norm (VBN) theory and the ET. The VBN model suggests that people’s values derive from altruism, biospheric (the influence of places and species outside themselves), and egoistic (signaling to achieve goals). New paradigms, an awareness of consequences of individual and group actions, and an acceptance of accountability for environmental results shape people’s beliefs. Over time and with confirmation, these beliefs solidify into new personal norms.
VBN predicts behaviors and outcomes while ET is better at predicting performance and effort (Kiatkawsin & Han, 2017). The combination of these models, especially the component of personal norms, strongly predicts personal behavior. Kiatkawsin & Han’s (2017) findings here are likely transferable to other situations.
Lin (2017) uses Social Identity (SI) Theory and ET to investigate how corporate citizenship impacted turnover intention. Turnover intention is “a deliberate and conscious willfulness to quit a job within a foreseeable future.” Corporate citizenship includes four components: economic (does the firm brings specific benefits to its workers), legal (does the firm obey the law), ethical (does the firm have good morals), and philanthropic (does the firm voluntarily help others). SI theory examines how much the individual identifies with the group, in this case, the employee with the firm. Key components of an employee’s turnover intention with a firm include the employee’s career development expectation (what the employee will become if he or she stays with the company) and his or her organizational identification (how much does he or she see him or herself as part of the organization).
The author discovers that the economic, legal, and ethical dimensions of corporate citizenship are directly related to turnover intention. He finds that workers do not want to be associated with companies that do not develop them, break laws, and/or have poor morals. Other reviews, to the contrary, note that employees may not mind working for pilloried companies if they believed in the company (The Economist, 2022b). Philanthropy is less important in influencing turnover intention. Overall, improving perceived corporate citizenship directly heightens career development expectation and organizational identification among employees.
Many organizations, especially non-profits, rely on volunteers to fill most of their personnel needs. Their ability to get work done without pay, whether in volunteer fire departments or in churches, is a matter of organizational life or death. In the setting of plummeting volunteerism in the United States, Zboja et al. (2020) used ET to discover characteristics that could be developed to make people more likely to volunteer and more effective doing so. He hypothesized that powerlessness (a function of expectancy), one’s attitude towards charities (a function of instrumentality), and one’s attitude towards helping others (a function of valence) directly impacted volunteerism. Zboja et al. (2020) discover that a feeling of powerlessness does not seem to be a factor in volunteerism. However, attitudes towards charities and towards helping others certainly are. Individuals who volunteer regularly have significantly better attitudes towards charities and towards helping others than those who do not. Also, volunteering with a formal group, rather than volunteering with a small group or individually, confers the most positive attitudes.
Ethical lapses, or perceived ethical lapses, can cause great harm to individuals, companies, and other organizations. Stakeholders, from employees to customers to the general public, can support a firm or they can attack it. As noted above, stakeholders expect companies to be ethical, to meet their legal obligations, and to be fair in their dealings. Hayibor & Collins (2015) use ET to study what prompts stakeholders to act against a firm. Prior research noted that three major factors impact stakeholders’ likelihood to attack a firm. First and most powerful is the perception of fairness and equity. Second is what stakeholders expect in other areas. Some stakeholders will avert their gaze from unfairness and inequity if the company makes big profits and passes them on. Third is the stakeholder resource dependence on the firm. Employees are often less likely to move against a firm than outsiders are.
Perceptions of inequity arise from comparisons between people and from comparisons over time. Worker A will perceive inequity if he makes less money than Worker B for doing what Worker A perceives as the same job. However, Worker A will also perceive inequity if he feels he is getting less for his work now than he did five years ago. Inequity, perceived as injustice, may result in Worker A asking for equivalent or restored benefits. If he does not get satisfaction, he may decrease his inputs (working slower, less), take legal action, leave his job, or even sabotage the firm.
The author’s find that equity was the most important predictor for whether a stakeholder will attack an organization. Using the ET model, managers can decrease the expectancy of employees regarding what rewards are available to them. They can decrease the instrumentality, explaining why no amount of hard work can reach desired rewards. Improving equity when one can and giving stakeholders a voice will minimize the chance of a stakeholder revolt.
