DAVID C. McCLELLAND – THREE NEEDS THEORY
David C. McClelland describes himself as “a psychologist, trained in behavioral science methods” (McClelland, 1961, p.vii). Together with Atkinson and other colleagues from Harvard, he has carried out many studies of particular types of motivation and proposed the three-needs theory (Robbins, 1988) or acquired needs theory (Chappell & Schermerhorn, 2000). This theory distinguishes three types of needs or motives in individual employees.
Three Needs Theory or Acquired Needs Theory
The three types of needs identified by McClelland are:
· Need for achievement (nAch)
· Need for affiliation (nAff)
· Need for power (nPow)
(n being the diminutive for need)
Need for Achievement
McClelland has isolated this factor in his study across history and across cultures as being “significantly correlated to rapid economic development” (McClelland, 1961; Wren, 1979 p.32). The need for achievement is responsible for a great desire in people to succeed. High achievers usually tend to work alone as they want to be responsible for their success or failure, they only take calculated risks and leave nothing to chance.
High achievers are not interested in rewards or money unless these rewards
reflect a measurement of their success. Their desire is to do a task
better than it has been done before; they prefer challenging but attainable
goals and yearn for feedback on their performance.
People with a high need of Achievement are happy working in sales because they get direct feedback and the general idea is that they work best as entrepreneurs. However McClelland clarifies this by saying that this does not necessarily mean that high achievers work best when they work for themselves. From studies carried out it was determined that they can also achieve satisfaction with the success of a group enterprise as long as they have contributed to its success (McClelland, 1961 p.210).
Need for affiliation
One of the most important types of motivation but least talked about is the need for affiliation (nAff). According to Robbins (1988) the affiliation motive is the “desire to be liked and accepted by others. Individuals with high nAff strive for friendships, prefer cooperative situations rather than competitive ones, and desire relationships involving a high degree of mutual understanding” (p.345).
This involves the need to be accepted by others, maintaining good social relationships and the need to ‘belong’ even if it means subordinating one’s personal motivations “to what is accepted by other group members” (Vernon, 1969 p.103; Wren, 1979 p.420). This is particularly evident in a social group or religion where members have to conform to certain norms and/or conventions.
Need for Power
The need for power is the desire to influence people and have an impact on others. McClelland does not speak about power in the dictatorial sense but about the need to be strong and influential. Ideally, this need for power should be directed towards the success of the organization the person works for, and not for his/her own success. In fact high achievers do not make good managers because they are usually more concerned with their own success than with that of the organization.
Individuals in need of power are usually low in affiliative need. The manager who desires to be liked will not make a good manager as he might waive rules for certain employees thus disrupting the whole system while demoralising other employees who feel that exceptions are unfair (Goleman, 1998; McClelland & Burnham, 1976; Robbins, 1988).
The need for power, however, is not the only requisite to make a good manager. The good manager tends to be altruistic, uses power to stimulate employees to be more productive and above all has “… emotional maturity, where there is little egotism, and [has] a democratic, coaching managerial style” (McClelland & Burnham, 1976 p.11)
In a retrospective commentary to the article by McClelland & Burnham, 1976, entitled “Power is the Great Motivator”, McClelland felt the need to write in the light of changes that have occurred in the workplace since the writing of that article. McClelland states that subsequent research has confirmed that successful managers have a stronger need for power than the need to be liked. However, it was also found that in “small companies” (McClelland’s italics), “a high need for achievement contributes more to success than does a high interest in influencing other people. In fact, the need for power was often a handicap in that company” (p.10). This gives the author a better idea of what combination of motives lead to “managerial success in the new decentralised organizations” (p.11).
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
McClelland, D.C. (1961). The achieving society. New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.
McClelland, D.C. & Burnham, D.H. (1976). Power is the great motivator. Harvard Business Review. January-February 1995. Retrieved September 27, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu/temp/r_12616-2001-9-27-15-r.html
Robbins, S. P. (1988). Management:concepts and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Schermerhorn, J.R. & Chappell, D.S. (2000). Introducing management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Vernon, M.D. (1969). Human Motivation. London:Cambridge University Press.
Wren, D. A. (1979). The evolution of management thought. (2nd
Ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.