Two of the best known approaches to work motivation are the expectancy theory introduced by Victor Vroom (1964) and the goal-setting theory introduced by Edwin A. Locke (1968). Both of these theories have garnered support from subsequent empirical research and have proved influential in how companies motivate their workers through incentive schemes and objective-setting exercises. As their original authors admitted, however, both also have some limitations and they also have contrasting implications in some respects. In particular, expectancy theory might suggest that setting very difficult goals may de-motivate …show more content…
Locke, Motowidlo and Bobko (1986) argue that this apparent contradiction between the two theories can be resolved by distinguishing expectance within versus expectance between goal conditions. They found that when goal level is held constant, which is implicitly assumed in Vroom’s theory, then higher expectancies of meeting the goal lead to higher level of effort and performance. But when goals level are varied, the relationship becomes more complex, with lower levels of expectancy due to tougher goals being associated with greater effort and performance.
This conclusion seems unlikely to hold universally, however, because there will be situations where setting overly tough targets could be de-motivation to workers with lower skills and/or lower self-confidence in their ability to meet these challenging targets.
A possible reconciliation of the two theories: the role of goal commitment
As noted above, setting someone a goal will only be effective if they are committed to meeting the goal. Hollenbeck and Klein (1987) present an expectancy theory model of goal commitment that attempts to combine the two theories.