The term instrumentality is easiest to understand if we break the word down to its root. Instrumental means “serving as a means” or “accomplished with an instrument or tool”. Instrumentality is the “state or quality of being instrumental”. In our context, instrumentality means that a person perceives that the performance that resulted from their effort (expectancy) is critical to the acquisition of that reward. In simple terms, the effort would never have been expended if there were no expectation that the performance that was achieved would not result in a reward. This sounds logical enough and a reasonable way to choose what direction one’s effort should be spent. Why put forth effort – so that you can perform well – all for no reward?
So it is perfectly rational that people require instrumentality to be motivated. As with expectancy, there are many times when the individual’s assessment of the likelihood of receiving a reward for their good performance is accurate. In instances where instrumentality is low, people act wisely by looking for other opportunities to maximize their rewards. You can’t really expect people to be motivated to do something for nothing!
However, there are many situations where the individual cannot see a strong relationship between goal accomplishment and reward. For instance, in many instances good performance appraisals do not lead to organizational rewards. Organizations reward a lot of things other than just performance. Pay and promotions are often allocated to employees based on factors such as seniority, being political, or for “kissing up” to the boss. In addition, some performance factors like developing client relationships or performing well as a supervisor are difficult to measure. When people cannot see a direct relationship between their performance and their rewards, their motivational potential is devastated.
When a new system of rewards is put into place, motivational potential is only enhance to the degree that the targeted recipients of that reward believe that the reward is forthcoming. I expect that this sounds grossly elementary to most of you. But consider how resistant to change we are. Change management has gained a prominent place in academic inquiry and practitioners are more concerned with this process now than ever before. The popularity of the books “Who Moved My Cheese”, My Iceberg Is Melting” and “Fish” are evidence of this awareness and concern. We are uncomfortable with the uncertainty that comes with changes in reward systems.
The high velocity of change within businesses is likely driven by the accelerated half-life of technology, the dramatic increase in globalization and international competition and the need to move to more adaptive organic organizational structures. All of these factors require that our employees reengineer work processes, utilize new technologies and re-define their organizational responsibilities in order to maintain a competitive position in the marketplace. When these changes occur, reward structures change as well. Uncertainty about a work setting fosters uncertainty about reward systems. Uncertainty about rewards lowers instrumentality and devastates motivational potential in the work place. But that’s not all. Even when people believe that their efforts will translate to performance (expectancy) and when they have confidence in the reward structure (instrumentality), they must appraise the reward as valuable. My next post will address this critical component of motivation.