McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory

In 1961, David McClelland published his book entitled ‘The Achieving Society.’ McClelland wrote his book to build upon the previous works of Abraham Maslow from the early 1950’s.

McClelland studied the behaviors of over one thousand people to create his Three Needs Theory.

The Three Needs Theory categorized people’s motivation-drives into three groups:

  • Achievement
  • Affiliation
  • Power

Let’s Examine Each of The Three Needs

  • Achievement: People falling into this group are those who thrive on setting themselves goals, and they relish accomplishing those goals. These people have mid-level risk tolerance, and they balance their decisions somewhere in between low-risk and high-risk. Such people understand that medium-risk tasks are high enough risk to allow success for their ventures. This group considers low-risk ventures as being too insignificant to take on, and they view high-risk goals to be on par with gambling. The mid-range risk projects offer the perfect balance to the Achievement Group to provide sufficient challenge along with a high chance of success. People in this group very frequently work best on their own but can work in a team environment as long as they are given space to think things through in their own time and in their own way.
  • Affiliation: This group of people likes to be with other people and work best alongside their colleagues. Being: ‘part of the group’ is essential to people in this category. Members of this group often go along with the consensus regarding group decisions, and it’s very rare that you’ll hear them speak out against what the group wants to do. People in this group work comfortably with a group who collaborate to work, and they feel uncomfortable when situations seem uncertain. Another characteristic of people in the Affiliation Group is that they dislike standing out in a crowd.
  • Power: People in this group, as you may suspect, have a strong desire to influence and control other people. These group members take delight in winning arguments, competing and of course winning all competitions. These Power-Drive people relish their status when they reach the top, and they’ll devour the recognition that comes with it. With the Power Group, the members tend to fall into two distinct personality types: 1. Institutional, and 2. Personal. The Institutional Power category covers people who tend to drive teams of people to accomplish goals for the organization as a whole. The Personal Power category of people are more driven to control other people rather than the more significant needs of the organization. The Institutional Power group members are more desirable to be selected for management roles for obvious reasons.



You May Wonder Which of The Three Categories You Fall Into

The truth of the matter is that we all fall into all three of the categories, but we all have a dominant Need, out of the Three Needs. There may be certain circumstances when we all act in ways that reflect each of the groups, but on the whole, you’ll find that on average, you fall into one of the groups by default.


I Highly Recommend Watching This Video. It’s 23 Minutes in Length, But It Gives Some Excellent Information:


How Can ‘The Three Needs’ Help an Organization to Better Manage Their Employees?

One of the best ways to utilize The Three Needs is for managers to study their staff’s behavior to determine their dominant Needs. Once this is known, this information can be beneficial in creating the best working environments for the various team members. The data can also be useful to find the best staff to take on specific tasks. A manager noticing that a member of staff fits into the Affiliate Group would be advised to place that person in a role where they can work with other people in a team. Whereas an employee who falls into the Achievement Group could be permitted to work more on their own and be given moderately challenging tasks to complete.

It is often a mistake to place every member of staff in a large group and presume that everyone will work to their highest capacity. If you recognize yourself in any of the three main groups at the top of this article, then you’ll better appreciate that you would work better if you were permitted to work in your ‘ideal’ environment, and only be exposed to the work/risk levels where you feel the most comfortable.

Other benefits of knowing your employees’ dominant Needs, is when it comes to giving praise or feedback.  For example, if you praise someone whose dominant drive is in the Affiliation Group, then do not praise them in a room full of people or they’ll probably hate you for it rather than appreciate it. You need to know the characteristics of each dominant drive, and then figure out how your employees fit into these groups.

Which is Your Dominant Drive? Let Me Know By Leaving a Comment Below…