David McClelland

3 Types of Need or Motivation
Over the years behavioral scientists have observed that some people have an intense need to achieve; others, perhaps the majority, do not seem to be as concerned about achievement. This phenomenon has fascinated David C. McClelland. For over twenty years he and his associates at Harvard University studied this urge to achieve.

McClelland’s research led him to believe that the need for achievement is a distinct human motive that can be distinguished from other needs. More important, the achievement motive can be isolated and assessed in any group.

While focusing on the need for achievement, McClelland in fact draws a distinction between three types of need or motivation:

  • The need for achievement (n-ach) – seeking personal responsibility, attainable but challenging goals and feedback on performance.
  • The need for affiliation (n-affil) – a desire for friendly relationships, sensitivity to the feelings of others, preference for roles with human interaction.
  • The need for power (n-pow) – a desire to make an impact, to be influential and effective.

He argues that, on the basis of his research, that n-affil (a desire to be liked) handicaps managers who are led to make exceptions when they should not. He describes the n-pow manager as being dedicated to the organization, committed to the work ethic with energy and devotion. The best leader, he argues, is the n-ach individual.

Need for Achievement and Risk
Achievement-motivated people are not gamblers. They prefer to work on a problem rather than leave the outcome to chance. With managers, setting moderately difficult but potentially achievable goals may be translated into an attitude toward risks. Many people tend to be extreme in their attitude toward risks, either favoring wild speculative gambling or minimizing their exposure to losses.

  • Gamblers seem to choose the big risk because the outcome is beyond their power and, therefore, they can easily rationalize away their personal responsibility if they lose.
  • The conservative individual chooses tiny risks where the gain is small but secure, perhaps because there is little danger of anything going wrong for which that person might be blamed.
  • Achievement-motivated people take the middle ground, preferring a moderate degree of risk because they feel their efforts and abilities will probably influence the outcome. In business, this aggressive realism is the mark of the successful entrepreneur.

Managing Achievement-Motivated People
Achievement-motivated people tend to be more concerned with personal achievement than with the rewards of success. They do not reject rewards, but the rewards are not as essential as the accomplishment itself. They get a bigger “kick” out of winning or solving a difficult problem than they get from any money or praise they receive.

Money, to achievement-motivated people, is valuable primarily as a measurement of their performance. It provides them with a means of assessing their progress and comparing their achievements with those of other people. They normally do not seek money for status or economic security.

A desire by people with a high need for achievement to seek situations in which they get concrete feedback on how well they are doing is closely related to this concern for personal accomplishment. Consequently, achievement-motivated people are often found in sales jobs or as owners and managers of their own businesses.

Achievement-Motivated People as Managers
People with a high need for achievement get ahead because as individuals they are producers they get things done. However, when they are promoted, when their success depends not only on their own work but on the activities of others, they may be less effective. Since they are highly job-oriented and work to their capacity, they tend to expect others to do the same. As a result, they sometimes lack the human skills and patience necessary for being effective managers of people who are competent but have a higher need for affiliation than they do. In this situation, their overemphasis on producing frustrates these people and prevents them from maximizing their own potential.

Thus, while achievement-motivated people are needed in organizations, they do not always make the best managers unless they develop their human skills. Being a good producer is not sufficient to make an effective manager.

The Herzberg link?
McClelland’s concept of achievement motivation is also related to Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory.

Sources: Accel-Team.com, TheWorkingManager

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