Motivation has been studied, prodded, poked and dissected since cavepeople were painting on walls.

And all that effort has led to multiple theories of why people do what they do. I believe each has a modicum of value and insight (except Maslow – please throw that away!!! It’s not a valid way to look at motivation!)

I like simple. Simple is what most of us thrive on.

The Expectancy Theory of motivation is pretty simple and is a pretty solid program design starting point.

Victor Vroom (can you have a better name when dealing with motivation theories?) came up with it in the early 1960’s and it goes like this:

Motivational Force (MF) = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence


  • Expectancy is the belief that I can actually hit the goal set for me.
  • Instrumentality is the belief that I will receive a reward if I hit the goal.
  • Valence is the value I place on the rewards – do I want/like it.

I think you can easily see the mental calculus in this model…

Can I hit the goal, do I have faith I will get the promised reward if I hit the goal and do I really want the award?

If all the answers are “yes” – there is good chance I’ll do the deed and work for the reward.

Two things to remember with all incentive planning.

  1. Incentives are choice architectures. They don’t MAKE people do anything – this isn’t like hypnotizing someone to cluck like a chicken when a bell rings. People still need to make a conscious choice to play the game.
  2. Even if the answer to all the questions above are yes, there will be a few folks that won’t play. That’s normal. There’s always a few who march to their own drummer.

Overall – today’s lesson is this – there are a ton of theories on what increases someone’s desire to do a behavior. None of them comes with a 100% guarantee. No incentive program design is perfect. Some are just better than others.

Go forth and motivate!

Vroom Vroom.