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McClelland’s Theory of Needs

McClelland’s needs theory, also known as the three needs theory, the theory of acquired needs, the theory of motivational needs and the theory of the needs learned.

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McClelland’s needs theory, also known as the three needs theory, the theory of acquired needs, the theory of motivational needs and the theory of the needs learned. It is a motivational model that tries to explain how the needs of achievement, power and Affiliation affects the actions of people in the context of business management.

In the early 1940s, Abraham Maslow created his theory of needs. This theory identified the basic needs of human beings, in order of their importance: physiological needs, security needs and the needs of belonging, recognition and self-realization.

Two decades later, David McClelland drew on this work in his book The Achieving Society. In that publication, McClelland identified three motivators that he believed we all have: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation and the need for power. People would have different characteristics depending on their dominant motivator. According to McClelland’s theory of needs, these motivators are learned. This is the reason why this theory is sometimes called ‘theory of learned needs’.

Dominant motivators

McClelland says that, regardless of our gender, culture or age, we all have three dominant motivators, and one of them will be our dominant motivator. This dominant motivator depends to a large extent on our culture and life experience.

The three key needs identified by McClelland are:

  • Need for achievement: the people whose dominant driving motivator is the need for achievement have a strong concern for setting and achieving challenging goals and are good at taking calculated risks to achieve their goals. In addition, they like to receive regular feedback on their progress and achievements. In addition, they usually prefer to work alone.
  • Need for affiliation: the people whose dominant driving motivator is the need for affiliation are characterized by wanting to belong to the group. For them, collaboration over competition prevails. In addition, they do not like challenges accompanied by a high risk and in which uncertainty predominates. They are also people who want to be loved and usually agree with what the rest of the group wants to do.
  • Need for power: people whose dominant motivator is the need for power are characterized by wanting to control and influence others. These people like to win arguments. In addition, they enjoy competition and winning, as well as status and recognition.

Then, applied to a business context, we will see them in more detail.

Use of McClelland’s theory of needs

From the point of view of business management, McClelland’s theory of needs can help to identify the dominant motivators of the people who are part of the team and thus influence the decision-making processes of objectives and feedback, as well as the administration of incentives and rewards. These motivators can also be used to design work based on the characteristics of each team member to achieve greater effectiveness.

Need for achievement

The need for achievement is the need to achieve something in what you do. It is the need that drives a person to work and even to fight for the goal they want to achieve. People who have high performance needs are people who always work to excel, particularly avoiding situations:

  • Low risk and with few rewards.
  • Difficult to achieve and with a high risk.

Individuals motivated by achievement needs generally have a strong desire to set difficult goals and meet them. His preference is to work in the work environment oriented to results and always appreciate any comments about his work.

Success-based individuals take calculated risks to achieve their goals and can avoid situations, both high risk and low risk. Often they prefer to work alone. This type of personality believes in a hierarchical structure derived primarily from work-based achievements.

In terms of feedback, people motivated by achievement require a fair and balanced evaluation. They want to know what they are doing right, and wrong, to know where they can improve.

Need of affiliation

The need for affiliation is the need for a person to have interpersonal and social relationships with other people or with a particular set of people. These people seek to work in groups creating friendly and lasting relationships. In addition, they have a very great need to feel loved by others. They like to collaborate with others to compete with them and, in general, avoid situations of high risk and uncertainty.

Individuals motivated by affiliation needs feel good when their surroundings, including the group itself, return to them signs of belonging. They like to spend their time socializing and maintaining relationships and have a strong desire to be loved and accepted. These people stick to the basics and play with books without feeling the need to change things, mainly because of the fear of being rejected.

These people tend to adhere to the norms of culture in that workplace and, in general, do not change the rules of the workplace for fear of rejection. Collaboration is the way to work for them, competition remains secondary. These people work effectively in roles based on social interactions, such as direct customer service positions.

When giving a group feedback, for your motivation it is important to include a personal, individual assessment. It is important to emphasize the way in which they have responded to the trust that has been placed in them. Also, keep in mind that these people often do not want to excel, so it’s best to talk to them in private.

Need for power

The need for power speaks of the degree of desire that a person can feel to maintain control and authority over other people and influence and change their decision according to their own needs or desires. The need to improve their self-esteem and reputation drives these people, who want their views and ideas to be accepted and implemented before views and ideas about others.

These people, if they possess enough skill to satisfy their desire, often become strong leaders. In addition they can belong to two groups: that of the motivators of personal power or that of the motivators of institutional power. If they belong to the motivator of personal power, they will have the need to control others; instead, a motivator of institutional power will seek to lead and coordinate a team towards an end.

In any case, the competition motivates them and they enjoy winning debates. Status and recognition are something they aspire to, as well as being the leaders of the winning team. They are self-disciplined and expect the same from their teammates and teams. The feedback for people motivated by power should be direct. In addition, its performance is enhanced in those companies that help them achieve their professional aspirations.

Comparative theories

Another theory similar to McClelland’s theory of needs is Sirota’s theory of three factors. The theory of the three factors of Sirota also proposes three motivating factors that are close, which are equity / fairness, achievements and camaraderie.

An important difference between Sirota’s theory and McClelland’s theory of needs is that, according to Sirota, everyone starts a new job with enthusiasm and motivation to do good. But over time, poor company policies or any other condition make employees lose their motivation at work. On the other hand, McClelland’s theory affirms that a transversal motivator constitutes a stimulus of incalculable value for workers.

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