Barakat & Moussa (2017) approach a similar issue, using ET to explain why customers boycott companies. Economic or marketing boycotts aim to force firms to reduce prices while political, social, or ethical boycotts aim to force firms to change non-monetary factors like political views and actions. Prior studies demonstrate that people boycott if they believe that success is likely (the firm will make the changes that they want), if they as an individual can make a difference, and if the costs associated with the boycott are not too high. Barakat & Moussa wrote that “the perceived size of overall participation, free riders, perceived congruence between self-interest and collective interest, perceived efficacy, and perceived degree of moral intensity of the target firm’s misconduct should moderate the perceived expectancy.” (2017)
Entrepreneurship and self-employment are important factors in any economy. Barba-Sánchez & Atienza-Sahuquillo (2017) uses ET to examine why people began businesses and thereby became self-employed. They found that instrumentality, expectancy, and valence were a major factor in starting one’s own business and in remaining self-employed. However, ability varied. As a result, the authors recommended that governments, venture capitalists, and other sources of finance take steps to aid entrepreneurs to develop leadership skills, and better manage their businesses and funds provided.
Renko et al. (2011) asks a similar question, specifically “how an individual’s motivation is related to her achievement of various startup outcomes.” Prior research demonstrates that most early entrepreneurs quit their new business during the startup phase without ever actually establishing a company. Alternatively, they continue with the gestation process, in which they are developing a firm but don’t quite get it done, for a long time. Many entrepreneurs want to start a company to make a lot of money, but others want to do something that they love, while making enough money to keep it and themselves going. The authors found that if valence remains high, the firm will often continue, even if expectancy is not high.
Motivation affects student researchers as well. Peasland et al. (2021) discover that willingness of such investigators to do fieldwork was directly related to expectations of the usefulness of fieldwork. The students did not want to invest the time and effort into fieldwork if their expectancy was that such labor would not be rewarded by the outcome. The authors recommended, as a result, that leaders develop equally fruitful learning methods to obviate field work. Alternatively, perhaps leaders could make field work more fulfilling. Or, students could just learn to do things that they don’t like.
Biblical Scriptural Examples of Expectancy Motivational Theory
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of throne of God.”
Can there be a greater example of ET than what is recorded in Hebrews 12:2? Jesus’ expectancy was that He would endure the cross, and His instrumentality was that He could endure the cross, and that enduring the cross would result in achieving His objective. Jesus’ valence was the joy set before Him, sitting at the right hand of God. ET is also clear in what the author of Hebrews tells us to do in this same passage. Our expectancy is that we will complete our race, our instrumentality is that completing our race will result in God’s objective for us, and our valence is the glory of Christ.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Abraham provides another biblical example of ET in action. The Lord promised (instrumentality) him a wonderful blessing (valence) if he would obey (expectancy). Cafferky’s examples in the text, including the experience of Esther and Paul’s missionary journeys, are also sound.
“He said, ‘Open the window toward the east, and he opened it.’ Then Elisha said, ‘Shoot!’ And he shot. And he said, ‘The LORD’S arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram; for you will defeat the Arameans at Aphek until you have destroyed them.’ Then he said, ‘Take the arrows,’ and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, ‘Strike the ground,’ and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, ‘You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.’”
The story of Elisha and Joash reveals a negative example of ET. God promised (instrumentality) King Joash a great victory over his enemies (valence), but the king did not believe God’s promise (expectancy) and did not receive the promised outcome.
Human Dignity-Centered Framework
As noted in the introduction, the Human Dignity Centered Framework (HDCF) is not a motivational theory but a way to look at all business issues, as well as issues confronting all other organizations. The paradigm begins when the organization faces a challenge. The company requires strategy to deal with the challenge, and the company’s ability to cope impacts and is impacted by the organizational structure. HCDF users prioritize human dignity as the most important concept, and try to protect such dignity through solidarity, proper order, and seeking the common good. To do so requires magnanimity, humility, wisdom, courage, and control.
According to the HDCF, once the challenge is considered from all these angles, the organization devises a practical strategy. This strategy requires sustainability and trust and attempts to gain a profit. The whole process must prioritize fairness and is sustained by a positive culture revealed by constructive everyday actions.
