September 6th, 2019

Theories of Motivation: Part Two

Reading Time: 6 minutes

“What would it take to get you to do this?”

It’s a very common question, asked by different people at different times. It’s a question a teacher might ask a student who hasn’t completed an assignment. Or one a parent might yell in frustration upon seeing their teenager’s still untidy room.

It’s the question you might ask yourself as you look in the mirror.

The Fabulous app uses decades of motivation research as its foundation. Scientists, psychologists, and management experts have contributed towards understanding exactly what motivates us. Which means we now live in an age where, thanks to technology, anyone with a smartphone can rediscover their sense of motivation.

Is your motivation feeling a bit lost? Follow the “Fresh Start!” Get Inspired session from the app’s Make Me Fabulous section to rekindle the fire within!

Process-Based Theories of Motivation

Unlike “Need-based Theories” that focus on what an individual wants to achieve, “Process based Theories” attempt to understand how motivation affects the person’s behaviour and thoughts. There are four main theories that explore how someone gets motivated to perform a particular task, as well as the factors that influence the motivation.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Victor H. Vroom believed that a person is motivated to behave in a certain way based on what they expect to gain in a particular scenario. The greater the expectation, the greater the motivation to work towards a particular goal.

There are three parts, or “variables” to this theory, that are combined in order to explain the depth of a person’s motivation.

Expectancy (E)

This refers to the belief that greater effort leads to better performance. Let’s say you were struggling in Algebra class. Would spending two extra hours learning at home mean you performed better at school? Some might find Algebra so impossible to master that they don’t expect  a few more hours work will make things any easier. Others may feel they almost have a grasp on the subject, and just need a little more time.

And this is the first aspect that determines your level of motivation. The expectation that you can improve with greater effort.

Instrumentality (I)

“No one appreciates what I do around here!”

That statement, uttered in every imaginable work setting, summarizes the importance of the second variable. “Instrumentality” refers to the belief that good performance will be appropriately rewarded. Such a belief depends on three key factors, namely:

  • Rules regarding rewards must be clear. Meaning you need to know what the prize is, for a particular performance.
  • You must trust the authority that is going to decide whether or not you’ve performed well enough to get a particular reward.
  • The process of rewarding for the performance must be clear and transparent.

For example, if you were a real estate agent and your boss declared that the best real estate agent would get a reward, you’d need to know exactly what you have to do to get that reward. Then you’d need to know what the reward was, since a brand new car is greater motivation than a simple paper certificate! Finally, you’d have to trust your boss enough to know he or she would honor the promise, and not simply give the reward to, say, a nephew working in accounting.

Valence (V)

“Why would I care?”

Suppose you can put in a few more hours and crack Algebra and do well in the exam. Or you are a really good sales executive who can meet the annual target and thereby gain a car as a reward from the company. But why would you do either of these things if the final outcome isn’t something you desire? If you aren’t excited about winning a medal in academics, you won’t be motivated to study. If you don’t drive a car, a brand new one isn’t maybe something worth working towards.

Therefore, motivation according to Vroom can be expressed through the equation:

Motivation = Valence x Expectancy x Instrumentality

Adam’s Equity Theory

The best way to understand John Stacey Adam’s Equity Theory, is to think of your favourite athlete. Be it football, basketball or any other major sport, what happens in a successful athlete’s career?

Equity Theory states that an employee (or in our case, an athlete) needs to find a balance between their input (performance) and output (salary, recognition, satisfaction).

So when an athlete joins a team, he or she is perhaps happy with the pay and overall benefits provided by the employer. But once athletes start performing at a higher level, generating more success for the team, they will require greater output or return for their work.

Which is why so many athletes renegotiate contracts for greater salary and benefits, or transfer to another team if they crave other aspects like recognition and professional challenge. In short, Adam’s Equity Theory believes that athletes and any other type of employees, will be motivated if they believe they are treated fairly.

Reinforcement Theory

Have you ever gone up on stage to try stand up comedy? Or sang at a school competition? Did the audience not laugh, or laugh when they weren’t supposed to? Did this make you swear you’d never pick up the microphone again?

If so, you’ve just experienced what B.F. Skinner named “Reinforcement Theory”. Based on the “law of effect”, he believed that an individual’s behaviour was determined by its consequences. Simply put, an individual will repeat a behaviour if it gets positive consequences, and stop if it doesn’t.

Reinforcement of an individual’s behaviour can take place through four key methods:

Positive Reinforcement

Suppose your friends came along to see your first attempt on stage. They would generally laugh and clap (hopefully!). This is a form of positive reinforcement, because it is rewarding your behavior (doing stand up comedy) so as to motivate you to continue. In a workplace, positive reinforcement could be as simple as a compliment from a boss or an “Employee of the Month” award.

Negative Reinforcement

Sometimes individuals can be motivated by removing a negative consequence from their environment. An example of this would be a boss telling an employee to work more efficiently during the week so that he can take Saturday off.


This is a concept almost all of us are familiar with in some form or the other. Parents, teachers and employers all use punishment in order to ensure better performance from us. Grounding children or taking away their T.V. privileges is supposed to have the same effect as suspension or demotion for an employee, which is to discourage bad behaviour.


Imagine if you were doing a great job on stage, delivering one funny joke after another. The audience would laugh and applaud, right? Well, this would motivate you, until they stopped laughing and clapping (presumably because you ran out of good jokes?) When the applause dies down, it is referred to as “extinction”. Through their silence, the audience stops rewarding your behaviour of delivering jokes, thereby taking away your motivation to continue.

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Porter and Lawler Model of Motivation

Lyman Porter and Edward Lawler came up with a comprehensive theory of motivation that combined various aspects from earlier theories. This model is primarily based on Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and has three major elements.


This refers to the amount of energy an individual will exert for a particular task. Just how much effort will be taken is decided by two factors.

Value of Reward

Referred to in Vroom’s Expectancy Theory as Valence, Value of Reward means the individual must find the outcome of a job attractive. If you are in need of cash, but the boss offers you shopping coupons instead, you might not be motivated.

Perceived Effort Reward Probability

Even if your boss offered you a huge cash bonus for hitting a particular sales target, you would first ask yourself if it was achievable, right? Would putting sufficient hours of work allow you to perform well to reach that target?


Your performance will depend upon the amount of effort you put in, plus the abilities and personality traits that you possess. Suitable skills and intelligence will ensure that you are successful.

Moreover, it is only when you have a clearly defined role and goals within a particular organisation that you’ll be able to perform to the best of your abilities.


There are two major rewards an individual can receive for their work. Intrinsic rewards refer to something intangible, like the joy you feel when you accomplish a long-term goal.

Extrinsic rewards include cash bonuses, better working conditions and promotions. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic reward is more preferable depends on the individual’s personal goals and expectations.

The Bottom Line

These theories of motivation are not just useful for managers, teachers or parents. You too can use them in order to better understand yourself and your inner nature. It helps to get an idea of what makes the brain tick. If you want to know more, delve into the wider world of motivation by downloading the Fabulous app and starting your personal journey!