Posted on

Victor Vroom: Motivation and Decision-making

Why do people make the choices they do at work, and how can managers and leaders make effective decisions? These are two essential questions for managers to understand. They were both tackled with characteristic clear-thinking and rigour by one man.

Victor Vroom

Short Biography

Victor Vroom was born in 1932 and grew up in the suburbs of Montreal. Initially, he was a bright child with little academic interest – unlike his two older brothers. Instead, his passion was big-band jazz music and, as a teenager, he dedicated up to 10 hours a day to practising Alto Sax and Clarinet.

Leaving school, but finding the move to the US as a professional musician was tricky, Vroom enrolled in college and learned, through psychometric testing, that the two areas of interest that would best suit him were music (no surprise) and psychology. Unfortunately, whilst he now enjoyed learning, his college did not teach psychology.

At the end of the year, he was able to transfer, with a full year’s credit, to McGill University, where he earned a BSc in 1953 and a Masters in Psychological Science (MPs Sc) in 1955. He then went to the US to study for his PhD at the University of Michigan. It was awarded to him in 1958.

His first research post was at the University of Michigan, from where he moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1960 and then, in 1963, to Carnegie Mellon University. He remained there until receiving a second offer from Yale University – this time to act as Chairman of the Department of Administrative Sciences, and to set up a graduate school of organisation and management.

He has remained there for the rest of his career, as John G Searle Professor and, currently, as BearingPoint Professor Emeritus of Management & Professor of Psychology.

Vroom’s first book was Work and Motivation (1964) which introduced the first of his major contributions; his ‘Expectancy Theory’ of motivation. He also collaborated with Edward Deci to produce a review of workplace motivation, Management and Motivation, in 1970. They produced a revised edition in 1992.

His second major contribution was the ‘Vroom-Yetton model of leadership decision making’. Vroom and Philip Yetton published Leadership and Decision-Making in 1973. He later revised the model with Arthur Jago, and together, they published The New Leadership: Managing Participation in Organizations in 1988.

It is also worth mentioning that Vroom had a bruising experience while pursued through the courts by an organisation he had earlier collaborated with. They won their case for copyright infringement so I shall say no more. The judgement is available online. Vroom’s account of this, at the end of a long autobiographical essay, is an interesting read. It was written as part of his presidency of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1980-81.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Pocketblog has covered Vroom’s expectancy theory in an earlier blog, and it is also described in detail in The Management Models Pocketbook. It is an excellent model that deserves to be far better known than it is. Possibly the reason is because Vroom chose to express his theory as an equation: bad move! Most people are scared of equations. That’s why we at Management Pocketbooks prefer to use the metaphor of a chain. Motivation breaks down if any of the links is compromised. Take a look at our short and easy to follow article.

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model of Leadership Decision-making

This one is  a bit of a handful. Vroom has expressed some surprise that it became a well-adopted tool and, more recently, noted that societies and therefore management styles have changed, rendering it less relevant now than it was in its time. That said, it is instructive to understand the basics.

Decision-making is a leadership role, and (what I shall call) the V-Y-J model is a situational leadership model for what style of decision-making a leader should select.

It sets out the different degrees to which a manager or leader can involve their team in decision-making, and also the situational characteristics that would lead to a choice of each style.

Five levels of Group Involvement in Decision-making

Level 1: Authoritative A1
The leader makes their decision alone.

Level 2: Authoritative A2
The leader invites information and then makes their decision alone.

Level 3: Consultative C1
The leader invites group members to offer opinions and suggestions, and then makes their decision alone.

Level 4: Consultative C2
The leader brings the group together to hear their discussion and suggestions, and then makes their decision alone.

Level 5: Group Consensus
The leader brings the group together to discuss the issue, and then facilitates a group decision.

Choosing a Decision-Making Approach

The V-Y-J model sets out a number of considerations and research indicates that, when a decision approach is chosen that follows these considerations, leaders self-report greater levels of success than when the model is not followed. The considerations are:

  1. How important is the quality of the decision?
  2. How much information and expertise does the leader have?
  3. How well structured is the problem or question?
  4. How important is group-member acceptance of the decision?
  5. How likely is group-member acceptance of the decision?
  6. How much do group members share the organisation’s goals (against pursuing their own agendas)?
  7. How likely is the group to be able to reach a consensus?

