Motivation- the model of models (expectancy)

expectancy image


(1)  Expectancy (Effort-Performance relationship)- The probability perceived by the individual that exerting a given amount of effort will lead to performance.

In order to be motivated to put forth effort, people must believe that the efforts they expend will result in some measure of success (performance).  If you knew that no matter how long you waxed your car, it would never shine, you would never even buy the polish.  It would be a waste of your time, money and energy to do so.

At times, people certainly do have an accurate perception of expectancy.  I’m sure that each of you can recall times in your life when you did not even attempt a project because you knew that the odds of success were too slim.  You were wise not to invest yourself in such an endeavor if you had other goals that offered greater promise of success.

You could think of expectancy as a component of confidence.  People with high degrees of confidence in a specific area tend to believe that they can accomplish just about anything related to that task.  For instance, students who do well in high school tend to believe that they can do well in college.  The scholarly word for these types of expectations is “efficacy”.  Task related efficacy is often a very reasoned and accurate expectation of a person’s ability to succeed at a task given high levels of effort.  However, there are many times when people fail to exert high levels of effort because they have an inaccurate view of their ability to succeed.

In our country, African-American high school students apply to and succeed at college at dramatically lower rates than do white Americans.  There certainly are all sorts of reasons for this; some economic, some academic, but some psychological.   These psychological reasons may include a lack of role models (first generation college-goers who have no model of success to learn from).  It may also be that their peer group holds them back by leveling group member expectations so that no one succeeds at college (therefore no one fails).  Whatever these reasons, expectancy for this group of Americans is lower than for other groups.  Black American youth are the target of many groups who work with great diligence to instill a “can do it” mentality in these youth.  This is clearly a population of Americans who, as a whole, have yet to find a way to accomplish goals that pave the road toward the achievement of aspirations.

Encouragement and role modeling certainly can enhance expectancy, but in it’s more severe form, a lack of expectancy is called “learned helplessness”.  I’ll address this issue in a late post.  When someone has simple conceded themselves to the notion that no amount of effort will lead to a successful performance, the solution is not to “cheerlead” in an attempt to encourage their efforts.  They are already convinced that they cannot do the task.  In such a case, the solution is to model the behavior for them (teach them) and then give them “hands on” assistance in accomplishing the task.  While you assist them, you must encourage any behavior that leads even an approximation of the desired effort.  This is called “shaping behavior” and had been demonstrated over and over again as an effective way to effect behavior change over iterations of behaviors that “approximate” the desired efforts.  This requires patience and persistence, two qualities that are often lacking among the managerial ranks.

But expectancy is only the first of three critical components of motivation.  A person with high expectancy may not be motivated to act if instrumentality and valence are not significantly present.  More on instrumentality in my next post!


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