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Who on your team is most motivated or revved up? Hint: probably not your supervisors.

By Tom Moriarty

In the 1960s, Victor Vroom of the Yale School of Management published a model that attempted to quantify employee motivation. His model was based on the idea that how motivated a person is can be quantified; expectancy multiplied by instrumentality multiplied by valance.

Expectancy is an individual’s perception that his or her effort is related to performance; high levels of effort will result in higher productivity. Instrumentality is a person’s perception that performance will result in likely outcomes; high productivity means I’ll get promoted and/or experience overwork with a lower quality of life. Valance refers to the weighted value a person places on various outcomes – how strongly he or she want a promotions or better quality of life.

Here’s an example of how this works: Consider a pump mechanic who is responsible for replacing seals on process pumps. He has high expectancy that his effort in working long hours will result in being viewed as a good performer. But if the purchaser buys inferior seals or the mechanic doesn’t have the tools to check for proper alignment, his expectancy willl be lower; he won’t believe he can do a good job even if he works harder.

If the same mechanic believes that increasing effort (as by replacing more pump seals in a given time period) will result in a benefit (a pay raise), his instrumentality would be higher. But if the mechanic perceives that reducing cycle time would make no difference in his pay, his instrumentality would be lower.

Workplace culture can play a role as well.  Suppose the mechanic is “too good” at replacing pump seals – he works very fast with high quality. If he thinks he will be ostracized by his co-workers for making everyone else look bad, his instrumentality will be lower.

With regard to valance, the mechanic may want a promotion to supervisor. On the other hand, he may not, because of the prospect of the loss of overtime pay and more administrative work. The perceived value of the promotion may be less than the desire to avoid administrative work. In that case, the valance for promotion would be low.

Similarly, if he is single and enjoys his current work assignments, he may not perceive value in time off. This would be less likely for a dad who values time to watch his kids play sports or attend other family events.

A decade later, an updated version of Expectancy Theory was presented by David Nadler and Edward Lawler (“Motivation: A Diagnostic Approach,” published in Perspectives on Behavior in Organizations, 1977). In this model, motivation was refined, multiplying the perception that effort leads to performance (E to P) by the sum of the person’s perception that performance leads to outcomes (P to O) multiplied by the valance. E to P is the equivalent to expectancy; P to O is the same as instrumentality; and valance is consistent.

In our recent Plant Services Leadership Survey, we used this updated method of calculating motivation. We measured motivation for senior managers, managers, supervisors, and team members. The average motivation score for all respondents was 144.3. The average score for senior managers was 160.0 points (10.9% above the average); for managers it was 145.5 (0.8% above the average); for supervisors it was 135.4 (6.2% below the average); and for team members it was 140.4 (2.7% below the average).

Supervisors score the lowest in motivation. The top three valance items for supervisors include wanting to develop skills and abilities, wanting to accomplish something worthwhile, and wanting the chance to do something good as a person (such as helping others to do better). This makes sense. Supervisors often don’t get quality leadership training before or after assuming leadership roles.

Focus on improving supervisor motivation. Supervisors direct 80% to 90% of plant personnel. They have a 70% influence over the attitudes and performance of their team. The path is clear: Improve supervisors’ motivation through leadership training and increase their ability to do more while helping others.

Expectancy Theory can be a useful tool for leaders to assess and improve leadership performance. Identifying motivation gaps, providing quality training, and periodically measuring can improve motivation and performance.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a member of the SMRP, a past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has an MBA, concentration on Organizational Development, a BS in mechanical engineering  professional engineer (PE) licensed in Florida, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com