Mcclelland's Need Theory

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McClelland's Need Theory

McClelland's Need Theory

David McClelland

David McClelland, born May 20, 1917, earned his doctorate at Yale University in 1941. He became a major contributor to the study of human personality and motivation in both education and industry. McClelland's contributions to education were through his instruction at Wesleyan University, Harvard, and Boston University. His contributions to industry in-part are from McBer, the consulting agency which he started in 1963, where he helped managers assess and train employees. McClelland is best known for his work on achievement motivation models and there practical applications, namely the Thematic Apperception Test and Need Theory (Chapman, 2009, p. 45-52).

McClelland's Needs

Achievement motivation (nACH)

Those with a high need for achievement are attracted to situations offering personal accountability, set challenging, yet attainable, goals for themselves, and desire performance feedback (Stuart-Kotze, 2009).

Authority/power motivation (nPOW)

Individuals with a need for authority and power have a desire to influence others, but do not demonstrate a need to have control. These individuals possess motivation and the need to increase personal status and prestige.

Affiliation motivation (nAFF)

Finally, those with a need for affiliation value building strong relationships admire belonging to groups or organizations, and are sensitive to the needs of others (Stuart-Kotze, 2009). This type of person is a team player and wants to be respected and liked.

Figure: Distribution of Need Behaviors, Typical behaviors associated with motivational type (Swenson, 2000, p. 32-39).

According to McClelland, most people posses and portray a mixture of these characteristics. Some people display a strong bias towards a particular motivational need which, in return, influences their behavior and influences their working/management style. He believed that those who resembled the "affiliation motivation model" had a diminished objectivity as a manager. He attributed this weakness to their need to be accepted and liked, which can impair decision making. A person who fits the "authority motivation model" is more devoted to an organization, also possesses a better work ethic. Those who seek power within a leadership role may not even know how to get along with others and how to compromise. Lastly, individuals who fit the "achievement model" are more likely to be overachieving and overbearing. These types of people prefer tasks that are challenging also prefer to work alone. McClelland also believed that an individual's need grouping changes as they grow, and those who do not naturally possess specific needs can acquire them through training and experience (Mendenhall, Punnett & Ricks, 1995, p. 154-173).

Application of Need Theories in the Workplace

By understanding and being able to effectively measure nAFF, nPOW, and nACH characteristics in employees, employers have the opportunity to make better decisions of which type of employees to put in various positions. For instance, since people with a high need for achievement (nAch) have a high need for personal improvement and success, an employee with a high nAch may not be best suited for a receptionist position without any opportunity for advancement or growth. Conversely, someone with a high nAff might be the perfect person for a receptionist ...
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