BridgeDavid McClelland’s achievement motivation theory is widely known and has been adopted successfully in many organizations. McClelland contended that his methods were better than traditional tests based on IQ and personality.

Primarily, he advocated competency based assessments and tests while promoting improvements in employee assessment methods. McClelland outlined three types of motivational needs.

These include motivation of achievement, authority/power and affiliation. These were described in his 1961 book, The Achieving Society. He contends that these needs are found in all workers and supervisors and characterizes their techniques in motivating and being motivated.

  • Achievement motivation describes an employee who is attaining goals, both simple, realistic and challenging but attainable. He must feel a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to advance in the job. Positive feedback is also required for this person to feel fulfilled.
  • Authority/power motivation is a person driven to make a difference. He must demonstrate a need to be in authority even to the point of power. His ideas must be expressed, appreciated and implemented. Motivation for this person is derived from achieving personal status and prestige.
  • Affiliation motivation is an employee who has a need to be a team player. He wants to be popular and well liked by both fellow employees and managers. Being affiliated with other people on the job is his motivation. He thrives on friendly relationships and interaction with other people.

According to the McClellan theory, most employees possess a combination of these individual characteristics. He contends that they all exhibit positive and negative influences in the workplace.

Some may undermine a manager’s decision making process while others may lead to lack of flexibility and demand too much if they’re too goal oriented even though they could make the best leaders.

Still, McClelland favored the achievement-motivated people to get things done and advance within the company. For these employees, achievement is more important than money and financial reward is merely a measure of success, not the ultimate goal.

The company benefits because achievement based employees are always seeking ways to do better including avenues of improvement and efficiency. So, does this theory hold true today?

For years, the theory has been extensively tested and debated. Almost all employees possess a need for all three: achievement, authority or power, and affiliation. And, whereas all these qualities have status in the work place too much of either can be less than desirable. Most managers today seek a combination of these qualities in an effort to achieve balance in the business.