McClelland’s Theory

McClelland’s Needs Theory

It was proposed by a psychologist David McClelland, who believed that the specific needs of the individual are acquired over a period of time and gets molded with one’s experience of the life. McClelland’s Needs Theory is sometimes referred to as Three Need theory or Learned Needs Theory.

This motivational theory states that the needs for achievementpower, and affiliation significantly influence the behavior of an individual, which is useful to understand from a managerial context.

This theory can be considered an extension to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Per McClelland, every individual has these three types of motivational needs irrespective of their demography, culture or wealth. These motivation types are driven from real life experiences and the views of their ethos.


Need for Achievement

The individuals motivated by needs for achievement usually have a strong desire of setting up difficult objectives and accomplishing them. Their preference is to work in the result oriented work environment and always appreciate any feedback on their work. Achievement based individuals take calculated risks to reach their goals and may circumvent both high-risk and low-risk situations. They often prefer working alone. This personality type believes in a hierarchical structure derived primarily by work based achievements.

Need for power

The need for power is the desire within a person to hold control and authority over another person and influence and change their decision in accordance with his own needs or desires. The need to enhance their self esteem and reputation drives these people and they desire their views and ideas to be accepted and implemented over the views and ideas over others. These people are strong leaders and can be best suited to leading positions. They either belong to Personal or Institutional power motivator groups. If they are a personal power motivator they would have the need to control others and a institutional power motivator seeks to lead and coordinate a team towards an end.

The individuals motivated by needs for power have a desire to control and influence others. Competition motivates them and they enjoy winning arguments. Status and recognition is something they aspire for and do not like being on the losing side. They are self-disciplined and expect the same from their peers and teams. The do not mind playing a zero-sum game, where, for one person to win, another must lose and collaboration is not an option. This motivational type is accompanied by needs for personal prestige, and a better personal status.

Need for Affiliation

Here individuals motivated by needs for affiliation prefer being part of a group. They like spending their time socializing and maintaining relationships and possess strong desire to be loved and accepted. These individuals stick to basics and play by the books without feeling a need to change things, primarily due to a fear of being rejected. People in this group tend to adhere to the norms of the culture in that workplace and typically do not change the norms of the workplace for fear of rejection. Collaboration is the way to work for them competition remains secondary. They are not risk seekers and are more cautious in their approach. These individuals work effectively in roles based on social interactions, for instance, client service and other customer interaction positions.