A Personal Reflection

I have found both of Vroom’s principal models enormously helpful, both as a project leader and as a management trainer. I find it somewhat sad that, in Vroom’s own words, ‘the wrenching changes at Yale and the … lawsuit have taken their emotional and intellectual toll.’ Two major events created a huge mental and emotional distraction for Vroom in the late 1980s. At a time when he should still have been at the peak of his intellectual powers, he was diverted from his research. I think this is sad and wonder what insights we may have lost as a result.


Pocketbooks you might Like

The Motivation Pocketbook – has a short introduction to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, which it refers to as ‘Valence Theory. It also has a wealth of other ideas about motivation.

The Management Models Pocketbook – has a thorough discussion of Expectancy Theory, and also Motivational Needs Theory, alongside eight other management models.



Share this:
Posted on

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow never set out to be a management thinker: his attention was on people in the round. It was only his desire to test out his ideas – and those of colleague Douglas McGregor – that led him to be one of the best known names among managers. His model of motivation is almost certainly the most widely known in English speaking organisations. Does it deserve to be?

Abraham Maslow


Short Biography

Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 to Jewish emigré parents, who had come to New York to escape Tsarist pogroms in Russia. There, Maslow grew up amidst antisemitism.

He took his undergraduate degree at City University of New York and then gained his MA and PhD in psychology at the University of Wisconsin in 1934. His thesis considered dominance and sexuality in Monkeys, which later led noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey to seek out his assistance in the 1940s. Maslow, however, rejected Kinsey, challenging the rigour of his research and later publishing evidence of bias in Kinsey’s sample selection (of young women for his study).

Maslow spend the late 1930s and the 1940s teaching and researching at Brooklyn College, where he published his most notable work on The Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 (A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp370-396). This was later fully documented in his most important book, Motivation and Personality.

In 1951, he moved to Brandeis University, where he stayed until 1969, a year before his death in 1970

A Humanist First

The core of Maslow’s work as a psychologist was his move away from studying the psychology of people with problems, towards people who are successful. He used the term ‘positive psychology’ and was almost certainly the first to do so. It is now widely used, since its establishment as a (now very vibrant) field of research by Martin Seligman.

However, the movement he was instrumental in had the name of humanistic psychology and it is one that last week’s Management Thinker, Mary Parker Follett would have embraced.

The Hierarchy of Needs

His major contribution was a model that was designed to explain human behaviour and has subsequently come to be used as a theory of workplace motivation. He built a needs theory of human behaviour by first grouping human needs into classes, and then arranging these classes into a hierarchy. He argued that the prospect of satisfying an unmet need leads to motivation to act or choose.

Often shown as a pyramid, with basal (or ‘deficiency’) needs at the bottom and higher (or ‘growth’) needs at the top, the sequence means that our first instinct is to focus on the lowest level of unmet need.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Physiological Needs
include warmth, food, sex, sleep and shelter – anything necessary to survival.

Safety and Security Needs
can now be thought of as job, wage or other economic security.

Love and Belonging Needs
are for social acceptance and the development of trusting relationships.

Esteem Needs
are firstly for power, status and prestige and then, for a self-belief that our place is merited.

Self Actualisation
was what Maslow was interested in: maximising our potential, living life to the full and contributing to our society.

In more modern needs theories of motivation, like Self Determination Theory of Ryan and Deci (popularised by Daniel Pink), belonging, esteem and self actualisation are still seen as powerful workplace motivators in the forms of relatedness (love and belonging), competence (esteem), and autonomy (actualisation).


There are two critiques that are commonly levelled at the Hierarchy of Needs – one valid, one not.

It is often argued that the hierarchy presents a rigid sequence and that we continually want more, so do not fully escape the lowest levels, whilst some artist, say, will self-actualise away in lonely poverty in a cold garrett ignoring the basement motivators. In fact, Maslow himself said that the hierarchy is neither universal, nor a rigid sequence. The price his legacy pays for fame, is that most people learn the model from a few paragraphs in a text book or fifteen minutes in a management training session – and not from Maslow’s own writing. (Up goes my hand too!)

The more valid critique is the shallow research base for the model, and the reliance Maslow placed on anecdote, interview and subjective interpretation. However, we must understand his motivation: which was to create a springboard for studying what really interested him – Self Actualisation.

