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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.

 

 

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Victor Vroom and Why Motivation Goes Wrong

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Have you ever wondered why people suddenly lose motivation?

Victor Vroom gives us a simple way to understand not what motivates people, but when they are and are not going to be motivated by something.

It is simple really…

The only problem is the obscure words Vroom chose for some of his model. But let’s not let that get in the way.

I am going to ask you to do something and promise you a reward if you do it. Will you be motivated?

Here is what goes on in your mind…

First, do you believe that if you put in your best effort, then you will get the result I am looking for? If you do, then that is good, but if you think you don’t have the skills or the resources, or if you think the task is too hard, or my standards are too high, or I am deliberately setting you up to fail, then you won’t be motivated – and that is that.

This is what Vroom called ‘Expectancy’.
Let’s say you are satisfied…

The next question you will be asking yourself is whether you believe that if you do as I ask, I will actually deliver the reward I promised. A lot of organisations have a record of letting people down here; promising promotions and pay awards that never come. Can they be surprised if people get demotivated?

This is what Vroom called ‘Instrumentality’.
Let’s say you do believe me…

Finally, you will consider whether the promised reward is worth the effort. This is a simple cost-benefit assessment: a chocolate bar for a day’s work – No; a meal out for two at a posh restaurant for an hour’s work – Yes.

This is what Vroom called ‘Valence.
Let’s say you want the reward…

Then you will be motivated to undertake the task.

But… if any link in the chain is broken: no motivation.

I told you it was simple. Here is an illustration from The Management Models Pocketbook, and you can read the section on Vroom in the free extract from that book too.

Expectancy Theory

Further Reading 

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook

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How to Understand your Toddler

imageI took a big step towards understanding toddler psychology today – which you would think would be very useful to a man with a two and a half year old.

And before you think you’ve come to the wrong blog, let me reassure you of two things:

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  1. What I learned offers real insights for managers, trainers, change agents and project leaders
  2. The practical application to toddler management – like all other theories – is pretty well nil

Like all good models, this one has explanatory power

The first criterion for a good model is that it must describe real world events.  In so doing, most models therefore help us to understand – and even explain – those events.  So it is with our model:

Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour

imageIcek Ajzen is Professor of Psychology at The University of Massachusetts. His research interests include how we form attitudes, how they affect our behaviour, the relation between knowledge, intentions and behaviour, and habitual versus reasoned action.

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Ajzen is, perhaps, best known for his theory of planned behaviour.  It was in refreshing my knowledge of this theory that I had my insight.

image

The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) suggests that our behaviour is driven by ‘behavioural intentions’.  These intentions are, themselves, determined by three things:

  1. Our attitude towards the behaviour
    That is, some sum of what we believe to be each of the likely consequences of that behaviour, modified by our beliefs about how likely they are (their expectancy).
    This links to Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.  This is the section in the free extract you can view on the Management Models Pocketbook page, by clicking on ‘view extract’.
  2. Our subjective assessment of societal norms about the behaviour
    Based on an aggregate of all our beliefs about how society works
  3. Our perceptions of factors that might control our behaviour
    Note that there may indeed be real factors that do control our behaviour, leading to the dotted line in the figure above.

Uses of the TPB Model

This model is used by professional influencers, like the advertising industry.  It explains, for example, why information alone rarely results in behaviour change – Ajzen found it not to be a major factor in driving intention.  It is also valuable to change agents, who want to influence behavioural change.

Application to Toddlers

At a fairly young age, I observe that toddlers do start to plan their behaviour.  But the problem is that they are only poorly able to foresee possible consequences, they have little knowledge of societal norms (which were largely suspended when the toddler was a baby) and therefore it is only their perceptions about how their behaviour might be controlled that might check that behaviour.  But these are often fairly limited.

So here’s the deal

Therefore, only real behavioural control will alter a toddler’s behaviour, since toddlers are wired to explore the boundaries of their independence.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Reciprocity and Expectation

I got a phone call out of the blue yesterday.  I have noticed that this kind of call can either be a complete waste of time (’do you want to save money on your toner cartridges/wine/mortgage/pet insurance?’) or thought-provoking.  This one was most certainly the latter.

