Personal motivation and results: The theory of expectation

What is that fuel that drives some people to perform activities that require enormous sacrifices and/or efforts?

by Federico Coppini
Personal motivation and results: The theory of expectation

What is that fuel that drives some people to perform activities that require enormous sacrifices and/or efforts? maybe get up at 5 in the morning to go for a run before starting work. Or to work late at night to complete an important project they care about. It is probably personal motivation. It is the belief that with hard work you can increase the performance or the quality of the work done. So, you can get better results. Consequently, there will be a more attractive reward.

When good results come

Good results, for a single individual or for a team, are never a coincidence. And they are hardly the fruit of luck. Yes, luck can make a difference in rare cases, but it is almost always something else that determines quality of results/performances. That is, hard work, personal motivation and commitment. In other words, what you get in life is determined by the quantity and quality of work you are able and willing to do. Some people will agree more with this statement, others less. This depends on where their locus of control is located. However, know that having an internal locus of control is almost always an advantage. If nothing else, at least, you assume your responsibilities. And it's the first big step in improving your situation.


Psychologist Julian B. Rotter coined the term “locus of control” in 1954. It is the degree to which people believe they have control over the events in their life.

According to Rotter, you have a:

Internal locus of control: If you believe you have control over your life and your environment. Your results are the result of your efforts, choices and decisions.

External locus of control: If you believe that your life is shaped by external forces over which you have no influence, such as chance, fate or other people in positions of power.

Because expectations and personal motivation are important for results

Personal motivation is mainly determined by the level of three expectations. And these two elements (expectations and motivation) are the starting point of a continuous cycle that we can call the expectations-results cycle.

Let me explain: The level of your expectations determines the level and quality of your personal motivation. Depending on the level of the latter, you will equip yourself with a certain type and quantity of tangible and intangible resources. The latter can be, for example, the skills you acquire through training. Based on the resources you have, you will be able to perform certain type and quantity of actions, of certain quality. Based on the actions you manage to perform you will get certain type and quantity of results. And finally, the results you get will influence your initial expectations, positively or negatively. And so on in an endless, hopefully virtuous cycle.

What is the theory of expectation and personal motivation?

The theory of expectation was defined in his book “work and motivation” by Victor Vroom, a business professor at a US management school. This book is no longer very recent, but in any case, this theory on personal motivation remains, one of the most complete and valid, according to recent studies.

If we want to give a definition of personal motivation, we could use what the professor said above. He said that the level of our motivation to act in a certain way and with a certain energy depends on the assumed level of three of our expectations. That is, to what we believe:

- Putting more effort and energy into it will produce better performance;

- That high levels of performance will bring results/rewards;

- That the result obtained, that is, our reward, will be tempting;

So, if you are a Team Leader and you want to increase the performance of your team, you need to demonstrate that there is a positive correlation between:

- Level of commitment-> level of performance;

- Performance level-> performance level;

These two relationships automatically create the association between greater effort and better result. And this increases the personal motivation of team members to work.

Expectation theory: Here's how to connect personal motivation and results

As mentioned in the previous chapter, in order to create a direct association between commitment and results obtained, you must first create a link between commitment and performance, and then another between performance and results. So, let's see how to create these equations.

Link effort and performance

The basic element from which to start to create personal motivation is to make team members aware of the values ​​and vision of the company or organization. Vision must therefore be of quality, not “something superficial” to be viewed by customers, unbelievingly. You must then give the team members SMART objectives that are meaningful to the company. What does significant mean? it means that individual/team goals must help achieve organizational/general goals. That is, there must be coherence between the objectives and sub-objectives. These must then be periodically checked and updated.

In order not to leave uncertainties and to clarify, make sure that all team members are clear:

- What does it mean to achieve good performance;

- What kind of behaviours and relationships are expected to exist within the work team;

- The quality and quantity of work expected from everyone;

- What individual characteristics/personal gifts would you like them to develop;

Obviously then, if you want individuals to be able to perform well, you need to make sure they have sufficient resources available. You must therefore first of all create a learning culture and allow, indeed encourage, training. Regarding specific technical skills but above all for Soft Skills, which I remind you, are responsible for 85% of professional success of people and therefore of the teams. Thus, it encourages the training of fundamental skills such as time management, the ability to give and receive effective feedback, team work and related skills and interpersonal skills. And even, problem solving, communication, and project management.

It is also important to work on people's mindset, starting with convincing them that skills and competencies can be developed. Otherwise, if they carry out training with a sceptical attitude about the possibility of improvement, it will be of little use. We must therefore work on their Locus of control and encourage a development mindset.

Link performance and results

As for the awards received as a result of good performances, these must be well researched. In fact, it is often assumed that these must be of a financial nature. But it doesn't have to be that way. This is because money is not among the elements that create greater satisfaction for workers. Read this article containing a list of WORKER VALUES to find out which ones are the most important. And also, questions about the RIGHT INCENTIVES and MOTIVATION. In fact, if the “prizes” are not attractive enough, everything does not work.

To create good rewards, think carefully and ask yourself these questions:

- How much reward I give/am I going to give is appreciated? Is that something you really want?

- Could I give better rewards than I currently give/intend to give?

- How can I make the reward more attractive?

Manage expectations

Unfortunately, sometimes, despite our efforts, external variables or variables not under our control intervene that negatively interfere with the motivation of people or the team. For example, worse than expected finances caused by unforeseen events (such as COVID, for example) prevent you from giving the rewards that people would like. In these cases, however, it is important to try to recognize the commitment of the team members. And clearly explain the causes that have led the company/organization not to be able to pay what is desired. Then it is necessary to review the strategy.

But, if performance does not reach the desired level not because of external causes but because of lack of commitment, you must give a quick and effective corrective feedback that makes it clear that performance and results must and can improve.