The HDCF dovetails with ET. When a challenge comes, individuals and organizations must expect to achieve a solution (expectancy), or else no solution will be forthcoming. Once a solution is expected, organizational leaders use the HDCF framework to put the challenge in proper perspective. They must believe that their strategy can achieve their goal, the resolution of the problem (instrumentality), and they must value the goal (valence). The study by Sánchez & Atienza-Sahuquillo (2017) can be viewed from the HDCF perspective. The input is the desire to become an entrepreneur to accomplish financial and personal goals. The ethical prism centers on human need, both for the entrepreneur and his family, and for the customers and other stakeholders of the prospective new business. The results, sustainability, trust, and profit, encapsulate what the entrepreneur is trying to do. The article by Renko et al. (2011) fits the same paradigm.
Expectancy Theory is a large step towards explaining why people do what they do. ET can also help leaders to predict what followers, and other leaders, will do in similar circumstances. ET is especially useful when combined with social paradigms such as Social Identity and Value Belief Norm theories. Leaders, communicators, and academics can gain meaningfully from ET and its social theory brothers.
These theories, however helpful, must be compared against the clear testimony of Scripture. No theory of man is the ultimate authority on ethical or moral truth…only the Bible is. Theories explain part of the world, but they do not replace the rock of truth which has endured since the dawn of man.
- David, an Example of Growth and Development in Leadership
- Hezekiah, an Example of Crisis Leadership
- Integrity and Leadership
- Leadership Examples of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph
- Moses, an Example of Administrative Leadership and People Management
- Jesus, an Example of Mentoring Leadership
- Simple Sabotage
- Temperaments Model of Personality and Leadership
Barakat, A., & Moussa, F. (2017). Using the Expectancy Theory Framework to Explain the Motivation to Participate in a Consumer Boycott. Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness, 11(3), 32–46.
Barba-Sánchez, V., & Atienza-Sahuquillo, C. (2017). Entrepreneurial motivation and self-employment: evidence from expectancy theory. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 13(4), 1097–1115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11365-017-0441-z
Cafferky, M. (2017). Management and Leadership Theories in Scripture Narratives: An Editor’s Outline of Opportunities for Further Study. Journal of Biblical Integration in Business, 20(2).
Hayibor, S., & Collins, C. (2015). Motivators of Mobilization. Journal of Business Ethics, 139(2), 351–374. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2638-9
Kiatkawsin, K., & Han, H. (2017). Young travelers’ intention to behave pro-environmentally: Merging the value-belief-norm theory and the expectancy theory. Tourism Management, 59, 76–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tourman.2016.06.018
Lin, C.-P. (2017). Modeling corporate citizenship and turnover intention: social identity and expectancy theories. Review of Managerial Science, 13(4), 823–840. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11846-017-0275-7
Mea, W. J., & Sims, R. R. (2018). Human Dignity-Centered Business Ethics: A Conceptual Framework for Business Leaders. Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3929-8
Peasland, E. L., Henri, D. C., Morrell, L. J., & Scott, G. W. (2021). Why do some students opt out of fieldwork? Using expectancy-value theory to explore the hidden voices of non-participants. International Journal of Science Education, 43(10), 1576–1599. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2021.1923080
Osafo, E., Paros, A., & Yawson, R. M. (2021). Valence–Instrumentality–Expectancy Model of Motivation as an Alternative Model for Examining Ethical Leadership Behaviors. SAGE Open, 11(2), 215824402110218. https://doi.org/10.1177/21582440211021896
Renko, M., Kroeck, K. G., & Bullough, A. (2011). Expectancy theory and nascent entrepreneurship. Small Business Economics, 39(3), 667–684. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-011-9354-3
The Economist. (2022b, August 13). Why employees want to work in vilified industries. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/business/2022/08/11/why-employees-want-to-work-in-vilified-industries
Zboja, J. J., Jackson, R. W., & Grimes-Rose, M. (2020). An expectancy theory perspective of volunteerism: the roles of powerlessness, attitude toward charitable organizations, and attitude toward helping others. International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12208-020-00260-5