Do you know how to measure motivation?

Understand their motivation and get the best out of people


To get the best out of people, you need to understand what motivates them, as an individual. There simply is no one-size fits all approach. Understanding motivation is vital to the success of any organisation; as it directly links to productivity, which links to performance, which links to profits.

Need theories of motivation, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, attempt to explain how the needs of an individual need to be met for them to perform. Expectancy theory is more concerned with the cognitive aspects of motivation, and how they relate to each other.

Meet Vroom

Vroom is often cited as the ‘granddaddy’ of expectancy (or instrumentality) theory. And, in layperson’s terms, Vroom and other expectancy theorists believe that employees will be motivated if they believe that strong effort will lead to good performance, and that good performance will lead to desired rewards. These rewards can be intrinsic (pride, satisfaction) or extrinsic (money, awards).

According to Lawler & Suttle (1973) motivation is a function of the combination of the following variables:

· the perceived likelihood that effort toward a behavioural or task goal will lead to the successful accomplishment of that goal

· the likelihood that the successful accomplishment of the behaviour goal will result in the securing of outcomes or rewards

· the valence of these outcomes

As you would expect, research shows that if people believe there is a strong chance they will be rewarded, then they’re more likely to put effort in. However, for this to work, the reward must be something of value to the individual.

And, here’s an important thing: people's motivation changes over time, and this will reflect in work performance.

For example:

· If someone were wanting to start a family, then money may become a main motivator. If they consider their salary as low and the organisation refuse to offer more money-making opportunities, their motivation is likely to slide. If this person were offered a satisfactory pay hike, then their motivation should rise.

· If someone is a free spirit and is empowered to manage their own workload and time, they’re likely to be motivated. However, if they start to become micro-managed, then they may begin to clash with their line manager and will desire more freedom; which could mean leaving the organisation.

people's motivation changes over time, reflecting in work performance

So, what motivates a person today, may not motivate them twelve months or even three months later. It's important to regularly keep track, as motivation influences performance.

It’s easy to calculate someone’s motivation. According to Vroom:

Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence
Here’s a worked example.

My record for a half-marathon is 1h40m, set in 2019. In 2020 I’d like to run a half-marathon in 1h39m. Using Vroom’s calculations, with a maximum of 1 for each, my motivation for achieving this personal best is:

Expectancy (E) = 0.9 (As long as I train reasonably hard, and quit drinking for a couple of weeks prior to the race, I should make it)

Instrumentality (I) = 0.9 (I think the chances of receiving a reward if I achieve this goal is high)

Valence (V) = 0.7 (The reward will be self-satisfaction; this is quite, but not very, important to me)

Motivation = 0.57 (0.9 X 0.9 X 0.7)

So, my motivation levels are quite high, therefore, it’s likely I would achieve my goal.

Now, if I were offered £1,000,000 to run a half-marathon in a world record time of 58.17m, my calculations would be:

E = 0 (Even if I trained full time I simply couldn’t achieve this)

I = 1 (The reward is promised, so the chances of receiving it are certain)

V = 1 (I’d love the money)

M = 0 (0 X 1 X 1)

Even though the money would be life-changing, the goal simply can’t be reached, so I would not be motivated at all to work towards this goal, and wouldn’t even bother trying.

So, you can see that by changing some of the variables for the same task it changes the motivation. Next time you’re given a new project, why not spend five minutes assessing your motivation for the task ahead?