David McClelland’s achievment motivation needs theory

We all wonder sometimes, when and why an employee behave in a certain situation and what are the factors behind his/her behavior, performance & motivation? Several theories and lots of research have addressed this issue & today I’m gonna discuss a theory on motivation developed and proposed by David C. McClelland (May 20 1917 – March 1998). Just keep in mind that no theory is absolutely right, especially in varied situation but study of these theory helps us to better understand our own unique situation.

McClelland’s Learned Theory:

McClelland has proposed a theory of motivation that is closely associated with learning concepts. He believes that many needs are acquired from the culture. Three of these learned needs are the need for achievement (n Ach), the need for affiliation (n Aff), and the need for power (n Pow).

McClelland contends that when a need is strong in a person, it’s effect is to motivate the person to use behavior that leads to it’s satisfaction. For example, having a high n Ach encourages an individual to set challenging goals, to work hard to achieve the goals, and to use the skills and abilities needed to achieve them.

Based on research results McClelland developed a descriptive set of factors that reflect a high need for achievement. These are:

1.The person likes to take responsibility for solving problems.

2.The person tends to set moderate achievement goals and is inclined to take calculated risks.

3.The person desires feedback on performance.

The need for affiliation (n Aff) reflects a desire to interact socially with people. A person with a high need for affiliation is concerned about the quality of important personal relationships, and thus, social relationships take precedence over task accomplishment. A person with a high need for power (n Pow), meanwhile, concentrates on obtaining and exercising power and authority. He or she is concerned with influencing others and winning arguments. Power has two possible orientations according to McClelland. It can be negative in that the person exercising it emphasizes dominance and submission. Or power can be positive in that it reflects persuasive and inspirational behavior. The main theme of McClelland’s theory is that these needs are learned through coping with one’s environment. Since needs are learned, behavior which is rewarded tends to recur at a higher frequency. Managers who are rewarded for achievement behavior learn to take moderate risks and to achieve goals. Similarly, a high need for affiliation or power can be traced to a history of receiving rewards for sociable, dominant, or inspirational behavior. As a result of the learning process, individuals develop unique configurations of needs that affect their behavior and performance.


One thought on “David McClelland’s achievment motivation needs theory

  1. what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    I’m Out! 🙂

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