Everybody needs a little bit of motivation.

However, the nature of the motivation needed may differ from person to person.  For some of us, all it takes is a simple pat on the back and a “well done” comment from the boss while others are driven by the need to win awards and get more coveted designations.

There are people who thrive when given responsibility, and then there are those who are driven by hard cash. One of the main functions of a manager is to recognize the needs of their team members and motivate them accordingly.  Let’s look at one of the popular theories related to motivation—McClelland’s theory of needs.

What Is McClelland’s Theory Of Needs And Motivation?

American psychologist David McClelland’s theory explains how the need for achievement, power and affiliation motivates people in a professional environment. According to this theory, which was developed in the 1960s, all individuals have these needs in varying degrees, irrespective of race, age or location.

According to McClelland’s theory, a person’s specific needs are not natural but picked up during the course of their life.. These needs are shaped by the individual’s life experiences and can be classified under the three heads i.e. achievement, power and affiliation. According to McClelland, an individual’s quality of performance is directly influenced by one of these three needs. Hence, some people refer to McClelland’s theory as the Three Needs Theory or the Learned Needs Theory as well.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at these three factors in detail.

Need For Achievement

According to the first factor of McClelland’s theory, people want to achieve things and want to be known as accomplished names in their respective field. A footballer might want to be known for the number of goals scored whereas an author might want to win major awards for her books.

At the same time, the achievement motive theory also characterizes achievement-oriented individuals as being averse to risky situations. While they are constantly innovating to achieve their objectives, they are not fond of collaborative working. They tend to be reliant on constant feedback.

McClelland’s achievement motivation theory is applicable to people who are comfortable working in a hierarchical system that rewards performance-linked achievements.

Need For Power

According to McClelland’s theory of motivation, a person has an internal desire to gain control and authority over others. Unlike the achievement motive theory, a person with a need for power aims to influence and alter the other person’s decision to suit their own wishes. McClelland’s theory of needs suggests that seeing others accepting their ideas and views boosts their own self-esteem.

McClelland’s theory of motivation says those with a need for power can be considered suitable for leadership roles. They are focused on managing others efficiently while working towards organizational goals.  According to McClelland’s theory of needs, those who are motivated by the need for power regulate themselves and expect others to be disciplined as well. They look for personal reputation and social standing.

Need For Affiliation

The third need in McClelland’s theory of motivation is the need for affiliation. This need is felt by people who are keen to develop social relationships with a specific set of people. Such individuals prefer to work in groups and are therefore fond of creating friendly and long-term relationships. They crave to be liked and welcomed by others. Such people make great collaborators. They also shy away from highly risky or uncertain situations.

The need for affiliation emphasizes an individual’s desire for social acceptance as opposed to achievement motive theory where performance is a driver.


Motivation plays a crucial role in an organization’s productivity and employee satisfaction levels. McClelland’s theory of motivation is a research-based approach for identifying the factors that motivate employees. According to McClelland’s theory, some individuals love projects that challenge them while others are driven by having power and responsibility for large teams. Some others remain content to gain the approval of others while collaborating with them.

Now that you know McClelland’s theory of motivation, Harappa Education’s Managing Teamwork course will take you to the next level. The online course will help you manage the needs and expectations of the people you work with by taking you through various stages of team development. This easy personal leadership course will help you get the best out of yourself and get you going on the path to achieving your professional goals.

Explore topics such as How to Manage Crisis, Types of Power & MBWA from our Harappa Diaries section in order to build trust-rich relationships at work.

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