In 2006, I started a "series" on motivational theories on this blog, talking about Maslach's Burnout Inventory FR), Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs (FR), and later on Adam's Equity Theory. Today's topic will be David McClelland Theory of Needs. In his theory, McClelland proposed that an individual's specific needs are acquired over time and are shaped by one's life experiences, and that most of these needs can be classed as either achievement, affiliation, or power. A person's motivation and effectiveness in certain job functions are influenced by these three needs.
People with a high need for achievement (nAch) will seek to excel and thus tend to avoid both low-risk and high-risk situations. Achievers avoid low-risk situations because the easily attained success is not a genuine achievement. In high-risk projects, achievers see the outcome as one of chance rather than one's own effort. High nAch individuals prefer work that has a moderate probability of success, ideally a 50% chance, and need regular feedback in order to monitor the progress of their acheivements. They prefer either to work alone or with other high achievers. High achievers should be given challenging projects with reachable goals. While money is not an important motivator, it will be seen as an effective form of feedback.
People with a high need for affiliation (nAff) need harmonious relationships with other people and need to feel accepted by other people. They tend to conform to the norms of their work group. High nAff individuals prefer work that provides significant personal interaction. They perform well in customer service and client interaction situations, or in a cooperative environment in general.
People with a high need for power (nPow) can seek power of one of two types - personal and institutional. Those who need personal power want to direct others, and this need often is perceived as undesirable. Persons who need institutional power (also known as social power) want to organize the efforts of others to further the goals of the organization. Managers with a high need for institutional power tend to be more effective than those with a high need for personal power. Power seekers should be provided the opportunity to manage others in order to perform at their best.
McClelland used the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as a tool to measure the individual needs of different people. Psychologists have developed fairly reliable scoring techniques for the TAT, and the test determines the individual's score for each of the needs of achievement, affiliation, and power. This score can be used to suggest the types of jobs for which the person might be well suited. McClelland's theory also allows for the shaping of a person's needs, and specific training programs can be used to modify one's need profile.