Tip of the day

You may have noticed on the main Management Pocketbooks website (you can get to it by clicking the logo at the top of the right hand column next to this blog) the Tip of the Day function.

SeeOurTipoftheDayTipoftheDay29Apr2011

If you click on it, you will get a different tip each day.  This caller had done just that, and got one of mine.

Keeping Promises

‘If I keep my promise, will you keep yours?
If I don’t believe you will, why should I bother?
Vroom’s model of motivation!

This tip came from the Management Models Pocketbook, where I describe Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.  This is the section in the free extract you can view on the Management Models Pocketbook page, by clicking on ‘view extract’.

The tip was about the way that we can fail to motivate others if we get a reputation for not delivering on promised rewards.  But the tip had resonated with my caller in another way.

Honesty and Reciprocation

In her job, Alison had been thinking about the importance of truth and honesty.  She had read the quote and thought about the reciprocation of honesty, which got us into an interesting discussion about the nature of truth.

Reciprocation appears to be a fundamental part of human nature.  It is the basis of a large part of our society:

  • Trade, commerce and negotiation
  • Moral philosophy (do unto others… – the so-called ‘golden rule’)
  • Community and the trading of favours
  • Criminal justice (punishment fitting the crime – an eye for an eye)
  • Diplomatic exchange and warfare

Of course pure reciprocity is not always seen as the ideal in all of these cases.  In negotiation, a win-win goes beyond pure exchange of fair value and in moral philosophy, alternative approaches have developed and extended the golden rule, starting with Kant’s categorical imperative.  In community, the concept of paying forward, rather than paying back emerged in the 1950s and hit its peak of popular awareness in the 1990s with the film ‘Pay it Forward’.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPcwQi-AnWI]

There is no need to analyse the failings of tit-for-tat reciprocity in the criminal justice and diplomatic arenas!

In the world of influence, reciprocity is king

As Richard Storey points out in the Influencing Pocketbook, appeal to self interest is a powerful influencer.  But what is equally powerful is to appeal to our innate instinct to reciprocate a gift or a concession.  It is as if, your self interest served, you feel a need to express your gratitude with a reciprocal action.

This offers me a powerful way to influence your thinking or your behaviour.  If I meet your need or give you something you want, then you will feel an urge to give me something in return.  If I give you an honest answer, then you are more likely to be honest with me.

Game theory

But here is where the problem lies.  If I deal honestly with you, can I expect you to deal honestly with me?  If I do trust you and you reciprocate, we can get the best possible collective results, but if you cheat on  me, you optimise your gain, while I lose out.  So what should I do?

This is the domain of ‘game theory’ – the mathematical study of sequences of plays within a set of rules, where the players have some choice.  It turns out that tit-for-tat is a pretty good strategy…

… but not the best.  Constant cheating and constant trusting are both poor strategies, but one strategy stands out.

I am wondering whether I should share this.  What are the ethics of sharing a strategy that must mean some cheating, some trusting and some tit-for-tat behaviour?  Hmmm, that is something to think about.

So here’s the deal

The optimum strategy  in part depends on the strategy of your counter-party – your ‘opponent’ in the game.  But one of the most successful strategies seems to be ‘modified tit-for-tat’.  This means you start by reciprocating, to build trust, but every now and then, take advantage of the situation by cheating.  Then, revert to tit-for-tat behaviour to rebuild trust… and so on.

Does that sound familiar?  I have encountered it a number of times and it hurts.  For those of us who believe we act fairly and with integrity, encountering it in someone we trust is unpleasant.  It leaves us with a difficult choice: one I faced recently.

Should I reciprocate the cheating behaviour?  That was my instinct.  But maybe pure reciprocity is not the ideal strategy.  I relented and resorted to a tactic designed to rebuild trust.  Does this make me a gullible mark, ready to be fleeced the next time?  I don’t think so, because there is always one strategy I have not yet rolled out: not cheating, not trusting, not tit-for-tat.

You can always stop playing the game.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Negotiator’s Pocketbook

The Influencing Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

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