Achievement Motivation Theory

Some people have an intense desire to accomplish and show excellence others are not concerned about achieving things. David C McClelland studied this phenomenon for over twenty years at Harvard University and proposed the Achievements Motivation Theory ( also called Three Need Theory). According to McClelland achievement, power and affiliation are three important needs to help understand human motivation in organizational settings.

Power needs: This is the need to dominate influence and control people. Power speaks about the ability to manipulate or control the activities of others to suit one’s own purposes. People with a high need for power look for positions of leadership. They like to set goals, make decisions and direct activities.

Affiliation needs: the need for affiliation is a social need, for companionship and support, for developing meaningful relationships with people. A person who has a high need for affiliation views the organization as a chance to form new and satisfying relationships. They are motivated by jobs that demand frequent interaction with co-workers. Such people are not likely to succeed well at tasks that force them to work in isolation.

Achievement need: This is the need for challenge for personal accomplishment and success in competitive situations. A person with a high need for achievement has three distinct characteristics

(1) Personal responsibility: Doing most things himself rather than getting them done by others. He wants to take personal responsibility for his success or failure, does not want to hold others or chance to be  responsible for his actions; (2) Feedback: he wants to know how well he is doing. He would seek situations where concrete feedback is possible; (3) Moderate risks; he tends to set moderately difficult goals for himself and takes calculated risks to achieve these goals.

High achievers thus flourish in competitive situations. They prefer challenging assignments. They are willing to work hard and want jobs that stretch their abilities fully. They are not motivated by money per se but instead employ money as a method of keeping score of their achievements.

McClelland’s theory has significant implications for managers. If the need of employees can be measured accurately organizations can improve selection and placement processes. People with a high need for achievement may be placed in challenging and difficult jobs. People with a high need for power may be trained for leadership positions. If the organization is able achieve a fit between need intensities and job characteristics improved performance is guaranteed. According to McClelland in addition to pumping achievement characteristics into jobs, people should be taught and offered training in achievement motivation.

Theory X and Theory Y:

Douglas McGregor proposed two distinct sets of assumptions about what motivates people – one is basically negative labeled Theory X and the other is positive labeled theory Y.

Assumptions Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X assumptions

1) Employees inherently dislike work and will try to avoid it.
2) Since employees dislike work, they must be coerced, controlled and threatened with punishment to  achieve goals.
3) Employees will shirk responsibilities and seek formal direction whenever possible.
4) Most employees want security above all in their work and display little ambition.

Theory Y assumptions:

1) Employees can view work as being as natural as rest or play.
2) People will exercise self direction and self control if they are committed to the objectives.
3) Under proper conditions employees do not avoid responsibility.
4) People want security but also have other needs such as self actualization and esteem.

Source: HRM

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