What is McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory - a blog by Business Butler

McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory

Trying to motivate a team is challenging enough but even more so in the current economic climate. So, when businesses do start functioning again and the millions of workers return to work after months of working from home (WFH), leaders and managers will need as much help as possible to inspire staff and propel businesses forward to profitability and growth. Following on from last week’s blog about Abraham Maslow we now look at David McClelland who was an American psychologist famous for his Human Motivation Theory which was published in 1961. And just like his predecessor Maslow, his findings are still relevant for managers in business today.

His theory has several different names including the Three Needs Theory or Acquired Needs Theory and is based on there being three main motivational drivers or needs that everybody has, with one of those being the dominant motivator. These needs are acquired over time and are a result of our experiences in life. The three drivers are: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power.

The characteristics for each person will differ according to their dominant motivation and you should be able to identify yourself and members of your team in the following categories.

Need for achievement

For those whose main driver is the need for achievement they will have a strong desire to set and achieve challenging goals. They will take calculated risks to accomplish those objectives and usually work alone or alongside other high achievers. They also like to be given feedback on their work and accomplishments.

They work best when given their own projects to complete and managers see them as ideal employees because they don’t need any external motivation. They can make good leaders but have high expectations for their teams and can be quite demanding.


Need for affiliation

For people with affiliation as their main driver they much prefer being part of a group, love to be liked and will usually agree with what the team wants to do. They rather cooperation as opposed to competition and don’t like uncertainty or taking risks. They don’t seek recognition or praise and are best suited to working in customer service positions where there is interaction with clients.

These workers may not necessarily make the best managers but are successful, and happier in non-leadership roles. For companies that rely on collaboration throughout then these are the types of employees you need because you will receive optimum performance from them working as part of a team without the desire for individual success. This harmonious teamwork results in a productive and happy workforce. Remember that because they don’t like to be the centre of attention, praise should be given alone and not in front of their colleagues.


Need for power

The final type, and one I’m sure you are familiar with, is those with a need for power. No surprise here that key traits include the desire to have control over others and be influential. They love competition and relish status and recognition. They also like to be argumentative and want to win every debate – remind you of anyone?

Importantly, this final category can be divided into two types. Firstly, there is the personal power drive, these want to control others. This is seen as a negative trait amongst managers and people who are predisposed to this motivational driver can have a detrimental effect on team moral and business as a whole.

And secondly, the institutional power drive who enjoy organising team efforts in order to achieve company objectives. This type would obviously be highly beneficial for any business.

It you are fortunate enough to have several of these employees working for you then you can leave them compete against each other and receive the best from all of them. As long as they are given the right roles they are a real asset for any company.

Business success

The most successful businesses will be those where management have looked at each employee on a personal level to ascertain their key needs. One method of doing this is by looking at personality traits and previous actions. Those with a need for power usually stand out first because they want to be centre of attention, love speaking out and volunteer for responsibility. Someone on the other hand who doesn’t contribute to team meetings and is happy with whatever the team decides is probably driven by affiliation. And a team member who volunteers in meetings for projects is likely to be driven by achievement.

Managers should assign tasks and roles that best suit the motivational needs and characteristics of their employees in order to help them reach their full potential. The best performing businesses will have teams made up of workers from all three categories but the percentage split of each type of motivational need will depend on the sector and type of business. Once you understand what motivates your team, your business will operate with greater efficiency, be more profitable and successful as well as being somewhere people love to work.

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