Three Needs

John W Atkinson has proposed three basic drivers in motivational persons: the need for achievement, the need for power, and the need for affiliation, or close association with others. The balance between these drives varies from person to person. For example, one person might have a strong need for affiliation, while another might have a strong need for achievement.

David C McClelland’s research has indicated that a strong need for achievement – the drive to succeed or excel is related to how well individuals are motivated to perform their work tasks. People with a high need for achievement like to take responsibility for solving problems; they tend to set moderately difficult goals for themselves and take calculated risks to meet those goals; and they greatly value feedback on how well they are doing. Thus, those with high achievement needs (nAch) tend to be highly motivated by challenging and competitive work situations people with low achievement needs tend to perform poorly in the same sort of situations.

There is considerable evidence of the correlation between high achievement needs and high performance. McClelland found, for example, that people who succeeded in competitive occupations were well above average in achievement motivation. Successful managers, who presumably operated in one of the most competitive of all environment had a higher achievement need than other professionals. McClelland’s work indicates they a need for achievement resides in managers and non-mangers alike.

The need for affiliation nAff, in McClelland’s scheme has been a concern of managers since Elton Mayo and his colleagues were involved in the famous Hawthorne experiments. The need for affiliation has been cited as a reason why telecommuting working from one’s home via telecommunications lines to the office has not become as widespread in urban areas as once predicted. Many people, not surprisingly, want to be around their co-workers.

The need for power –nPow, in McClelland’s scheme deals with the degree of control a person desires over his or her situation. This need can be related to how people deal with failure and success. Fear of failure and an erosion of one’s power, can be a strong motivator for some people. Conversely, for some people, fear of success can be a motivating factor. We have all read stories about celebrities such as musicians, actresses, or professional athletes who, they have achieved certain levels of fame and fortune, bemoan the instructions in their lives which reduce their sense of power or control.

For managers, this work by McClelland and others highlights the importance of matching the individual and the job. Employees with high achievement needs thrive on work that is challenging, satisfying stimulating and complex. They welcome autonomy, variety, and frequent feedback from supervisors. Employees with low achievement needs prefer situations of stability, security, and predictability. They respond better to consideration than to impersonal, high pressure supervision, and they look to the workplace and co-workers for social satisfaction. McClelland’s research also suggests that managers can, to some extent, raise the achievement need level of employees by creating the proper work environment. Managers can o this by permitting employees a measure of independence, increasing responsibility and autonomy, gradually making tasks more challenging, and praising and rewarding high performance.