Motivation- the model of models (valence)


Link 3- Valence

The psychological use of the word valence means “the degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event”.  In expectancy theory, this term is used to describe the degree to which a person is attracted or averted by the promise of a reward.  Attractive rewards have more motivational potential than aversive rewards.  This is, I’m sure, no surprise to you.  However, it is quite amazing how far down the wrong path we have gone on this matter.  Because we tend to project our own feelings, beliefs, likes and dislikes onto others, we tend to assume that others would desire and enjoy the same rewards as we do.  Many times this is far from true.

I often take considerable time in my classes to emphasize the idea that “It is imperative that rewards be reinforcements”.  Not all rewards are reinforcements.  A reward is something given in return for performance.  Virtually anything I give you in return for your performance can be considered a reward.  The reality is that I, the giver, define what is intended as a reward.  But it is you, the receiver, who determines whether the reward is in fact reinforcement for behavior.    In order for the reward to be reinforcement, there must be high valence.

This sounds simple enough, but in reality it is quite challenging.  I had the opportunity to work for as a Senior Consultant for KPMG Consulting (now Bearing Point) for about a year.  After I had been with the company for about six months, it was time for my performance review.  My partner flew into Philadelphia where I was working on a project and spent 30 minutes discussing with me my progress.  This was the first time that I had met the partner who had hired me over the telephone half a year earlier.  We chatted a bit, but his time was limited and he got right down to brass tacks.  I remember him saying to me “Dean, you’re going to do well in this business, you’ve got all of the characteristics that it takes.  Now, let me ask you one question.  If I could get you a promotion or a pay raise, which one would you choose”?  I was making good money with the firm, but I’m no fool, I picked the raise!  It was clear to me that taking a promotion would bring with it responsibilities for sales and supervision that I had no desire for.  However, I could always use the money!

My boss understood something that most managers don’t.  You have to give people what they want or your rewards will be given in vain.  To promote me from senior consultant to manager would have been a nightmare.  I had no desire for supervisory responsibility.  I was traveling 4 days a week with two young children at home, the last thing I wanted was more responsibility.

But there were many young consultants on that assignment who would have taken a pay cut for a promotion like that.  They were “building careers” and the title of manager would have meant a great deal to them.  The opportunity to manage others was very appealing to them and they were dying for more responsibility at work.  In major ways, their self-image was dependent on how people perceived their professional lives.  The difference between their desires and mine were like night and day.  My manager may have been fairly unskilled at performance reviews, but he understood valence very well.  With the limited time we had to spend together, he made sure that he knew what type of rewards would reinforce my positive work behaviors.

Many managers do recognize the importance of appropriate rewards, but have limitations on what they can offer.  This makes it difficult to individualize rewards and maximize valence.  However, more often that not, this is a poor excuse for offering employees what is “easy”.  It is “easy” to allocate some percentage of your bonus pool to one employee or another; you are expected to do this.  It is easy to pick one employee from your work group for promotion to team leader; this is part of your job.  This is the easy way out and it will NOT produce the fertile ground necessary for cultivating motivation and unleashing the ASPIRE of your people.

Part of what increases the valence of a reward is the extent to which the recipient perceives that the reward was “tailor made” just for her.   There is great truth in the common aphorism “it is the thought that counts”.  Many managers claim that they are “bound by the rules of the organization”, but his is not as true as some think.  It is the easy excuse, the easy way out.  If you don’t like liver and onions, you won’t work to earn it as your reward.  Without valence, motivation does not exist.


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