In fact, he did spend time in industry, studying motivation, but it was Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y that he was testing – and he found it wanting. Much as he supported it, he found it too simplistic in the real world, where people need a dose of Theory X predictability to feel fully secure.

Above and Below the Pyramid

Interesting to me is Maslow’s argument that we cannot satisfy our needs unless we have sufficient freedoms. As a humanist, he argued strongly for basic human freedoms such as expression and speech, the ability to defend ourselves, and for a society that prioritises justice.

Above the pyramid, he argued we would find needs higher than self-actualisation in the way he described it. These may be some form of aesthetic, spiritual or transcendent needs. This is an idea that Clare Graves developed into Spiral Dynamics, although the merits of that model need careful assessment.

More on Motivation

The Motivation Pocketbook



Maslow, Mahslow, Mazlov… ?

For may years, knowing he came from Russia, I pronounced his name Mazlov. My research for this article shows that I was wrong. The name is common among Polish and Western Ukrainian Jewish families, where the -ow ending is pronounced with the soft w sound. A research student of his from the early 1940s records on a Wikipedia discussion page that Maslow pronounced his own name as Mah-zlow.


Share this:
Posted on

Three ways to Stifle Motivation

There are many theories of motivation around, yet most of the ones that turn up on training courses hark back to the 1970s, 1960s and even the 1950s.  Is there any new thinking on motivation, for the twenty first century?

It turns out that there is.  And it isn’t just new thinking: this is research-based and supported by experimental evidence.

Self Determination Theory

Self determination theory (SDT) emerged into the limelight in 2000 with one of the now most-cited papers in psychology: ‘Self-Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.  It was published in the Journal ‘American Psychologist’, and written by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci of the University of Rochester.

University of Rochester psychology professors Richard Ryan, left and Edward Deci outside Meliora Hall May 25, 2010. The two are internationally recognized scholars who developed Self-Determination Theory, which holds that well-being depends in large part on meeting one's basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. //photo: J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

Richard Ryan (left) and Edward Deci (right) are both at the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology of the University of Rochester.  There, they direct a training program focused on SDT and maintain a substantial website that acts as a valuable (but technical) resource on SDT.

SDT in a Nutshell

We are all motivated to satisfy three fundamental needs, which are described as ‘psychological nutrients’.  If one or more of these needs is unfulfilled, we lose motivation.  Critically, Ryan and Deci also see the fulfilment of these needs as essential to our sense of well-being.

These three psychological nutrients are:

  1. Autonomy
    Being able to make your own choices and live your own life
  2. Competence
    Feeling able and confident in what you are doing
  3. Relatedness
    Having safe, secure social relationships (which do not threaten your feelings of autonomy or competence)

Does this sound familiar?

It did to me.  In my well-thumbed copy of Ilona Boniwell’s excellent ‘Positive Psychology in a Nutshell’, I have written against these the terminology from two older and more familiar models: Clayton Alderfer’s 1969 ERG Theory and David McClelland’s 1961 Theory of Needs.


Lots more Depth

So, the needs Ryan and Deci have identified are familiar – although not identical to those described by previous researchers.  What is more convincing in their work is the greater subtlety they characterise in examining how these three factors act to motivate us.

They don’t try to describe all of the motivational phenomena that they observe in their experiments with one grand theory.  instead, they have articulated five (to date) ‘mini theories’ to account for different aspects of motivation.

These make Self Determination Theory a very compelling model, worthy of greater study.

  1. Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET)
    How we assess our social context and how that evaluation affects our intrinsic (self) motivation.
  2. Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)
    How we internalise external factors, turning them into motivators or de-motivators.
  3. Causality Orientations Theory (COT)
    how we make behavioural and situational choices based on personality orientations towards autonomy, control and our need for competence.
  4. Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT)
    How autonomy, competence, and relatedness are basic psychological needs, essential to our well-being.
  5. Goal Contents Theory (GCT)
    How intrinsic and extrinsic goals have different affects on our perceptions of satisfaction and well-being.  There is a great animated video, made by a colleague of Ryan and Deci, below.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook
(for Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and McClelland’s Theory of Needs)

The Performance Management Pocketbook

The Reward Pocketbook

Share this: